Orthodox Internationalism: Why religion matters in global history and International Relations

The Russian Orthodox Church was vocal in its support of the Russian military intervention in Syria. ‘The fight with terrorism is a holy battle and today our country is perhaps the most active force in the world fighting it,’ declared Vsevolod Chaplin, former head of the Church’s public affairs department, who also called for a more active Russian military engagement in Ukraine.

Tobias Rupprecht
University of Exeter
Follow on Twitter @Tobepastpresent

Russia has re-emerged as an imperial power during Vladimir Putin’s third term as president. In the Syrian civil war, the Russian military intervention turned the tides in favour of Bashar al-Assad. The Kremlin has incited separatism and war in Ukraine, supports Serbian nationalists and secessional Abkhazians, has refreshed traditional friendships with Bulgaria and Macedonia, and it has struck a deal with the Cypriote government that allows the Russian navy to use the island’s ports. In the Southern European debt crisis, Russia offered substantial financial aid to Greece. What links all these countries is that they all are traditionally home to large groups of Orthodox believers. Is this a coincidence?

In a recent article in Comparative Studies in Society and History, I argue that religious traditions and religion-based visions of world order often impinge on the making of foreign policy and on the nature of International Relations. I make that case using the history of the mutual cross-relationship of church and state in modern Russia and Ethiopia. From the late nineteenth century, both multi-ethnic empires with traditionally orthodox Christian ruling elites, developed a special relationship that outlived changing geopolitical and ideological constellations. Russians were fascinated with what they saw as exotic brothers in the faith; Ethiopians took advantage of Russian assistance and were inspired by various features of modern Russian statecraft. Religio-ethnic identities and institutionalised religion have grounded tenacious visions of global political order and cross-border identities. Orthodoxy was the spiritual basis of an early anti-Western type of globalisation, and was subsequently co-opted by states with radically secular ideologies as an effective means of mass mobilization and control. Continue reading “Orthodox Internationalism: Why religion matters in global history and International Relations”