Tolerance and Globalization in the Dialogue between Science and Religion in Romania

Tolerance and Globalization in the Dialogue between Science and Religion in Romania

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Why can Romania offer a privileged prospective on transdisciplinarity?


Both scientists and theologians direct their interest towards the same object (world, life), although their approaches are clearly different. Therefore, it is not surprising that, throughout the centuries, they have showed quite a suspicious attitude one to another. The core of misunderstanding resides in the very perception of being “different” and of the “differences”; only recently a strong effort has been made to substitute this natural, instinctive understanding with a trans-rational one: take for instance all the differences between us: race, colour, health, sex, age, etc. It took us a very long time to see women, black, elderly, disabled, gay people etc as being all equal; sometimes to accept it may take generations. But the toughest difference to overcome seems to be, apparently, religion.

However, we know now that different is by no means equivalent to incompatible, it is rather complementary.

Transdisciplinarity aims to reconcile and reintegrate our split understanding of life. Why would Romania offer an interesting prospective on the subject? There are two main reasons for that. The first one is related to the past: unlike the core of western culture, there is strong evidence that Romanian tradition has well preserved a unitary view on this issue. The importance of this forma mentis, and of the suggestions that may be drawn from it, could hardly be exaggerated. The second reason is linked to the present. There is now a major research project running in Romania, called “Science and Religion, Research and Education”, which is likely to have a high impact on the understanding of the advantages of a Transdisciplinary view.


Romania has merely entered in the European Union and it tries to cope with globalization: since it is a Christian born country it also preserves the Christian traditions. It seems like a paradox that precisely these traditions are helping it to better adapt to globalization. Its idea is not new. We meet it in the classical philosophy (Plato, Aristotle, etc.) but also at the Holy Fathers, as the text from Mathew (28, 19-20) could be interpreted as a desideratum of geographical extension: “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the Ages.” The modern sense of the syntagma “at worldwide level” comes to be used in Great Britain in the 16th century, due to its expansion on sea and to the appearance of the world’ system. At that moment the trend of the “cultural gravity field” aiming to shape the human life from the largely dimensioned oecumenae (religious, cultural, political, and economical) towards smaller social units seems to be reversed. In America, South – East Asia, Africa and mostly Occidental Europe takes place a development, mostly autonomous, of social formations with large dimensions (imperial structures, etc.), which gradually will be substituted by the worlds of the Euro-colonies.

This was a structure of superposed oecumenae where migration, trading, widespread concepts, conquests create within society tighter and tighter connections that substitute the ancient medieval world that had found its zenith in the “long 16th century”.

At the level of imaginary, everything is put upside down by the appearance of printing. Its power increases the degree of abstractness and rationality in the social world, creating a major turning point in the process of “disenchanting the world” through the appearance, in the very core of initiated modernity of communities imagined as primordial, drawing what Appadurai calls “the paradox of constructed primordialism”.

After a long period of “hypo-cognition” the adjective global acquires a new significance and a sense of process, in the 60’s a time of important cultural changes and crises. It is at this time that McLuhan introduces the metaphor of the “global village”, expressing a new level of neighborhood and human closeness issued from the electronically means of communication.

So, the whole globalization theory has communication as main power engine able to render it dynamic and optimize it. If we should evaluate the situation, for the same period of time but from the perspective of the Romanian Orthodox Church, we have to notice that it is precisely now that we are joining “de jure” the Oecumenae Council of Churches, a structure which only lacks the practice of communion to be the religious alter-ego of globalization, not just theoretically but in fact.

This lack is generated by the fact did not really “ea ipso” reiterate the oikumenae aimed to by the New Testament theology and by the Patristic exegesis, but only employed, copying them the structures and practices of a secularizing geopolitical and economical system.

The early 90’s have surprised by the dense use made of the term “globalization” but it was due to its passages from the sphere of social studies to the ones of journalism and of the integrationist political slogan.

The Christian oikumene is not a model a priori offered to the world, it is not a paradigm, but a purpose (tellos) meant to be achieved through evangelization and embodiment of the evangelical word. It does not pursue cultural uniformity, but the omoutimia concretely expressed by the Christian act of confession and in the cult corresponding to it.

