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Ethnicity, Nationalism and Identity

Emmanuel Clapsis, The Orthodox Churches in a Pluralistic World,
An Ecumenical Conversation,
ed. Emmanuel Clapsis,
WCC Publications-Geneva, Holy Cross Orthodox Press,
Brookline, Massachusetts, p. 159- 173


Historians have noted with an alarming concern that more than half the world's civil conflicts after the dissolution of the British, French, Dutch, Belgian and Portuguese empires (1945-60) can be traced to ethno-religious causes. This proportion had increased to three-quarters in the period from 1960 to 1990 and accelerated again with the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 (1). The explosive resurgence of ethno-religious conflicts in different parts of the world inevitably affects the cause of ecumenism and the public witnesses of God's churches. But above all, it has caused an immeasurable suffering and loss of human life. The advances and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, the use of media and communication technologies to justify and exacerbate the use of excessive violence, and the human inclination to divide and fragment humanity into groups that may viciously oppose each other, all compel humanity to improve its understanding and respect of differences within and across national boundaries for the purpose of preventing, as much as possible, deadly conflicts. Such an endeavor is not alien to our ecumenical vocation since modern ecumenism is partly a response to ethno-religious conflicts of the immediate past, and it has conceived the unity of the churches as a presupposition for the unity and peace of humankind (2).

Towards an understanding of ethno-religious conflicts

In ethno-religious conflicts religion has often been used as a force that intensifies cruelty and misanthropy instead of advancing the cause of peace. In the midst of violent conflicts, however, heroic voices for peace and reconciliation have also been heard, supported by acts of extraordinary human compassion rooted in God's love. Others in similar situations have opted to remain silent or even to pray "privately" and from a safe distance for peace and reconciliation or even for the demise of their enemies. The involvement of religion in ethnic conflicts is highlighted by the final report of the Carnegie Commission on Preventing Deadly Conflict, which sadly observes:

Despite the fact that a belief in peace and brotherhood is professed by a wide variety of faiths, religious leaders frequently support and even incite inter-group violence. Today, we note with deep concern a growing fringe in many religions that is characterized by self-glorification on the one hand, and a bigoted, often fanatical depreciation of "outsider" groups on the other (3).

Does religion have the potential to generate hatred, violence and injustice against others? Social scientists continue to debate the actual origins and causes of religious violence and how it can be prevented (4). The British sociologist David Martin believes that,

The selection of religion as the source of evil needs itself to be analyzed as a cultural trope residually derived from the massive conflict in European culture, especially Latin European culture, over the role of religion during the past two centuries. The ideologies of secular establishment have promoted the idea so successfully that Christians have internalized it and asked forgiveness for it when, in terms of serious contribution to a debate, it is a vast oversimplification (5).

Of course, Martin does not exonerate religion from any involvement in, or contribution to, violent ethnic conflicts in different parts of the world, but he invites us to be critical of the "picture-book world of television" that attributes to religion complex social conflicts simply because religious symbols accentuate or explain differences that different groups of people in conflict have. "It is the object of sociology, indeed of any serious knowledge, to question the obvious. Things are usually more complicated than they seem and the obvious is often the false". (6).

Ethno-religious conflicts cannot be adequately understood by attributing them to single causes. They are, rather, outbursts of many local, national and global social factors that need to be understood in all their complexity and interaction as they lead to situations of conflict. It is much more accurate to view the increasing resurgence of tribalism in different parts of the world as a response to the effects of globalization and the need of different communities of people to find their place and be recognized in the emerging new world. I agree with the Indian psychoanalyst Sudhir Kakar, who has studied the brutal outbursts of religious violence between Hindus and Muslims in his native land, when he concludes,

What we are witnessing today is less the resurgence of religion than of communalism where a community of believers not only has religious affiliation but also social, economic, and political interests in common which may conflict with the corresponding interests of another community of believers who share the same geographical space (7).

Based on this assumption, our study needs to turn its attention to how collective identities are formed and under what conditions they become the grounds for enmity, oppression and violent conflict. How does religion function in the context of social conflict, human hatred and oppression, if we accept the premise that in such situations religious communities cannot resort to privatism or use the pretext of neutrality?

