Ongoing Projects

Coronavirus: A New Test(ament) of Orthodox Christianity: A comparative analysis of 12 European countries

Longevity (2021-22)

Funding Organization: Center for Governance and Culture in Europe, University of St.Gallen, Switzerland

Principal Investigator: Dr. Tornike Metreveli

The COVID-19 pandemic has emerged as an existential challenge to all societies and Orthodox Christianity in particular. Orthodox Christianity accounts for approximately 260 million members globally, three-quarters (77%) of which live in Europe. With the exponential growth of coronavirus cases worldwide, Orthodox churches around the globe face increasingly restrictive rules imposed by local governments. They faced a dilemma. Churches either had to suspend the Divine Liturgy and the mystery of the Holy Communion, adapt the Eucharist to the state’s demands of social distancing and remove the practice of communion from the same spoon or challenge the state regulations using various legal clauses (e.g. ‘freedom of belief’) and mystical discourses (e.g., the virus cannot be transmitted through the Eucharist because of the true presence of the Incarnate Christ).

The impact of the church’s response to a global pandemic is immense. Churches are the most trusted institutions in the cultural spaces dominated by Orthodox Christianity. The extent of religiosity in Orthodox countries is high. Churches voice conservative resilience against globalization. A global pandemic, however, emerges as a novel type of challenge. The scale of inter-dependencies between religious and political actors reaches an unprecedented level with the proliferation of the coronavirus. Yet, churches choose to respond differently. This project inquires the reasons for such divergent responses. In answering this question, the project combines classical methods of data gathering (e.g., discourse and institutional analysis) with an innovative survey app that will allow us to track and identify how the role of religion adapts and changes across time and place.

Territoriality of the Georgian Orthodox Church

Longevity (2021 with a possibility of extension)

Funding Organization: Center for Governance and Culture in Europe, University of St.Gallen, Switzerland

Principal Investigator: Dr. Tornike Metreveli

This project examines whether and to what extent the spatial dimension of the church’s vision of territoriality matches Georgia’s legal borders. By creating an interactive map, the project will visualize how discourses of GOC over territoriality relate to the practices of church-building. By employing various qualitative and quantitative methods, we will analyze the number of churches and their geographical location to process trace when and how the discourses over territoriality and actual legal borders of the state (mis)match. All data will be visualized on the digital map as a major output of the project along with the study and open access articles. The findings of the research will also be adapted to various digital products. This will guarantee that broader audiences will learn new findings of the study in digestible media formats.

Trump's Political Discourse and the Interaction between Speakers and Listeners — A Philosophical Perspective on a Concrete Case

Longevity: 2021

Funding Organisation: Åke Wibergs Stiftelse

Principal Investigator: Doc. (Ass. Prof.) Patrik Fridlund

The Trump presidency is given by many as an example of post-truth politics, a political culture in which facts are ignored and political discourses are characterized by alternative facts and conspiracy theories. In an earlier study I show that Trump's discourse in several respects only constitutes an extreme of what characterizes political discourses in general, namely that they are not primarily based on facts, but that they are judged on the effects they have. So they can be identified as performative. A conclusion in a follow-up study of the performative is that the interactive relationship is of crucial importance with the consequence that the speaker has less control over what is said than is often assumed. In the present project, I test the explanatory power of previous studies through an analysis of Trump's speech at the UN in September 2018. Trump can be said to be ridiculed in that context, but the voter support he has is not affected. The thesis is the effect of a political discourse is determined by the interaction between sender and receiver. In this way, the clear distinction between recipient and sender is relaxed. Thus, unintended and implicit messages become potentially as important as intended and explicit messages. One result is that questions about demanding responsibility are raised, which in turn are expected to give rise to new questions about the nature of democracy.

Populism and Theology

Longevity: 2020-2021

Funding Organization: Helge Ax:son Johnsons stiftelse

Principal Investigator: Doc. (Ass. Prof.) Patrik Fridlund

Right-wing populist parties have a strong position in Western European politics and they are particularly interesting because of the way they draw power from the use of religion. This is often analysed sociologically or politically, which means that certain basic theological assumptions become unprocessed.

A horizontal dimension is typical of right-wing populism. It is about the people against ‘the others’, against those who pose a threat. The religious identity is used to create ‘the other’, the enemy, who is alleged to undermine the majority culture with foreign values, foreign beliefs and foreign forms of life.  Various analyses of European right-wing populism generally say that it is about Christian civilization, not Christian life, that is, about religion as an identity marker, a way of distinguishing the good ‘we’ from the bad ‘them’. Reference points consist of certain symbols such as the cross, not of theological dogmas or doctrines. When populist use of religion is problematised in this way, it is absolutely necessary to make certain basic assumptions about religion and about religious self-understanding.  This project wants to show how the issues are more complex and that the analyses made of right-wing populism and religion have everything to gain from a philosophical and theological perspective.