Globalization is seen as a creative and homogenous uniformity applied to the world of our days, which is a world of discontinuity with the origins, of alienation and hyper reality.

It is a paradox that globalization is not a uniform process. It is also followed by a simultaneous process of “localization”, a process that splits the totalizing significance of the term. Homogeneity and heterogeneity represented by globalization and localization are both happening throughout the planet. The two processes are usually presented as being opposite, but only apparently. The importance given to the hidden link of completion between the cultural organization and heterogeneity has also created neologisms: fragmegration, as a result of the synthesis between fragmentation and integration and glocalization, reuniting globalization and localization, this fact attesting the incipient state of the phenomenon in its actual stage, both conceptually and factually.

There is one thing of certain: the modern world walks towards an obvious globalization, though our coeval period reflects only a geopolitical dimension or an economical one. Global dynamics offers itself the elements we need to seize this exceptional phenomenon. It provides us the possibility to sustain a dialogue, in order to accomplish the liturgical communio, able to revaluate the vitality of the Patristic term of oikumene. In fact we are speaking of the awakening from a dream, precisely from an illusion regarding the liturgical communication and transcendence.

From the History of Christianity on the Romanians territories

The Romanian Orthodox Church is the only one having received the apostolic Christianity, therefore preserving the traditional kind of faith and speaking a Romanic language, derived from Latin.

Evidence of a spiritual quest in Romanian territory, in particular of Christian faith, comes from many centuries back; there has been no discontinuity, not even during the XIX century, when the first attempts to secularize the society were made.

Historical information’s as well as archaeological, linguistic and logical evidence point out that Christianity has very early spread itself on the actual territory of Romania. The Church’s historian Eusebius from Cezareea (+330) knows from Origene (+254) that the saint Apostle Andrew has preached the Holy Scripture to Scythians (Hist. Eccl. III, 1 PG 12, 91-92). The Sinaxarion Ecclesiae Constantinopolitanae states the same thing, where Tertulian, well known apologetic writer, (+240) was stating that, in his lifetime Christianity was already spread among the Sarmatians, Dacians, Germans and Scythians (Adv. Iud. 7, PL 2,650A).

There are many documents proving that the Churches from Scythia Minor (nowadays Dobrogea) and from the north of the Danube have always been in communion with the universal Church. Bishops from Scythia Minor are reported by history to have been participants to the ecumenical Councils from Niceea (325), Constantinople (381), Ephesus (431), Chalcedon (451) or to the councils held on the southern side of the Danube. Records have been preserved of the current contacts held by the churches from this region with Constantinople.

At the dawn of the 6th Century, was counting 15 Bishoprics lead by the one of Tomis (nowadays Constantza). It was the native country of some known theologians like John Cassian (+ 431), Dionysius Exiguus (+ 545) or the so-called “Scythian monks” from the 6th Century (Leontius, John Maxentius and Peter the Deacon).

The Christian-type archaeological discoveries reported to last from the 4th Century, bearing Latin inscriptions, prove the early conversion of the Dacian-Roman population to Christianity but its continuity on the Romanian territory even after the Roman administration and Army have been withdrawn into the southern side of the Danube (271-275).

Tolerance in the Christian tradition

Although tolerance is today not infrequently preached by Christian authorities, it is important to recall that the tradition of Christianity is one of intolerance. Unlike most contemporary religions, Christianity was, since Saint Paul’s times, an exclusivist religion, forbidding its followers to worship other gods or engage in alien practices. It was also a universalistic religion, proclaiming that it was the only true religion for all mankind. Whereas Judaism was also exclusivist, it was not universalism – it was not a religious choice normally available to those who were not ethnic Jews. Christianity, in contrast, taught that it was the only valid religion for all. It was a voluntaristic religion which people were free to choose, and should choose. Thus, Christianity was also a proselytes’ religion, seeking to persuade people that all other religions were evil, and therefore condemning them.

For centuries, the Christian church made its goal of the conversion of the heathens, among whom it included those of all other faiths. While the heathens were to be converted, those who were acquainted with “the true faith” but had, in some particular way or another, come to challenge church teaching were to be not only excommunicated from the church but also exterminated by death (the imperative demand of St. Thomas Aquinas).