Identity formation

Every human being has a personal and social identity whose formation begins at the early stages of the human life-circle. The sense of subject, "I am", is complemented by the sense of belonging to a community, "We are." Human persons in the present world are social events containing in their personhood differentiation and plurality. They are, as Sudhir Kakar states, systems of "reverberating representational worlds, each enriching, constraining, and shaping the others, as they jointly evolve through the life-cycle" (8). None of these inter-related worlds that constitute human subjectivity are "primary" or "deeper" than the others from a psychoanalytic perspective, although at different times human subjectivity may be predominantly experienced in one or another mode. The self-assertion of "We are" has the potential for confrontation with the "We are" of other groups and, therefore, collective identities are inherently carriers of aggression. This aggressive element of collective identities, together with fears that reflect human vulnerability and the will to secure our survival, has the potential to generate violence. Yet, in some instances, people of the same collective identity, as they experience imaginary or real threats to their personal and/or collective identities, do not resort to violence. They opt instead to resolve their differences or secure their personal and/or collective identities through peaceful means. For our purpose of preventing the deadly conflicts that often occur in the name of religion, it would be helpful to understand the motives that lead other people who respond to the precepts of their religious faith to choose violence over nonviolence, or death over life.

Ethnicity - a significant factor

The resurgence of ethnicity in different parts of the world, and the recognition that contemporary states are almost universally multi-ethnic in composition, reflect the fact that ethnicity remains a strong factor in modern societies. Social scientists, guided by different assumptions, premises and ideologies, have applauded the current resurgence of ethnicity and/or its continuing strength as a specific way to: preserve a precious cultural heritage; soften class lines; protect to win economic and political advantages for disadvantaged groups; furnish a more intimate and flavorful connection with large impersonal societies; and retard the shift of overwhelming power to the state. Others would point out that the current stress on ethnicity is divisive and inegalitarian in its effects. Stephen Steinberg, from an African-American perspective, argues that current attention to ethnicity tends to blind us to the structures of discrimination:

Indeed, black intellectuals and leaders have had good reasons to balk at the pluralist doctrine. As a group, blacks have always experienced the bitter side of pluralism, and ideological justifications for maintaining ethnic boundaries carried insidious overtones of racial segregation... Just as ethnic groups have class reasons for tearing down ethnic barriers ahead of them, they also have class reasons for raising ethnic barriers behind them. Thus, it is not uncommon for ethnic groups to invoke democratic principles to combat ethnic exclusivity of more privileged groups, but to turn around and cite pluralistic principles in defence of their own discriminatory practice (9).

Steinberg and others who address similar criticism against ethnic resurgence attack the vice of ethnic separatism and implore us not to forget that assimilation enables ethnic groups to expand the boundaries of their communities and participate equitably in societal structures of power distribution.

Why does ethnicity continue to be a significant factor in most societies despite the predictions of developmental social theories that modernity and more specifically the effects of urbanization will contribute to the significantly sharp decline of ethnic attachment? Social scientists note that ethnicity in modern mobile societies has changed significantly:

To think of oneself as an Oglala Sioux or Chippewa is quite different from thinking of oneself as a Native American resident of Chicago or Los Angeles . We lose explanatory power if we equate contemporary urban ethnicity - with its large symbolic, affective qualities - with the more deeply rooted attachments and firmer boundaries of less mobile times and places. The latter may decline in some settings even while the former grows in influence (10).

Ethnicity engenders sentiments of likeness that create an ethnic group with emotional bonds that generate solidarity among its members. However, the emotional bonds and solidarity among members of an ethnic group must not be exclusively attributed to primordial sentiments because, as Daniel Bell has argued, such feeling served material interests well. He notes that material interests are well-served by ethnically based movements precisely because they "combine an interest with an effective tie" (11). Ethnicity is not only a primordial sentiment, an emotional attachment to "my people", or a valuable tool for the protection or enhancement of states. It is a way of trying to deal with the experience of anomie and the feeling of alienation. It can be seen as a "mode of reintegration of population elements into structures which are less anomie and alienative than their members might otherwise be exposed to" (12). In situations of social conflict, ethnic identity becomes more salient as a way for people to make firm their solidarity with others who have similar interests and imaginary or real origins and feel alienated from the larger society.

