Διεθνής Διάσκεψη με θέμα
«Η θεολογική εκπαίδευση στο πλαίσιο της θρησκευτικής ριζοσπαστικοποίησης»
Ecumenical Institute, Château de Bossey
Γενεύη, 8-10 Δεκεμβρίου 2016
Με τη συμμετοχή του Επιστημονικού Συνεργάτη της Ακαδημίας Θεολογικών Σπουδών
Δρ. Νικολάου Ασπρούλη
Στις 8-10 Δεκεμβρίου 2016 έλαβε χώρα Διεθνής Διάσκεψη στο Οικουμενικό Ινστιτούτο του Παγκοσμίου Συμβουλίου Εκκλησιών (ΠΣΕ), στο Château de Bossey (Γενεύη, Ελβετία), η οποία διοργανώθηκε από το Πρόγραμμα για την Οικουμενική Θεολογική Εκπαίδευση του ΠΣΕ με γενικό θέμα «Η θεολογική εκπαίδευση στο πλαίσιο της θρησκευτικής ριζοσπαστικοποίησης». Η Διάσκεψη επεδίωξε να φέρει σε επαφή και να καλλιεργήσει το διάλογο μεταξύ ειδικών στη θεολογική εκπαίδευση που ανήκουν σε Εκκλησίες μέλη του ΠΣΕ και συναδέλφων τους που εκπροσωπούν τις Ευαγγελικές, τις Ανεξάρτητες και τις Εκκλησίες της Πεντηκοστής, προκειμένου να συζητήσουν από κοινού θέματα που αφορούν στη θεολογική εκπαίδευση υπερβαίνοντας τα στενά ομολογιακά όρια.
Σύμφωνα με το σκεπτικό της Διάσκεψης, το ζήτημα της θρησκευτικής ριζοσπαστικοποίησης έχει αποκτήσει ιδιαίτερη βαρύτητα στο πλαίσιο των σύγχρονων κοινωνικών και ακαδημαϊκών συζητήσεων. Επίσης, διαδραματίζει σημαντικό ρόλο στο διαχριστιανικό και διαθρησκειακό διάλογο, ενώ έχει εξελιχθεί σε ένα άκρως διχαστικό φαινόμενο στην εθνική πολιτική σκηνή, με μια αξιοσημείωτη τάση δημιουργίας στερεότυπων εικόνων σχετικά με τη συμβολή ορισμένων θρησκειών σε όλο το φάσμα των εξτρεμιστικών εκφράσεων και δράσεων. Πώς τοποθετούνται οι θεολόγοι που ασχολούνται με την θεολογική εκπαίδευση στο πλαίσιο της διαμάχης αυτής; Και πώς μπορούν να συμβάλλουν στην ανάπτυξη οδών κατανόησης που αντικρούουν τόσο τη θρησκευτική ριζοσπαστικοποίηση, όσο και τα στερεότυπα; Πώς δύνανται επίσης οι ειδικοί στη θεολογική εκπαίδευση να βοηθήσουν στην περαιτέρω ευαισθητοποίηση σχετικά με το γεγονός ότι όλες οι θρησκείες είναι ευάλωτες απέναντι στη θρησκευτική ριζοσπαστικοποίηση; Αυτά είναι ορισμένα από τα ερωτήματα που απασχόλησαν τους συμμετέχοντες, συμπεριλαμβανομένων μεταξύ άλλων και των Καθηγ. Δρ. Amélé Ekué (ΠΣΕ), Αιδ. Δρ. Joseph Bosco Bangura (World Communication Ministries – WCM), Δρ. Marek Kucharski (Ευαγγελική Θεολογική Σχολή, Πολωνία), Καθηγ. Δρ. Sandra Mazzolini (Ρωμαιοκαθολική Εκκλησία), Δρ. Henrik Sonne Petersen (DanMission, Δανία), κ.ά.
Η Ακαδημία Θεολογικών Σπουδών Βόλου εκπροσωπήθηκε από τον επιστημονικό της συνεργάτη Δρ. Νικόλαο Ασπρούλη, ο οποίος τυγχάνει και συντονιστής του Δικτύου για τη Θεολογική Εκπαίδευση στην Κεντρική και Ανατολική Ευρώπη (NELCEE).
