Migrants walking along train tracks


Orthodox and Interfaith Engagement Can Help Solve Global Challenges, Berkley Center Experts Say at Ukrainian Events

By: Henry D. Brill

February 26, 2021

Berkley Center faculty spoke on critical issues related to Orthodox and interfaith engagement in global issues at a series of events hosted by Ukrainian partners in February 2021.

Several lectures explored issues related to Orthodoxy in Ukraine, drawing on center research and programming on religion in Ukrainian public life. 

Faculty also spoke on interfaith engagement in global challenges at a conference on “Integral Human Development in the Digital Age,” hosted by the Ukrainian Catholic University (UCU) and co-sponsored by the center. The conference brought center scholars into conversation with Ukrainian and Catholic partners, building on years of collaboration with UCU. 

​Orthodox Churches in Competition

Ukraine presents a contemporary challenge to our understanding of church-state relations in Europe, especially after the Orthodox Church of Ukraine was granted independence in early 2019, according to Senior Fellow José Casanova. 

“The usual pattern is one dominant, hegemonic national church along with consolidated religious minorities,” Casanova explained at a lecture hosted by the Harvard Ukrainian Research Institute. “The pattern of Ukraine is different, and it is similar to American denominationalism.”

Geopolitical and ecclesiastical factors—such as the 2014 Revolution of Dignity and rivalry for the leadership of global Orthodoxy—help to explain the rise of competing churches in Ukraine. Casanova described the resulting role of religion in the public square, commenting, 

Soft confessionalization, fluid confessional boundaries, and toleration of the religious other are what characterize the pattern of Ukrainian religious pluralism.

Casanova delivered the Bohdan Bociurkiw Memorial Lecture, sponsored by the Canadian Institute of Ukrainian Studies at the University of Alberta, later in the month. The lecture explored the relationship between Orthodoxy and the Ukrainian nation-state.

“The new Orthodox Church of Ukraine is unlikely to become the national Ukrainian church in symphonic alliance with the state,” said Casanova, who outlined constitutional, political, and ecumenical challenges behind creating a national church. 

​Development on the Global Stage

Other Berkley Center experts reflected on interfaith issues of global significance later in the month at the UCU conference, co-hosted by peers at the International Institute for Ethics and Contemporary Issues

Senior Fellow Katherine Marshall, who leads the World Faiths Development Dialogue, reflected on her experience working at the intersection of religion and development in an interview with Casanova

“We always need to appreciate that the religious worlds can be part of the problem,” Marshall explained, citing religiously colored conflict as one such example. “Religious institutions are also in so many different ways a part of the solution.”

Marshall also reflected on the varied roles of religion in the COVID-19 pandemic. Vaccination is a critical issue where religious actors can push for ethical action, according to Marshall. 

“Religious leadership can help people to translate a general goodwill desire to work together into something much more practical,” she said. “The vaccine example is a stark example right now where people are talking about vaccine nationalism.”

Corruption is another critical equity issue for human development in countries worldwide, including Ukraine. Marshall reflected on her anti-corruption work, commenting,

The issue of corruption is a major obstacle to development programs. It erodes trust, it wastes resources, and it blocks the kind of progress that we know is possible.

Migration and the COVID-19 Pandemic

Casanova and Marshall later joined Georgetown colleagues Kim Daniels and Rev. David Hollenbach, S.J., for a conversation on “Refugees, Immigrants and Pandemic” at the UCU conference. 

Daniels, who serves as co-director of the Initiative on Catholic Social Thought and Public Life, reflected on her work to support interfaith and ecumenical dialogue on immigration, commenting,

Principles of Catholic social thought—like fraternity, solidarity, and subsidiarity—can help guide our thinking on immigration in this current context of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Catholic leaders, including Pope Francis, have played important roles in applying the theological resources of the Church to call for action on immigration during the pandemic, according to Daniels. 

“Migrants have been among the most affected by and vulnerable to COVID-19,” she explained. “Pope Francis has called us to solidarity with migrants and refugees, again and again.” 

Hollenbach, a senior fellow at the Berkley Center and author of Humanity in Crisis: Ethical and Religious Response to Refugees, charted a practical framework to address the crisis of forced migration. 

“The criteria of need, of capability, and of the ability to respond without placing undue burden on ourselves can guide us as we think about our duties to refugees,” explained Hollenbach, drawing from both religious and secular understandings of solidarity. 

As efforts to build a more equitable world after the pandemic are underway, Berkley Center faculty will continue to bring their expertise to critical issues at the intersection of religion and global affairs in and beyond Ukraine.

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