Assimilation is a highly complex social process of "boundary reduction" that occurs either voluntarily or by force in some multi-ethnic societies. It is an effective process of social integration in societies where power and value conflicts are not predominant and different ethnic groups have developed positive attitudes towards each other. As a result of this, discrimination and prejudice are considered in these societies to be social vices and efforts are made to move beyond them. If such presuppositions do not exist, however, the assimilation process is forcefully imposed by the state and can lead to eruptions of ethnic discontentment, violence and, ultimately, to ethnic cleansing.

Learning to live together

The presuppositions for an effective assimilation mentioned above also become the consequences of the assimilation process as they contribute to a more equitable distribution of power and social integration. Social integration which may be seen as a sub-process of assimilation occurs when the members of an ethnic group are distributed across the full range of associations, institutions and regions of a society in a pattern similar to that of the population as a whole (13). As different ethnic groups learn to live together they develop, or rather recast, their values and norms of living to reflect the transformation of their ethos from the way that it existed in isolation to what it becomes as it relates to other ethnic groups. This process transforms at different degrees all the ethnic groups of a given society. However, smaller, less compact, and resource-poor ethnic groups are more likely to be affected by this process of acculturation than those dominant ethnic groups which may significantly define the values and norms of the society at large without consciously recognizing their cultural influence upon those whom they dominate. Finally, assimilation leads to amalgamation when no socially visible genetic differences separate the members of different ethnic groups. The socially visible genetic differences, however, are not as rapidly reduced in a race-conscious society.

The formation of collective identities and, more specifically, of ethnic and national identities, is a complex issue. In the past, ethno-religious identities were positively assessed as necessary (whether divinely or naturally given) to regulate human life, personally and collectively. Religion sacralized social structures by attributing to them a sacred and consequently inviolate nature. Schleiermacher referred to the nation as "a natural division of the human race, endowed by God with its own character". He asserted that every nationality is destined through its peculiar organization and its place in the world to represent a certain side of the divine image, for it is God who directly assigns to each nationality its definite task on earth and inspires it with a definite spirit in order to glorify himself through each one in a peculiar manner (14). The dark side of nationalism was noted as a deviation or a source of conflict and fragmentation, but generally the trend was to affirm positively national identities. Now we approach ethnic and national identities as potential sources of violent conflict, as we seek ways to affirm those pro-social elements in them that advance peaceful coexistence in our irreversibly pluralistic modern world. As the Carnegie Commission noted:

To diminish the likelihood of violence, it is important to identify elements of government, social structure, institutions, leadership, and public attitudes that can be used to enhance orientation of caring, concern, social responsibility, and mutual aid within and between groups. Such ends are facilitated by cross-cutting relations that bring members of different groups together under favourable conditions on a regular basis, whether within or across national boundaries. It is important that groups develop positive reciprocity in their relationships, that there be perceived elements of mutual benefit from their interaction (15).

The ecumenical vision for the unity of God's churches in life, faith and witness contributes to the advancement of peace because it unites people across ethnic, national and denominational boundaries as it invites them to recognize the greater unity that God has bestowed on them despite their historical differences. This quest for unity is currently threatened by the increased use of religion and, more particularly, of Christianity in ethnic conflicts. Thus it is within the purview of Faith and Order in cooperation with other units of the WCC to study the impact of ethnicity and religion upon ecumenism. The nature of this study demands the enrichment of our theological reflection by the insights of social science, since ethnicity and nationalism regulate the lives of people in modern society in a highly contested and conflicted manner. They are highly contested, complex and conflictual social forces because, at least from a sociological perspective, they mediate the participation of the people in structures and distributions of power in society that regulate people's collective lives. Ethnicity, nationalism and religion ingrained in societal power structures are ambivalent social forces that people or groups of people can use either for altruistic and communal advances or for self-serving purposes. These forces have the potential to construct collective identities that contribute to the advancement of peace or they can be forces of violence, depending on imaginary or real social conditions and challenges. Montserrat Guibernau states,

The extreme complexity of nationalism springs from the radically different interpretations to which it can be subject. In certain cases nationalism is employed in association with xenophobia, racism, fascism and all sorts of violent behaviour against "the others". On other occasions, it refers to the legitimate aspiration of peoples willing to sustain and develop their culture and vindicate their right of self-determination (16).

