Mainstream scholars such as Lester R. Kurtz have long argued that conversion to a “sibling religion” represents one of the most powerful triggers for religious discrimination and violence, due to a “politics of heresy” phenomenon, that is known to generate group instability. Indeed, when such conversion takes place within the confines of an organized religion (which the cultural majority identifies with), the relationship between the majority and the new minority becomes tense to the extent that it can easily erupt into communal attrition, discrimination, and even physical violence. For the traditional culture, the convert becomes stigmatized as a “deviant insider” who is “perpetually suspected of treason” against the reproductive elements of the spiritual norms of the majority.
Such had been the case with the conflicting relationship between the Orthodox majority and the Protestant minority in Romania, particularly as Protestantism left its ethnic confines (mainly German and Magyar), and made headways among the Romanians.
Nevertheless, this deliberate separation by ethno-religious lines (typical of a traditional cultural manifestation as a pre-given constant), started weakening as a result of the 1910 World Missionary Conference of Edinburgh, and the birth of the ecumenical movement, which triggered the creation of forums for interreligious dialogue such as the European Council of Churches (ECC) and the World Council of Churches (WCC).
This change of attitudes led also to the genesis of a modern culture, where the power of cultural patters meshed together the dominant culture with counter cultures and subcultures; leading to a new form of interreligious communication. To the benefit of the relationships between Romanian Orthodox majority and Protestant minorities, the modern culture triggered a form of communication, which in Jerald D. Gort’s terms, it involved the sharing of histories, the sharing of theologies, the sharing spiritualities and the sharing of the meaning of life.
Beyond the official dialogue conducted through ECC and WCC, the Communist oppression gave birth to a new form of dialogue inside the political prisons, where the Orthodox and the Protestant inmates regarded themselves as responsible and self-conscious representatives of their own religion, as they saw themselves as equals in suffering.
Nevertheless, with the collapse of communism in Romania, the power of cultural patterns shifted from a modern to a postmodern culture, which in its own respect was more negotiable, emotional and based on needs. Ironically, the newfound sense of freedom triggered a paradoxical phenomenon which crossed boundaries and became accepting of individual diversity.
On the one hand, Romania’s Protestant minorities intensified their missionary activities and social work beyond the comfort level of the Orthodox majority; such as that one’s mission becoming the other’s proselytism.
On the other hand, in spite of competition for credibility, the Orthodox and Protestant elites avoided conflict, and continued to maintain positive relationships. During this phase, at least at the elite level, the relationships between the Romanian Orthodox Church (which represents 81.9% of Romania’s population), and the Protestant minorities (which together make up about 6.4% of Romania’s population), not only succeeded in avoiding major confrontations, but they also maintained positive relationships. These positive relationships have arguably been maintained by various cultural and political factors, as well as by the engagement of the Orthodox Church in ecumenical dialogue. (Another side effect of these positive relationships became highly visible in 2014, when over 50% of the Romanians voted an ethnically German Protestant to be the President of Romania.)
Nevertheless, the question remains whether these current attitudes will survive the test of history; that is whether Romania’s political fate will continue on path democratic pluralism, or, on the contrary, it will retreat into an authoritarian nationalism.
One way of answering the sustainability of these attitudes may be found in the black box of the current networking and dialogue between Protestant and Orthodox elites.
In setting the tone for a research agenda, Lourens Minnema proposes several correlations between culture, communication and dialogue that fully match the patterns offered by the Romanian case. Focusing exclusively on the postmodern style of cultural analysis, one way in which the sustainability of these relationships can be tested is by analyzing how interfaith events are being covered by confessional and secular media.
Another way of probing its sustainability is through a mapping of the existing networking between Orthodox and Protestant elites. Here, the Social Network Theory and Social Network Analysis are solid tools for the testing. By modeling the elite networking, one may be able to better assess the strengths and weaknesses of personal or egocentric model of networks, the strengths and weaknesses of whole or complete model of networks, and the strengths and weaknesses of hybrid model of networks.
With a sociomatrix built upon the religious identity of nodes or actors carrying specific religious identities, one can test the sustainability of the relationships between the Orthodox and Protestant elites in Romania by exploring the relationships between the nodes (individuals or groups), edges or ties expressed as undirect relationships (professional acquaintances), or direct relationships, such as personal attitudes of friendship (one-directional or bidirectional), simple networks, such as collections of friendships and relationships, multiplex networks, weighted ties, groups and geodesic distances. In analyzing these relationships and structures, and by mapping them in terms of reciprocity, transivity, preferential treatment, structural equivalence, subsets or cliques, one will be able to assess the strengths of existing relationships and better predict their future.
In conclusion, the results derives from probing the strengths and weaknesses of the existing model will help predict the future of dialogue, whether Romania will continue on its path of democratic pluralism, or shift toward authoritarian nationalism.
PhD in Communication Sciences
CTS-IARSIC, CORHIS (EA 7400), Université Paul Valéry de Montpellier, France