Ακολουθεί το κείμενο της παρουσίασης του Δρ. Ασπρούλη στα αγγλικά
Orthodox Perspectives on Theological Education and religious radicalism
(WCC/ETE Consultation on Theological Education in the Context of Religious Radicalization
December, 8-10, 2016
Ecumenical Institute, Bossey)
Dr. Nikolaos Asproulis
The present context
Living at the beginning of the new millenium, humanity all over the globe is confronted with a desperate and unpleasant situation, thanks to a great variety of conflicts dominating the world. Religious but also political, national, ideological and many other kinds of divisions occupy a central place in the daily news reports. To some degree, this reality stress the fact that human beings in our time do not tolerate the variety of diversities in terms of ideas and cultures, due to fear of the abolition of its individual identity within the globalization. In this context, the world religions often become, even though paradoxically, the driving force that leads to the growth of fundamentalism and radicalism as well as of all kinds of brutal violence (see, for instance, the present case of ISIS). It would not be an exaggeration to say that we are living in an age of increasing upheaval and most of it is religious-based. Keeping a narrow connection with many “dark sides” (e.g. coercive state authorities), the world religions, are led to cooptation for purposes totally alien to their mission. One should not exclude from this general picture the Christian Churches, the Orthodox Church included, which very often become the alibi or even the cause for extremist and radical groups (cf. for instance the Crusade period, or the blessing of various kinds of war in the USA during the President George W. Bush period, or the recent tragic situation of Ukraine).
Christian Churches and Theologies Face radicalism: The Case of Orthodoxy
What, however, is the Christian approach to extremism and religious radicalism? Before dealing with this, let’s explore in very brief the character of religious radicalism, by suggesting a two-fold distinction: there is an inwards and an outwards kind of radicalism. While the former is directed against any inner enemy, namely to those who belong to the same community, the later is directed against all those who in one way or another constitute a thread for one’s own religious identity. With this distinction in mind it is possible to include a variety of cases from the entire spectrum of religious radical traditionalism, fundamentalism, radicalism and extremism, a reality present in all religious traditions, Orthodox Christianity included (Cf. the close ties of certain Church officials with the Greek Nazi party-Golden Dawn).
If one would like, then, to briefly overview the basic Christian resources, one would realize that the understanding of violence within the Christian tradition is shrouded in ambiguity. One could discern many biblical images and narratives where even God himself takes part in some way in violent and bloody events. This ambiguity, however, should not be understood as God promoting violence, since that would oppose for instance both the well-known Decalogue commandment, according to which “Thou shall not kill (Ex. 20,13),” and Christ’s call for love of neighbor (Mat. 22, 39) and the overcoming of hate even against enemies.
Against then the present unpleasant situation of religious radicalism, Christian theology, based on its own premises and sources should start thinking of ways to formulate a “program of action”, if it truly still desires to play an active and positive role in the public sphere. By taking seriously into account the surrounding reality which is characterized by financial, political, etc. instability and uncertainty, Christian theologies in general, and the Orthodox in particular, need to find the most adequate ways of successfully reflecting upon possible solutions that would help people worldwide to address their urgent needs, and the most adequate patterns of theological education which should be regarded as a core aspect of the Church’s missionary work.
It is true, as aforementioned, that Christian Churches, Orthodoxy included, consciously or not, served various expressions of the spirit of this world, to such a degree that they were often identified with unfree, oppressive and totally destructive structures, powers and actions. At the same time, however, there were many voices of eminent individual representatives of the Churches who often made a decisive contribution with their example and work (academic, pastoral and missionary) to the expression of another ethos, another way of being concerning the very constitution of the human being and one’s relations with fellow humans and the whole Creation of God. It is common place, in my view at least, that both the increasing phenomena of religious fundamentalism or extremism, as well as the continuous deepening of social and economic inequalities between North and South, which is closely linked to the well-known problems of the refugee crisis and the impoverishment of part of the population, are all mere manifestations related to the critical question of the identity of human being.
Although it is true that the Orthodox Church has not always risen to the occasion, it has kept alive—at least in principle—the fundamental truths of its tradition in many aspects of its life, a fact which is reflected both in the constantly liturgical experience and life, and in various actions occasionally undertaken in order to address in the most expedient way the consequences of the environmental, economic and finally anthropological, spiritual, and ethical crisis. Despite, however, the conscientious efforts made on the level of pastoral care and diakonia by certain Church officials and activists, Orthodoxy still officially demonstrates a great difficulty in following the developments either at a local or a worldwide level, unable to offer in a persuasive or realistic way responsive solutions to urgent present challenges like religious radicalism. It seems that Orthodoxy’s often overemphasized liturgical and eschatological character and nature becomes an unexpected obstacle towards its historic and social engagement in the actual everyday life and problems of the people, presenting a situation where it seems that “Orthodoxy itself came to a halt before (post)modernity.”