R. Scott Appleby, in his exhaustive historical survey of ethno-religious conflicts, comes to the conclusion that,

Most religious societies, in fact, have interpreted their experience of the sacred in such a way as to give religion a paradoxical role in human affairs - as the bearer of peace and the sword. These apparently contradictory orientations reflect a continuing struggle within religions - and within the heart of each believer - over the meaning and character of the power encountered in the sacred and its relationship to coercive force and violence (17).

The ambivalent character of nationalism is something that the ecumenical movement recognized very early on as it attempted to understand and interpret theologically the politics of nationalism and nation-building in Asia, Africa, Latin America and the Middle East . The Salonika report (1958) (18) exhorted the churches to recognize the moral and spiritual justification of nation-building movements in these regions as a means for the emancipation of dependent people. It recognized also other oppressive forms of nationalism and the fact that even liberating nationalism carries in itself "the seeds of perversion" (19). 19 Once we recognize the ambivalent nature of ethnicity, nationalism and religion, we are painfully aware of the limited and fragile scope of our ecumenical reflection on these important matters, as well as the inadequacy of such a theological reflection without an active commitment to, and participation in, acts that promote a culture of peace, justice and tolerance.

Collective identities

The recognition of the ambivalent nature of social reality and its configurations allows us to approach issues of personal and collective identities from an always critical perspective grounded in Christian anthropology, learning from the insights of social scientists and the experiences of others who may not think, believe and act as we do. What it means to be a human person, and how society should be constructed and function, must reflect the sensitivities that we have gained from such conversations. Our reflections on these important matters must never be considered as final and absolute since these categories are reserved only for eschatological realities. The task of trying to find the presence of God in personal or collective human identities, regardless of whether they are religiously inspired or not, challenges us to reflect on God's providential presence and action in the ambivalent domain of history (20). In what ways is God actively present in the world and how can Christian communities identify with and participate in God's actions in history, while remembering always the corruptibility of our human responses and efforts?

In pre-modern times people sustained and developed their communal identity within the perimeters of defined spatial and timely boundaries. Their collective identity gave to their lives a sense of belonging and direction and built into them the solidarity necessary for their communal survival. Ethnicity in this context referred to the condition of belonging to a social group that claimed or was accorded special status on the basis of complex, often-variable traits including religious, linguistic, ancestral or physical characteristics. Ethnicity was rather understood as an extended kinship and as such it was divinely bestowed upon particular people. In the Old Testament, the Israelites, by virtue of God's special election, constitute "a holy nation" (Ex. 19:6), "a people holy to the Lord... chosen... out of all the peoples on earth" (Deut. 7:6). The early Christian Church in the New Testament is called "a holy nation, God's own people" (1 Pet. 2:9). Ethnic differentiations are transcended in the Church, however, for as St Paul indicates: "there is neither Jew nor Greek... for you are all one in Christ Jesus" (Gal. 3:28 ). Ethnic diversity and differentiation are not denied, but nations become relational. It is through the descent of the Holy Spirit on them that they begin to communicate with each other (Acts 2:3-11) and, transformed by Christ's salvific work, that they will enter God's kingdom as nations in all their variety and with their distinctive gifts (Rev. 21:24). Personal and collective identities are not differentiated in scripture, since it would be then, as it is now, inconceivable for human persons to function or understand the world apart from their communal identities which bind them to others. In the Church, ethnic identities become relational and gain a universal horizon that relativizes their differences because of their unity with God (21). The unity of the nations is derived from the fact that all of them are creations of God destined by their existence to move towards God in praise. St Paul preached to the Athenians,

From one ancestor [God] made all nations to inhabit the whole earth, and he allotted the times of their existence and the boundaries of the places where they would live, so that they would search for God and perhaps grope for him and find him - though indeed he is not far from each one of us (Acts 17:26-27).

