Events

Religion and US Foreign Policy: the Orthodox Church in Russia, Europe, and the Middle East

March 12, 2009 // 10:00am11:30am
Event Co-sponsors: 
Middle East Program

Dr. Elizabeth Prodromou, assistant Professor of the department of international relations at Boston University, discussed the relevance of religion for US foreign policy and national security strategy as it implies to a particular faith tradition, Orthodox Christianity, in the geographic spaces of Russia, Europe, and the Middle East.

Dr. Prodromou divided the presentation into the analytical parameters for thinking about Orthodoxy in Russia, Europe, and the Middle East when it comes to American foreign policy objectives and gave an abbreviated genealogy of Orthodox Christianity in the region.

Religion, in the United States, in recent times has been seen as a topic of increasing importance as it pertains to American foreign policy and national security strategy. Two main indicators of this are the passage of the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 and the War on Terror in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks. Although religion as a key variable in US foreign policy is seemed by conventional wisdom as a recent phenomenon, in reality, religious ideas have always been embedded in American history. From the Puritan settlement of the New World, to the Declaration of Independence and to the most recent war on Terror, religion has played a main role in US foreign policy and in the definition of American nationalism itself. Conventional wisdom often analyzes religion only as an object of US foreign policy while neglecting its role as a subject and input of US foreign policy as well. Religious ideas and the faith and beliefs of the actors of foreign policy, from Jefferson to Nieburh, have shaped US foreign policymaking and security strategy. Religion therefore, needs to be analyzed both in terms of its role as an "object" (a threat or opportunity) for American national security and in terms of its role as a "subject" or "input"(how each US foreign policy actor perceives threats and opportunities) in the policy making process.

In the second part of the presentation, Dr. Prodromou turned to Orthodox Christianity in Russia, Europe and the Middle East. The Orthodox Church is grounded in the structure of the ancient Pentarchy, the five ecclesiastical sees of Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch, Jerusalem and Rome. Today, the Eastern Orthodox Church appears as a transnational and decentralized structure based on the theological theme of unity in diversity of Orthodoxy and thus reflecting the logic of cultural pluralism. Orthodox churches therefore, while centered on the Pentarchy, have varying degrees of independence from the Mother Churches. Pluralism is the reaction and adaptation of Orthodox Christianity to the changing international order during the nation state era. In this regard, pluralism has allowed the Orthodox Christian Church to adapt to different social and cultural realities.

The main "project" or goal of Orthodox Christianity is to adapt, respond and engage to a pluralist religious world of dynamic competition among religions. Dr. Prodromou called the relationship between Moscow and Constantinople the "centerpiece of that project", as these two churches live in constructive competition among each other and seek to establish their primacy in the Orthodox Church by enlarging their spheres of influence.

It is important for practitioners of US foreign policy to acknowledge pluralism in Orthodox Christianity instead of viewing it as a static, homogenous entity and to conceptualize it as one of three particular trajectories in global Christianity, rather than an exception to the other main realms of Christianity.

Dr. Prodromou concluded her presentation by giving five main observations from the implications of pluralism in Orthodox Christianity for US foreign policy and strategy. US scholars and practitioners must be more self-aware and understand that US foreign policy religious inputs and outputs are seen in the Orthodox Church in three different regional spaces; US scholars and practitioners must recognize the internal pluralism of Orthodox Christianity instead of seeing it as a static, monolithic structure; Orthodox churches view their current religious condition as a result of not only internal dynamics but as result of the crisis of the nation-state international order; policy makers must find ways to project democracy and human rights, as these are fundamental for the survival of the Orthodox Church; and, they must find specific agendas for cooperation with the Orthodox Church in issues like: the environment, social justice, energy, non- proliferation, bioethics.

Experts & Staff

  • Christian F. Ostermann // Director, History and Public Policy Program; Global Europe; Cold War International History Project; North Korea Documentation Project; Nuclear Proliferation International History Project
  • Emily R. Buss // Program Assistant

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