A positive Orthodox Christian theology of democracy

By staff writers
13 Oct 2012

In The Mystical as Political: Democracy and Non-Radical Orthodoxy, to be published on 25 October 2012, Aristotle Papanikolaou explores the question of whether Orthodox Christianity and liberal democracy are mutually exclusive worldviews.

His question is prompted primarily by the post-communist situation in the traditional Orthodox countries of Eastern Europe, where the Orthodox churches are for the first time engaging intellectually with the tradition of liberal democracy.

Their response has been confusing, says the author - often employing rhetoric affirming democracy, but engaging in practices that could be argued as non-democratic, such as supporting restrictions on religious freedom.

Papanikolaou proposes what he calls "a non-radical Orthodox political theology" that extends beyond a reflexive opposition to the West and a nostalgic return to a Byzantine-like unified political-religious culture.

The term is intended to distinguish his response from hardline Orthodox Church political responses, and readers in Britain will need to note that it has nothing to do with the kind of 'Radical Orthodoxy' proposed by Anglo-Catholic theologians in Cambridge and elsewhere over the past few years.

The first comprehensive treatment from an Orthodox theological perspective of the issue of the compatibility between Orthodoxy and liberal democracy, Papanikolaou’s book is an affirmation that Orthodox support for open forms of democracy is justified within the framework of Orthodox understandings of God and the human person.

His overtly theological approach shows that the basic principles of liberal democracy are not tied exclusively to the language and categories of Enlightenment philosophy and, so, are not inherently secular in a religion-excluding sense.

Praised by William Schweiker (University of Chicago) as “a stellar contribution to the analysis of Orthodox thought and... to current debates about theology and politics,” and predicted by Charles Mathewes (University of Virginia) to be “the standard Eastern Orthodox text in classes on theology and politics,” The Mystical as Political is a timely and thoughtful addition to theology, philosophy, and politics.

Aristotle Papanikolaou is professor of theology at Fordham University. He is the author of Being With God: Trinity, Apophaticism and Divine-Human Communion (2006), also published by the University of Notre Dame Press.

The University of Notre Dame Press is one of the leading American university presses publishing in the areas of religion and theology. Please visit us at http://undpress.nd.edu to see its full catalogue.

With acknowledgments to the University of Notre Dame Press.

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 England & Wales License. Although the views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of Ekklesia, the article may reflect Ekklesia's values. If you use Ekklesia's news briefings please consider making a donation to sponsor Ekklesia's work here.