While we continue to believe, together with St Paul, that human beings are prone to find their place in the world by God's providence and through their association with other people of similar beliefs, alleged origins, cultural orientations and socio-economic interests, we must recognize that the "allotted times of existence and the boundaries of the places where they would live" as nations have been transgressed through voluntary or involuntary migration and compressed by the process of globalization (22). Thus, different nations, religions, Christian churches and other cultural, religious and racial communities must find ways to coexist in the same living space and time without domination, abuse or violent conflicts, while remaining open to the possibility that in the new social realities God is at work even as people experience the forces of death and domination.

I strongly believe that the churches need to continue, or rather begin, their conversation on what the new social reality of globalization means; how it affects human identities; what are the advantages and the disadvantages of such a new and unprecedented social reality (whose effects seem to be irreversible elements for our life in the world); and how globalization affects the life and the witness of the churches. Our ultimate objective in this kind of study is to maintain our unity and continuity with the apostolic faith and at the same time actively work for social arrangements that advance justice, peace and respect for each other's gifts of life.

The opportunities and dangers of ethnic differentiation

In the history of humanity and of the Church, ethnic differentiation provided opportunities for peaceful coexistence but also for ethnic antagonism and conflicts. Yet the ethno-religious conflicts of the 20th century are distinctly modern, derived from the interaction of ethnicity with modern individualism, state structures and the global aspects of capitalism. In the past, different ethnic and religious communities co-existed in harmony in many cosmopolitan capitals of empires and great merchant cities such as Constantinople, Beirut and even Sarajevo . The harmonious coexistence was primarily attributed to the fact that they were not called to join together in democratic self-government. Problems and conflicts of personal and collective identities emerged once it was recognized that governments get their legitimacy from the people and not from divine right, ancient inheritance or sheer power. Different ethnic, religious, racial and cultural communities have to move out of their isolation and interact with each other, participate in a public discourse for the common good, formulate policies and consent to the distribution of power that safeguard their public interests and define their obligations.

When ethnicity gains political aspirations it gives birth to nationalism. Nationalism as a political notion emerged in the late 18th century and it is closely related with the ideas of popular sovereignty, democracy, and the notion that state and nation should be congruent. The movement from empires to democratic and sovereign states is known as a complex history of liberation from oppressive structures and the emergence of new forms of domination. Late modernity, through the process of globalization (as we have already noted), has compressed irreversibly the time and space that defined the boundaries necessary for the formation of communities. This has exacerbated the encounter between different ethnic, religious, racial and cultural communities by forcing them to cohabit in the same living space and, regardless of their dispositions, to experience the presence of others who demand to participate in the power structures that regulate the common public space. In the modern globalized world, people, cultures, societies, religions and civilizations which were previously more or less isolated from one another are now in regular and almost unavoidable contact.

Sociologists have observed that in late modernity personal and collective identities are corroded, while at the same time particular identities are revitalized or encouraged to emerge as a way of gaining control over systemic power (23). Thus, globalization challenges the power of the state in many respects and, rather than spelling the end of nationalism, encourages its renewal and continuous production because, as Graig Calhoon states,

Nationalism is the rhetoric of identity and solidarity in which citizens of the modern world most readily deal with the problematic nature of state power and with problems of inclusion and exclusion (24).

National identity is the most potent collective identity in the modern world because it is understood to provide a basic foundation for social cohesiveness and participation in the distribution of power that regulates life in society. Whenever a person or group feels that their interests, culture or socio-economic concerns are threatened by actual or imaginary forces, their collective identity is heightened, and they look to their cultural, religious and ethnic identity for ways to combat their feelings of helplessness and to serve as vehicles for the redress of injuries to their self-esteem.

