Whose tradition? Adapting Orthodox Christianity in North America

Bringerud, Lydia (2019) Whose tradition? Adapting Orthodox Christianity in North America. Doctoral (PhD) thesis, Memorial University of Newfoundland.

[img] [English] PDF - Accepted Version
Available under License - The author retains copyright ownership and moral rights in this thesis. Neither the thesis nor substantial extracts from it may be printed or otherwise reproduced without the author's permission.

Download (4MB)


Focusing on three Orthodox Christian communities – St. Paraskeva and St. Luke in Midwestern US, and St. Nicolas in Atlantic Canada – this thesis examines the complex cultural dynamics surrounding Orthodox Christianity in North America. I explore the ways believers, both the Orthodox-born and new converts, negotiate with an ancient faith in a contemporary society where this faith may appear counter-cultural. Building on Leonard Primiano’s (1995) theory of vernacular religion, I propose the concept of vernacular theology to shed light on these processes. Despite the illusion of theology as the exclusive purview of clergy, laypeople exercise interpretive agency to creatively adapt doctrine to their individual life circumstances. Considering the significant role of Church history in the religious choices and experiences of my consultants, I begin with a historical overview of Orthodox Christianity, from its origins in the Roman Empire to the present day, including its path to North America. The themes of empire, romantic nationalism, anti-Westernism, and Communism that have historically shaped this faith are explored specifically in Romania, Russia, Serbia, and Ukraine, the home countries of my Orthodox-born participants. I analyze the Orthodox Church’s response to globalization and how this may affect the future of the Church in North America. I further consider encounters between converts and Orthodox-born immigrants within the walls of North American Orthodox churches, examining how Orthodox Christian communities meet the needs of these different groups. I argue that those who convert to Orthodox Christianity create exoteric folklore about ethnicity in terms of those who have cultural connections with the faith. In my last two chapters, I address theory and practice in the lives of Orthodox Christians, with specific emphasis on how women navigate this patriarchal faith in a society in dialogue with feminist ideas. Themes include understandings of clerical authority, spiritual obedience, and the interpretive agency of parishioners. I offer a theory of vernacular feminisms, in which women create strategies of empowerment within a patriarchal system. By creating these choices for themselves, they simultaneously subvert and support a system that limits them on the basis of gender.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral (PhD))
URI: http://research.library.mun.ca/id/eprint/13907
Item ID: 13907
Additional Information: Includes bibliographical references (pages 305-330).
Keywords: Vernacular religion, Eastern Orthodox Christianity, Conversion, Gender, Ethnicity
Department(s): Humanities and Social Sciences, Faculty of > Folklore
Date: May 2019
Date Type: Submission
Library of Congress Subject Heading: Orthodox Eastern Church--North America--Social aspects; Orthodox Eastern Church members--North America--Social life and customs; Emigration and immigration--Religious aspects

Actions (login required)

View Item View Item


Downloads per month over the past year

View more statistics