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Byzantium, Orthodoxy, and Democracy

Dr. Aristotle Papanikolaou

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An academic essay examining the compatibility between Orthodox Christianity and modern understandings of democracy.

Journal of the American Academy of Religion

Volume 71, Issue 1, March 2003: pp. 75-98

Fordham University, New York, NY, 10023

This article addresses the question of the compatibility between Eastern Orthodox Christianity and modern understandings of democracy. Recent images in the press suggest at worst hostility toward democracy and at best ambivalence on the part of the Orthodox churches. The source of this hostility and ambivalence lies in part with Orthodoxy's Byzantine heritage. The influence of this heritage is especially evident in a recent debate between two contemporary Orthodox ethicists, Stanley Harakas and Vigen Guroian, over the proper role of the Orthodox Church in relation to the American democratic state. Through an analysis of this debate this article argues that there does not exist a "clash of civilizations" between Orthodoxy and democracy and that Orthodox support of communitarian forms of democracy is warranted on inner theological grounds. This article also intends to offer a concrete response to an inevitable question regarding the relation of religion and empire: Are religious traditions whose own thinking on political philosophy was shaped within the context of an empire inherently incompatible with modern democratic principles of church-state separation, multiculturalism, and religious pluralism?

Dr. Aristotle Papanikolaou is an Assistant Professor of Theology at Fordham University.

Download the article (PDF 110 KB) from the Acton Institute. Published in the Journal of the American Academy of Religion. Download available by permission of the author.



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Copyright 2001-2014 OrthodoxyToday.org. All rights reserved. Any reproduction of this article is subject to the policy of the individual copyright holder. See OrthodoxyToday.org for details.


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