Some of the fears which bring latent group identity alive include the following: dangers to the material existence of the individual; feelings of loss and helplessness that accompany dislocation and migration from rural areas to the shanty towns of the urban megalopolis; the disappearance of crafts skills which underlay traditional work identities; the humiliation caused by the homogenizing and hegemonizing impact of the modern world which pronounces ancestral cultural ideals and values outmoded and irrelevant; the perceived or actual disregard by the state of a group's interest or disrespect for its cultural symbols; and changing political constellations such as those which accompany the end of empires. This situation becomes alarming because globalization has brought the world to a great, complex and contradictory stage of ongoing transformation with great potential for a better future for some and immense suffering and dislocation for the majority of people who inhabit this planet. Many people feel a heightened sense of uncertainty and insecurity as they experience the strain and the breakdown of families, social support networks, old ways of forming group solidarity, and other traditional patterns of living. Thus, it is my contention that religion does not by itself mediate violence but rather, together with other social factors, contributes to the generation of violence as people within a group react to internal or external threats against the viability of the group's identity and its participation in local, national and global structures of power (25). Thus, if religion is not the primary or the only cause of violent conflicts in the world, we must recognize that neither peace nor reconciliation can be established simply through the contributions of religion.

Such an undertaking demands that the churches recognize the importance of witnessing to the love of God for the world as a community of God's churches, in cooperation with other people and communities of other living faiths and ideologies who have the same aspiration for life in the world. Furthermore, as the Carnegie report says,

working for the prevention of deadly conflict is, over the long term, too hard - intellectually, technically and politically - to be the sole responsibility of any single church, institution or government, no matter how powerful or willing it may be. Strengths must be pooled, burdens shared, and labour divided among actors. This is a practical necessity (26).

All religions, including Christianity, have been contributing factors to violent conflicts at some points and at other points have contributed significantly to the advancement of peace and reconciliation by embracing other groups with compassion rooted in faith. In the distribution of blame for the deadly use of religion, or of praise for the advancement of peace by religious communities, we must be courageous enough to recognize the failures of all religions (including ours) and gracious enough to acknowledge the extraordinary acts of peace and human compassion that people of different faiths and ideologies have exemplified in situations of deadly conflicts. The awareness of the great complexity of the issues that this study will address should not lead to paralysis or to surrender to the passive acceptance of a violent world. On the contrary, this fragile and vulnerable world can become the focus of our love and we can respond to its needs by uniting the life-giving resources that God has given to his Church with similar gifts that exist in other living faiths, ideologies, and in the world, for the purpose of becoming heralds of peace, working for justice, and recognizing the dignity and the rights of others across national, religious, cultural or social boundaries. The real challenge that we face as churches is not whether we will work for peace, justice and tolerance in the present world, but rather how the voice of God for peace, reconciliation, justice can become stronger, louder and translatable in our actions as we desire to participate in God's continuous work for the salvation of the world.

Pluralism - a positive challenge

The multiplicity of collective and personal identities in modern society, and the freedom that people have to choose what they will be and with whom they will associate, lead to the belief that personal or collective identities are not naturally or divinely given, but are instead social constructs and, therefore, are revisable and subject to reconfiguration, growth or corruption. Rather than dreaming about the demise of nationalism and ethnicity in the globalized world, it is rather more realistic and accurate, for the sake of advancing peace and unity, to seek the redefinition of personal and collective identities by recognizing the already inherently existing plurality in every personal and collective identity. The pluralism of existing identities in the modern world informed by the assumption that collective identities are revisable, subject to growth and to enhancement, challenges us to explore the possibilities to reconfigure the concept of nationhood by recognizing, respecting and engaging with its unavoidable internal pluralism as it tries to find its place in the modern world. As the Carnegie Commission noted,

Citizens from different nationalities, as from different regions, religions or occupations, need to be able and willing to engage each other in discourse about the social arrangements which hold them together and order their lives - in brief, about their common good. Moreover, the same is crucial within nationalities. There is no reason to accept monolithic conformity within any one nation or people (insurgent or in power). Not only may states be multinational or multicultural, nations themselves must - if they are to be allies of liberty - admit and encourage internal diversity whether they are coterminous with states or exist as subsidiary identities within states. It is necessary, in other words, that the nation be open to democracy and diversity, whether or not the close link between the nation and state is severed. In power, extreme nationalists do not just repress other peoples; they repress the diversity and creativity of people within the very nation they cherish (27).