Reacting often aggressively against all the developments that took place during the late modernity, the Orthodox Church in most cases expresses a defensive attitude, unable to adopt new successful methods and means in its mission, in this case in theological education. Despite, however this more or less common situation in the overall Orthodox world, one should not underestimate various endeavors undertaken recently especially by individual theologians towards the formation of a serious and comprehensive “political theology,” which attempt to address various challenges, like the increasing ethno/religious nationalism and radicalism that were previously unforeseen.
The content and scope of theological education
Regarding now the content and the scope of theological education in this context we would like to briefly reflect on the method, content, and perspective of the Greek University curricula. Greece, an Orthodox country, combining simultaneously an eastern mentality and a western orientation, constitutes a representative case of almost all the traditional Eastern and Balkan Orthodox countries. For our purpose, the relative information has been taken mainly from the Theological Schools of Athens and Thessaloniki which provide a comprehensive formation for laymen who will become either priests or religious teachers on secondary level education.
Regarding the method-content-perspective, the above curricula still use more or less a so – called “Church Dogmatics” methodology, dealing in a traditional way with issues like Patristic theology and literature, Church History, Biblical literature, Liturgical or pastoral issues, and so on. Moreover, it seems that the programs under discussion, with minor differences, still follow a scholastic methodology, dividing the whole program but also the structure of the Schools into a biblical-hermeneutical section (content: Holy Scriptures, Biblical archeology, etc.), a historical section (Canon Law, Church, Byzantine History, etc.), a systematic section (Sociology, Pedagogics, Ethics, etc.), a Liturgical section (Homelitics, Preaching, etc.) and a Patristic/Dogmatics one (Patrology, Dogmatics, Creedal Theology, etc.).
The same applies to the curriculum, for instance, of the post-graduate theological program of the Theological Department of Athens University, where the same method is at work, that is, a traditional “Church Dogmatics” methodology, an ad intra dialogue with the biblical and patristic sources and the whole Tradition of the Church. It is worth noting, however, that all the related curricula incorporate a more or less open inter-Christian perspective and dimension (there are courses on inter-Christian dialogue with Western Christian Traditions, but also courses on Islam and other religious traditions), as it is the case especially in the Theological Department of the Theological Faculty of Thessaloniki, which is more ecumenical and dialogical in perspective than the more traditionalist theological school of Athens. In this regard, a serious debate has recently emerged, or even a dispute, among various fundamentalist trends, representatives of the official Church, and members of the Thessaloniki Faculty, in relation to the introduction by the Greek state of a program of Islamic Studies, as part of the Theological Faculty, aiming to train Muslim teachers for secondary level schools for the Muslim Greek minority citizens that mainly inhabit near the Greek-Turkish borders in northern Greece.
This very schematic and brief overview of the Greek university theological curricula can help us to discern some basic characteristics of the current perspective of theological education. Even though a hesitant (albeit, real) tendency towards a more open and dialogical perspective is often present, the curricula still maintain a traditional way of doing theology, which is characterized in some cases (e.g. the Athens Faculty) by a strong spirit of traditionalism, closely bound to the achievements of the glorious patristic and Byzantine heritage, approached by virtue of a scholastic methodology, inevitably resulting in a “theology of repetition,” and a self-defensive spirit.
At the same time, the many endeavors towards a fresh reconsideration of this traditional perspective by individual university professors notwithstanding, the two main university faculties still provide a confessional, strictly orthodox in form, (but not in method), theological discourse, even by using a dated comparative (symbolic) methodology. This sort of confessionalism should be certainly understood in the light of the pre-eminent role that the Orthodox Church played in past years, particularly during the Ottoman occupation, and its close connection (until recently) with the building of the national ideology. In this perspective, although a real desire is often expressed for these curricula to proceed to the next step, the traditional and confessional spirit that characterizes the form, content, method and the perspective of this sort of theological education seems to be a real obstacle towards a renewal, which then inevitably leads to some extent to an isolationism and self-referentiality, that are still dominant in this case.