The majority’s Religion vs. the ones of minorities

Both the major religion (orthodox) and the religions of the ethnic minorities have always been treated with the highest respect. The orthodox religion has faced no serious internal threat over the centuries, compared to western Christianity, which experienced a considerable amount of turmoil – culminating in the protestant split. The orthodox Romanian world has been essentially unitary over the centuries, along the lines traced by he Fathers of the church. This is called the Holy Tradition, as opposed to the many “local traditions”, which can be accounted for in terms of ethnic anthropology rather than spiritual history.

The first real threat that the church has faced came thus from the outside: it occurred during the communist regime, in the late forties, when the authorities imposed an atheistic-materialistic education. This experience has been shared by virtually every communist country; in Romania though, this policy has been pushed to its utmost limits by the dictatorial regime.

The Church, as well parish peoples and, most of all, clergymen, became at once one of the main targets of a ruthless persecution. Consequently, their activity did not cease; it only moved from church to prison, changing thus its emphasis from a social role into a sheer spiritual – but even stronger- form of protest.

What was the situation on the Romanian territories in more recent times?

After the Union of the Romanian Principalities (Walachia and Moldavia, 1859) and the conquest of independence from the Ottomans (1877-1878), the Romanian Orthodox Church is recognized as autonomous by the Ecumenical Patriarchate (1885). After the reunion to Romania of Transylvania and Basarabia (1918) it is elevated to the rank of Patriarchate (1925).

The Romanian Orthodox Church has involved itself to the Ecumenical Movement. Since 1961 (New Delhi), it is a member of the Ecumenical Council of Churches. It is also a member of the Conference of European Churches. The Romanian Orthodox Church has almost 20,000,000 members (86,7 % from the country‘s population) and it is considered the second greatest Orthodox Church of the world.

We would like to resume some examples: Orthodoxy in Moldavia and in Walachia was not constrained by legislative restrictions; in Transylvania Orthodoxy gained its freedom only after the great union, in December 1918. Legislation, between the World Wars, is peaceful to Christianity in Romania. During communist times, the legislation admits a small number of confessions allowed to exist restrictively, under a hard control of the authorities.

In recent years the opening of the Romanian Orthodox Church towards other Churches is an innovative trend. It is edifying to remind the visit of His Sanctity the Pope John Paul II in Bucharest, May 7th-9th 1999, the first ever visit taken by a Pope in a country with Orthodox majority, as well as the historical visit of His Holiness Father Patriarch Teoctist in Rome, October 7th-14th 2002. The historical aspect of the visit stood in the fact that it was the first ever official visit of a Patriarch of the Romanian Orthodox Church made in Rome, to the Vatican and to the Roman Catholic Church. Its purpose was a better knowledge, an approach and a work aiming to reunite Christian Churches, in respect to the desideratum stated by our Redeemer Jesus Christ “that all of them may be one (John 17, 21).

This is also the spirit in respect to which the other religions are treated in Romania. The major religion (orthodox) and the religions of ethnic minorities have always been treated with the highest respect. The orthodox Romanian world has been essentially unitary over the centuries, along the lines traced by he Fathers of the church. This fact is called the Holy Tradition, opposite to many “local traditions”, which can be accounted for in terms of ethnic anthropology rather than spiritual history.

The first real threat the church has faced came thus from the outside: it occurred during the communist regime, in the late forties, when the authorities imposed an atheistic-materialistic education. This experience has been shared by virtually every communist country; in Romania though, this policy has been pushed to its utmost limits by the dictatorial regime.

The dialogue between Science and Religion: a possible mediator between Tradition and Globalization

Obviously, science and religion have suddenly been regarded as two incompatible perspectives. This view, not uncommon elsewhere, was however totally alien to Romanian culture, where they have always worked as complementary approaches to reality. Unlike in many other countries, neither did the Church hinder nor control scientific activity and research (take for instance the Inquisition in the West), nor has there ever been any major current of thought skeptical towards the Church or its beliefs (like the Enlightenment).

We intend to identify those events which are particularly relevant in this sense, and, by drawing conclusions from past experience, suggest ways for a successful dialogue in the future.