This context will force us to reflect theologically on the plurality of personal and collective identities in the modern world and in what ways religion and more particularly Christianity contribute to the specificity of personal and collective identities through the exclusion or the inclusion of the other/s and differences (28). Reflecting on how personal or collective identities are passionately defended on religious grounds, it will be important to clarify whether identities are social constructs or are given by God or nature to particular people in specific territories. The challenge that we face as Christians is whether we will recognize others in their irreducible differences as God's children and respect them as such or misrecognize them and contribute to their oppression as undesirable transgressors of our living space. How can we develop a culture of peace and tolerance based on the gospel of Jesus Christ and the tradition of God's Church? The Carnegie Commission on Preventing Deadly Conflicts recognizes in its final report that religious leaders and institutions not only find themselves in a privileged position to address situations of conflict, but their contribution towards building a culture of peace is very much needed and required:

The Commission believes that religious leaders and institutions should be called upon to undertake a worldwide effort to foster respect for diversity and to promote ways to avoid violence. During any interfaith and interfaith gathering, they should discuss as a priority matter, ways to play constructive and mutually supporting roles to help prevent the emergence of violence. They should also take more assertive measures to censure coreligionists who promote violence or give religious justification for violence. They can do so, in part, through worldwide promulgation of norms for tolerance to guide their faithful (29).

The Declaration towards a Global Ethic of the Parliament of the World's Religions is a notable example of such an undertaking. It calls Christians and people of other living faiths to recognize the irreversible pluralism of the modern world that invites them to rethink their ethical responsibility and commitment to a culture of nonviolence and respect for life, of solidarity and a just economic order, of tolerance and a life of truthfulness, of equal rights and partnership between men and women. Situating our quest for the unity of the Church in the context of the conflict and waste of human lives and resources that plague our modern world reveals the importance of our ecumenical dialogue, fellowship and witness for the life of the world. Furthermore, it challenges us to develop a theology that attempts not only to interpret ethnic conflicts from a theological perspective but also to challenge the Christian churches to commit themselves to a culture of peace and to work actively for its realization.


(1) R. Scott Appleby, The Ambivalence of the Sacred: Religion, Violence and Reconciliation, Latham MD, Rowman & Littlefield, 2000, p.58.

(2) N. Lossky et al. eds, Dictionary of the Ecumenical Movement, WCC, 2002, p.709.

(3) Carnegie Commission on Preventing Deadly Conflict Final Report with Executive Summary, New York, 1997, p.153.

(4)For revisionary interpretations of ostensibly religious conflicts of the past see Philippe Wolff, "The 1391 Pogrom in Spain: Social Crisis or Not?", Past and Present, 50, 1971, pp.4-18; George Rude, The Crowd in History: A Study of Popular Disturbance in France and England, 1730-1848, New York, 1964; Janine Estebe, Tocsin pour un massacre, Paris, Centurion 1968; idem, Mirrors of Violence, Delhi, Oxford UP, 1990. For an interesting discussion of whether religion should be blamed as the source of dogmatism, fanaticism, prejudice, repression and persecution see David Martin, Does Christianity Cause War? Oxford, Clarendon, 1997.

(5) Martin, Does Christianity Cause War?, p.20.

(6) Ibid., p.6.

(7) Sudhir Kakar, The Colours of Violence; Cultural Identities, Religion, and Conflict, Chicago, Univ. of Chicago Press, 1996, p. 186.


(9) Stephen Steinberg, The Ethnic Myth: Race, Ethnicity and Class in America , New York Athenium, 1981, pp.255, 258.

(10)J. Milton Yinger, "Ethnicity", in Annual Review of Sociology, 11, 1985, p. 161.

(11) N. Glazer and P.D . Moynihan eds, Ethnicity: Theory and Experience, Cambridge MA, Harvard UP, 1975, p. 169.

(12) Yinger, "Ethnicity", p. 161.

(13)ibid. p. 154.

(14) E. Kedourie, Nationalism, London, Hutchinson Univ. Library, 1986, p. 58.

(15) Carnegie Commission, Final Report, p.xv .

(16) Montserrat Guibernau, Nationalisms: The Nation-State and Nationalism in the Twentieth Century, Cambridge, Polity, 1996, p.4.

(17) Appleby, The Ambivalence of the Sacred, p.27.

(18) Dilemmas and Opportunities for Christian Action in Rapid Social Change, WCC, 1959.

