Orthodox Christian Studies Center of Fordham University Advances Orthodox Christian Theology of Human Rights

The Orthodox Christian Studies Center

The Orthodox Christian Studies Center, Fordham University, was given a Leadership 100 grant of $250,000 over four years for the program “Affirming an Orthodox Christian Theology of Human Rights.” Initial funding of $50,000 for 2018, $50,000 for 2019, and $50,000 for 2020 has been provided. The multi-year, interdisciplinary, international research initiative’s product will be publications to provide analyses of Orthodox Christianity’s engagement with human rights discourse and to develop constructive proposals affirming an Orthodox Christian theology of human rights.  The Leadership 100 grant is intended to supplement a grant award of $360,000 from the Henry Luce Foundation.

The progress to date reported by the Center included the first meeting of scholars and journalists March 20-22, 2019 at Fordham’s Law School, whose main purpose was to enable scholars to meet and learn from one another, as one of the current dysfunctions of the academic world is that scholars who work in different disciplines (e.g. Political Science or History or Theology) and scholars who work on different geographies (e.g. the Middle East or the Balkans or Russia) never have any contact with one another and never read one another’s work. 

The project is bringing these world-class scholars into conversation with one another so that they can learn from one another’s work and, thereby, vastly improve their own output so that it speaks to a broader, more diverse public.  The second (and related) purpose of the first meeting was to provide comprehensive overviews of current state of the field regarding the intersection of Orthodoxy Christianity and Human Rights in distinct geographic settings (namely Eastern Europe and the Middle East).  These sessions were led by Dr. Kristina Stoeckl of the University of Vienna and Michael Hanna of the Century Foundation.  The conversations were lively, even contested at points.  But everyone who participated agreed that they had never been part of such a comprehensive or original project.  A third session on the state of the question of human rights in the broader academic world was led by Samuel Moyn, the Henry R. Luce Professor of Jurisprudence at Yale Law School and internationally renowned expert on human rights. 

Since the last meeting, three new steps were taken.  First, the scholars who will be the first to present their research findings at the next gathering have been identified. In general terms, the entire group will be divided into four groups, with one quarter of the scholars presenting during the subsequent years.  Second, some of the scholars have already begun to publish editorials about their areas of expertise.  For example, Mariz Tadros published an essay on Public Orthodoxy linking domestic violence among Coptic Christian women to issues of human rights. Similarly, one of the Fordham doctoral students has built upon the work of the project by writing his own essay about the history of human rights language.  Third, one of the Greek colleagues, Pantelis Kalitzises has contracted his first peer-reviewed journal article on the relationship between human rights and Orthodox theology in the Greek context.

In anticipation of the second annual meeting, which was planned for March 16-18, 2020 but had to be postponed to a later date due to the C0VID-19 National Emergency, the community of scholars was requested to volunteer to present their work in progress.  Ordinarily, a project like this might have had a difficult time convincing its participants to volunteer their work so early into the process.  While there is space for one third of the group to present in this year’s gathering, more than two thirds of participants had requested a slot, which indicates just how invested in the project they are.  Eight scholars (Slavica Jakelic, Lucian Leustean, Ina Merdjanova, Philip LeMasters, Christopher Sheklian, Mariz Tadros, Basileios Syros, and Anthony Rober) have been selected and each of them will be given a 90-minute session to present their work and receive critical feedback.  

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