Tag Archives: Ina Merdjanova

Orthodox Christianity in Eastern Europe and the Challenge of Self-Colonization  

by Ina Merdjanova

Besieged fortress
Image: iStock.com/NSA Digital Archive

Discussions on contemporary Orthodox Christianity have often focused on the multiple ways in which historical legacies and political contexts have shaped the trajectories of Orthodoxy’s institutional development, social presence, and theological responses to important issues such as modernity, secularization, globalization, and religious pluralism, among others. Importantly, Orthodoxy’s responses to adverse historical circumstances, particularly in Eastern Europe, have typically been dominated by a “besieged-fortress” mentality—a mentality which has entailed a self-imposed institutional and theological stagnation that, in my view, can be described as self-colonization.

The notion of self-colonization proposed here is different from the “self-colonizing metaphor” of Alexander Kiossev as well as from the narrative of “internal colonization” of Alexander Etkind. Kiossev showed that the countries in Eastern Europe and other places outside of an actual military, economic, financial and administrative rule by a colonial power, nevertheless, succumbed to the rule of colonial Eurocentric imagination.[1] Etkind interpreted Russia’s imperial experience as simultaneously external (the colonization of other people) and internal (the colonization of its own people).[2] In my usage, self-colonization denotes Orthodoxy’s self-induced encapsulation and stagnation as a result of the traumatic experiences of significant restrictions under Ottoman rule and of oppression and persecution under totalitarian communism. This psychological mindset has hampered enormously Orthodoxy’s coming to terms with contemporary pluralism and the principles of human rights and gender equality, among others.

 What are the major traits in the organizational behavior of the Orthodox churches today that manifest its persevering self-colonization and impede constructive responses to the challenges they face?

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