(19) Ibid., p.57. This quotation is taken from M.M . Thomas, "Nation", Dictionary of the Ecumenical Movement, p.710b.

(20) D. J. Hall and Rosemary Radford Ruether, God and the Nations, Minneapolis, Fortress, 1995, pp. 17-24.

(21) Damaskinos Papandreou, " Ekklesia kai Ethnotita ", in Orthodoxia kai Kosmos, Katerini, Tertios, 1993, pp.75-85. Orthodox theologians debated the issue of nationalism and the Church at the second conference of Orthodox theological schools held in Athens in 1978. From the perspective of the Church's catholicity, they renounced nationalism and emphasized the inclusive universality of God's Church. At the same time, it was recognized that the Orthodox churches have voluntarily or involuntarily, but always against their faith, subscribed to national and racial chauvinism. Savas Agourides ed ., Deuxième Congrès de théologie orthodoxe, Athens, 1978, pp.458-518. John Karmires in particular, in his article on the catholicity of the Church and nationalism published in the proceedings of this conference (pp.458-81), stated: "It is not permissible that the universal and eternal Church should be restricted and reduced, by identifying with small local 'national' churches, restricted geographically and unduly influenced by civilization, language, idiosyncrasy and the nations of the different peoples and races of the earth, serving at times small and temporary political and state purposes, dictated by nationalism, racialism and chauvinism of peoples and states" (p.470). The same author, reflecting on the historical performance of Orthodoxy, noted: "In recent times certain local Orthodox churches, for mainly historical reasons and not for dogmatic and organizational reasons, sometimes allowed themselves to be led away by excessive nationalism and racism, clinging for a short time unduly to their own nations and becoming unwilling instruments of chauvinistic pursuits of the national states in violation of the catholicity of Orthodoxy" (p.470). See also on the same topic: Demetrios J. Constantelos, "Ethnic Particularities and the Universality of Orthodoxy Today", and John Meyendorff, "Ethnic Particularities and the Universality of Orthodoxy Today", in Nomikos M. Vaporis ed., Rightly Teaching The Word of Your Truth: Studies in Honour of His Eminence Archbishop lakovos, Brookline MA, Holy Cross Orthodox Press, 1995, pp.75-87 and 89-98; Todor Sabev, "Church, Nation and Nationalism", in Ed. Religion et societe, Chambesy, Les Editions du Centre orthodoxe, 1998, pp.259-67. Orthodox theologians, while they denounce ethnicity and nationalism and affirm the universality of God's Church, have not adequately reflected on what ways God is actively present in the diversity of collective identities that characterize the life of the modern world, or on what the public role of the Orthodox Church in an increasingly pluralistic world should be.

(22) For the human consequences of this transgression of time and space see Sigmund Bauman, Globalization: The Human Consequences, New York, Columbia UP, 1998, pp.6-76.

(23) Peter Beyer, Religion and Globalization, London, Sage, 1994, p.2.

(24) Graig Calhoon, "Nationalism and Civil Society: Democracy, Diversity and Self-Determination", in idem ed., Social Theory and the Politics of Identity, Oxford, Blackwell, 1994, p. 305.

(25) D. Horowitz, in Ethnic Groups in Conflict, Berkeley and Los Angeles, Univ. of California Press, 1985, expresses the theory that the international environment, especially the ending of colonial rule, is responsible for ethnic conflict.

(26) Carnegie Commission, Final Report, p.xiv .

(27) ibid.,p.327.

(28)Metropolitan John Zizioulas, "Communion and Otherness", St Vladimir's Theological Quarterly, 38, 1994, pp. 347-61; Miroslav Volf, Exclusion and Embrace: A Theological Exploration of Identity, Otherness, and Reconciliation, Nashville, Abingdon, 1996; Paul R. Sponheim, Faith and the Other: A Relational Theology, Minneapolis, Fortress, 1993; idem, "The Other is Given: Religion, War and Peace", Word and World, 15, 1995, pp.428-42; Francis Jacques, Difference and Subjectivity: Dialogue and Personal Identity, New Haven, Yale UP, 1991.

(29) Carnegie Corporation, Preventing, p. 118.


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