Turning now to the second point, let’s have a closer look at this research major program now running in Romania. It has the advantage of giving an adequate preparation, a systematic approach of methodological principles. It aims at training towards a unitary thinking, bringing together in a consistent way various points of view on the same subject: namely the dialogue between science and religion. There are also specific obstacles to overcome. The main one comes from the lack of communication cultivated during the past few decades by atheistic-communist education.

1. In spite of the totalitarian system in Romania before 1989, a powerful and original theological reflection was developed. It is enough to quote here the names of the Fathers Dumitru Staniloae and André Scrima. Their work opens towards, on one hand, a Philosophy of Nature in agreement with the theological thinking and, on the other hand, towards the inter-religious dialogue. It is also important to quote the famous name of Mircea Eliade, the founder of the modern history and philosophy of religions, who was born in Romania and lived in USA and France. The work of such internationally known thinkers has a strong influence on the young theologians and scientists, who are the leaders of tomorrow in the orthodox religion – science dialogue.

2. Romania is by itself an oxymoron, being at the same time Latin and Orthodox country. The latinityof Romania allows it to be a privileged place for the dialogue with the Catholic Church and with various religious traditions in Europe and Latin America. It is not an accident if the first time in thousand years when a Pope traveled in an orthodox country was precisely in 1999, in Romania. Pope John-Paul II was triumphal welcomed by the Orthodox Church and the cultural and political authorities. It is also not an accident if the first Orthodox Patriarch who celebrated the Vatican mass together with a Catholic Pope, after addressing to a huge crowd at the Piazza San Pietro, was precisely a Romanian Patriarch, in 2002.


3.  The John Templeton Foundation (JFT) is quite known in Romania. Of course, the field of the orthodox religion – science dialogue was present in Romania before the JFT local actions, but the fact that this dialogue could constitute a much elaborated new academic discipline was a true revelation. Brilliant teams of scientists and theologians from Bucharest and Craiova won CTNS grants and their activities prepared well the soil for the present project. The main impulse for the present Project for Romania was given by the international workshop Science and Religion – Antagonism or Complementarity? (Bucharest, Romanian Academy, November 8-11, 2001), which received the support of high cultural and political Romanian authorities – the Romanian Academy, the Romanian Ministry of Culture and Cults and the National Commission of Romania for UNESCO. It also benefited from the participation as invited speaker and active participant of the Metropolitan of Moldavia and Bukovina. Two books, one in English and French and one in Romanian translation, were just published by the Editing House «XXI: Eonul Dogmatic», founded by a young theologian, participant at the Bucharest meeting.


Romania is now going through a period of profound changes, after decades of religious persecution and compulsory atheistic education. Some people’s views are still deeply influenced by the prejudices inoculated through this sort of propaganda; again, skepticism acts on both sides: on the one hand, some scientists may show deep contempt towards religion, while on the other, some members of the clergy may still refuse to leave their cloisters and their unquestionable views, to face the world as it is, with its new realities and rationalism. There has been a sudden transition from an isolated society (as the Romanian society was isolated not only from the western countries, but also from the socialist neighboring states), to a very fast globalization (Romania is now entering the EU). Therefore the dialogue between science and religion, between rationality and faith, proves nowadays to be essential. Scientific truth is a common denominator among a variety of faiths and religions, now too often at war one to another, and it can contribute to understanding, communication and tolerance. Romania was a pioneering country in this sense, as it hosted for instance the first visit of a Pope in an orthodox state in 1999; it also exhibits quite a high degree of tolerance towards the other cults worshipped by minorities. This background made it possible to run here one of the major programs funded by the John Templeton Foundation: “Science and Religion, Research and Education”; this is thought to be the largest national program ever approved by the foundation. The three-year project involves six academic centers in Romania and about 130 researchers. The program is devoted first of all to research and education but also to other ways of promoting dialogue between science and religion. More translations from English (or French) into Romanian will be encouraged as a way of building up the literature more rapidly and ensuring availability of library resources. Support is also to be given to post-doctoral research, wider debate and opportunity for scholars to participate in science-religion conferences and exchanges outside Romania. In addition, dialogue within Romania on science and orthodoxy and exchanges with scholars from other orthodox countries such as Russia are planned. Its involvement with the research carried on in England is seen as a priceless link able to develop this important network.


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