Given this reality it seems necessary, to go beyond the classic “Church Dogmatics” model towards the “Church and World Dogmatics” without, however fully abandoning the former. This means that modern Orthodox theology, based on a clear understanding and experience of Christian faith as deposited in the regula fidei and expressed in dogmatic theology and the Eucharistic experience of the Church as its first and fundamental step, should proceed to a necessary and urgent second step, that of interpreting, as well as constantly incarnating, the Word of God, the Gospel, again and again in the on-going history of salvation in our present situation. This second step, that is, an ad extra dialogue and contact of the living faith with the current human condition and challenges seems to me to be the urgent quest of our theology toward a redirecting of its scope to a more inclusive and open re-formulation of its theological curricula. Furthermore, what Orthodox theological education needs today is not just a continuity with tradition, not even merely an existential interpretation of its content to modern people, but even more a new creative synthesis in the actual reality that will make it possible for the Gospel to be fully re-incarnated, to the extent that the Christian Church and its theology have not yet adequately expressed the fullness of the content of the Revelation of God in History.
In a way of conclusion: Towards a recontextualization of Orthodox theological education?
Some years ago, Pantelis Kalaitzidis, the Director of the Volos Academy for Theological Studies, raised the crucial question “whether Orthodoxy came to a halt before modernity.” Despite the various replies one could give to this question, it is inevitable that Orthodoxy faces with deep reluctance and fear the diverse achievements of late modernity, like the language of human rights, liberal democracy, etc. By taking into account the present reality, what is truly required by Orthodox theological education is to critically approach the different reasons that preserve it from becoming incarnate in the world and engaging deeply in history, to re-interpret in the light of the Spirit’s refreshing breeze its own rich tradition in order to meet the contemporary anthropological concerns and urgent questions raised by the radically deviating towards radicalism and populism world. In this light, a theological education conditioned by such an increasing upheaval, should incorporate some new features in its own perspective:
Focus on political theology issuesIt was common place until recent times that Orthodox theology has nothing to do at all with politics or social issues, due to its supposed meta-historical and liturgical dimension. Due mainly to historical reasons, Orthodoxy often faced with reluctance or suspicion the opening of Western theologies to the modern challenges, preventing it from developing really any political theology. By attempting to explore the reasons of this undervaluation of the social-political dimension of human life, theological education have to bring to the fore the relevant aspects of Orthodox tradition that would be useful for a creative articulation of a political point of view that would “translate” (J. Habermas) the Gospel into modern language and life more successfully, thus addressing the various current existential needs of humanity, giving in this line special emphasis on topics and projects related to social ethics, ecotheology, the relation between patristic tradition and liberal values and so on.
Commitment to the ecumenical visionAlthough the position of theological education was secured quite early in the Greek educational system, its ecumenical character and commitment was not, and is still not, considered as self-evident. Despite, the fact that the theological faculty of the Athens University for instance was structured according to the German Protestant model, closely following its curricula, and that its professors had usually studied in Roman Catholic or Protestant Universities, theological education more or less followed an isolationist and anti-ecumenical methodology both towards other Christian traditions and the secular life. As it was mentioned before theological education in Greece until our time is mostly characterised by a conservative and confessional perspective. On the contrary, firmly committed to ecumenism the recent publication by the Volos Academy for Theological Studies, in cooperation with WCC and CEC, of the massive collective volume entitled Orthodox Handbook on Ecumenism, was considered a real landmark for theological education in Orthodoxy worldwide, since, as it is argued in the editorial preface, “different voices indicated the need to have a proper reference book for teaching ecumenism in Orthodox theological faculties, seminaries, and academies, as there is still a serious lack of resources for proper and sound teaching of the history and life of the ecumenical movement.” This initial promise of the editors seems to describe the very modern context within which Orthodox theology needs to be situated in its effort to address current challenges. In other words, this is the context of its inherent ecumenicity and necessary dialogue with the other Christian traditions and certainly the world in its entirety, in order to become possible to struggle with religious radicalism on the grassroots level and not only in theory.
In this light, and before closing this brief reflection, one could add several more aspects that orthodox theological education should incorporate in its scope such as a) the eschatological and contextual reading of Tradition, that is the perception of eschatology as a general outlook that would inform not only the church life but the theological perspective and education as well, since it liberates Orthodoxy from the dominance of the past, opening new ways and opportunities of a re-incarnation of the Word of God in the future, and b) a positive theological appraisal of secularization, in terms of a “Church and World Dogmatics” a theological methodology that would take seriously into consideration the divine character of creation itself and so on.
Nikolaos Asproulis is an Academic Associate of the Volos Academy for Theological Studies, Nelcee network Coordinator, and co-editor of the Orthodox Handbook on Ecumenism. Resources for theological education (WCC, CEC, Volos Academy, Volos-Regnum, 2014). Email: email@example.com