Special Theme Edition on the Current Ukrainian Crisis: Volume 22, No. 3 (Summer 2014)
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Bruce R. Berglund and Brian Porter-Sucz, eds. Christianity and Modernity in Eastern Europe. Budapest-New York: Central European University Press, 2010. Reviewed by Paul Mojzes
The satisfaction of reading some books would be better if the introductory claims made for them were more temperate. Pages one to three of this edited volume reflect a degree of dismissiveness of earlier historical studies of religion in Eastern Europe, but it is unclear who is being criticized: earlier studies undertaken under dramatically different circumstances or academics from other disciplines who are unappreciative of historians? Here works by Robert Tobias, Trevor Beeson, Stella Alexander, Thomas Bremer, and many others are not mentioned. Only Bohdan Bociurkiw’s studies of Ukraine are acknowledged.
References to this volume’s alleged greater sophistication and major advances in the study of Eastern Europe sound like self-serving marketing claims. Porter-Sucz speaks of the need to deconstruct the word “religion” as an inappropriate academic abstraction (10-11), but he and other authors in the volume proceed to use the term (23). No similar critique is made of modernity, which some authors seem to equate with secularism, while others mean by it post-Reformation and post-Enlightenment developments. And, despite claims of a strong unifying theme, this book, based on two conferences for the contributors and others in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and Warsaw, Poland, encompasses topics so diverse that it is difficult to discern the encounter of East European Christians with modernity uniting the various chapters.
As in most symposia, individual contributions vary in quality. Paul Hanebrink very helpfully traces the attempted synthesis of Christianity and nation in Hungary between the two world wars, resulting in a sharp right-wing tilt by many major players. This chapter helps set the stage for the trauma of Hungarian churches under Communism resulting in categorical non-cooperation by some church leaders and collaboration by others.
Martin Putna’s “The Search for a ‘Fourth Path’: Czech Catholicism between Liberalism, Communism, and Nazism” is somewhat mistitled because the author only investigates several Catholic literary figures who were not necessarily representative either of the clerical leadership or Czech Catholic laity. His findings cannot be automatically extended to the entire Church, though some insights surely apply to a wider circle.
The equation Polak-Catholic is inaccurate on many counts according to James Bjork. Rather than uniformity within a Polish Catholic bulwark, he finds a patchwork of major regional differences as regards the degree of Catholic Church influence. Apparently to the present day the Prussian-Russian-Austrian partitions of Poland left lasting but varying imprints on the degree of Polish attachment to Catholicism. The level of devotion to Catholicism varies across Poland from a degree vastly exceeding that of Western Europe in some regions to, in other parts of Poland, a much lower degree compared to most of Western Europe James Ramon Felak researched the Catholic dilemma in Slovakia between 1945 and 1948. Because of the disastrous pro-Nazi stance of the anti-semitic Monsignor Jozef Tiso, ascendant Communists in postwar Slovakia considered Catholics politically unreliable. Many Catholics supported the Communists, others attempted to create Catholic political parties, but the majority, including the bishops, supported the Protestant-oriented Democratic Party. Of course, these multiparty efforts all came to naught after the 1948 Communist coup de etat.
The fate of Ukrainian Greek (Byzantine) Catholics forcibly “re-united” with the Russian Orthodox Church is well known. Natalia Shlikta provides a very competent and nuanced treatment of the various responses and interpretations of the meaning of this act among Western Ukrainian Christians, the Soviet government, Ukrainian and local officials, and Russian Orthodox hierarchs. While some West Ukrainians accepted this homecoming to Orthodoxy, others could barely wait for perestroika and the fall of Communism to reestablish their Church.
Those interested in theological reflections on human rights will appreciate Katharina Kunter’s study of the different ways in which East German and Czech Protestant theologians defined priorities in human rights. Kunter seems to think that Czechs, who generated the pro-democracy Charter 77 Movement, more readily defended individual expressions of human rights while some East German theologians favored collective human rights, which were typically touted by Communist apologists.
Patrick Hyder Patterson authored the sole chapter dealing with Christian-Muslim relations. In one of the volume’s most thought-provoking chapters, Patterson notes that East Europeans have had a longer historical experience with Islam than West Europeans. In addition, he highlights the diversity of European responses ranging from alarmist and confrontational to the idea of a Christian-Muslim united front against secularism.
Space does not permit mention of every chapter in this interesting compilation. The authors make fairly frequent references to one another’s work, as does Bruce Berglund in the concluding chapter, which maps out an historical/religious geography of Eastern Europe. Berglund’s discussion of East European contributions to a united Europe is helpful, although those of us who hail from Eastern Europe find the obligation to defend the region’s European bona fides tiresome.
Usually endnotes are considered marginal, but the very voluminous documentation of this volume is a real treasure of information that constitutes an integral part of the work. My judgment is that this book is likely to be more useful to academia than to the church. F
Paul Mojzes is professor of religion at Rosemont College, Rosemont, Pennsylvania, and co-editor of the journal Religion in Eastern Europe.