Fr Oliver Herbel on his blog has a thoughtful post on the state of Orthodox Christian academic life in America. Reflecting on an upcoming symposium at Princeton on the work of Fr Georges Florovsky, Fr Oliver writes that precisely because we are so marginal to the larger academic community, Orthodox Christians “cannot, … must not, … play the victim. That is wrong. We must demonstrate why we are academically worthwhile. We must engage the other.”
Our marginalization is not simply a function of the hostility or indifference of secular, liberal academics or the unwillingness of Western Christians to take us seriously. Does this happen? Yes it does, at least now and then. But as Fr Oliver points out this is not simply the fault of others; some of the blame must rest squarely on our shoulders. Because of this “those of us who are Orthodox need to be vigilant not to perpetuate our own marginalization.”
During the question and answer period at a retreat I lead last week, a psychologist in the audience asked me if I was active in OCAMPR–the Orthodox Association for Medicine, Psychology and Religion. I said I wasn’t but I didn’t then give a good explanation about why I’m not.
Simply put, I’m not involved in OCAMPR because I’m interested in pursuing my scholarship in dialog with those outside the Church. Yes at times it can be frustrating to talk with secular psychologists or even with Evangelical Christian psychologists. But whatever the challenges, costs and set backs, it is on balance a conversation I find worth having. My preference, dare I say my vocation, is to “with non-Orthodox academics” as Fr Oliver has it.
Why do this? Part of my interest in broadly evangelical–as distinct from the proselytizing that has become popular among some Evangelical converts to Orthodoxy. But at its core my hope is through my engagement with the broader community of psychological scholarship that I can remind my “fellow Orthodox [that] we have a living history, a history of saints even into the present day. Our American Orthodox history may be recent, for example, but it is vital and contains many saints.”
I sometimes feel as if we rather prefer to stay on the margins and avoid being involved with those who might challenge us and even now and then point out our shortcomings. It is easier to proselytize, to stick with those who agree with us and dismiss those who don’t then it is to take correction from those outside our tradition. The former is self-indulgent pride, the latter offers at least the possibility of humility.
Do please take a moment to read the whole of Fr Oliver’s post The Expanding Frontier of American Orthodox Academics: Princeton’s Upcoming Florovsky Symposium and Addressing the Problem of Orthodox Marginalization. You might also want to check out the upcoming symposium on Florovsky: http://www.princeton.edu/~florov/patristic_symposium.html.
- New Monasticism and Orthodoxy ” Khanya (khanya.wordpress.com)
- Benedictine monk, and Ignatius Press author, converts to Orthodoxy (ericsammons.com)