Expertise on Eastern Christianity: New online platform is to pool knowledge and dialog
In contrast to developments in Western Europe, religion continues to gain importance globally – also with regard to political processes of recent times. Even in the current Ukraine conflict, religion plays a role after the country’s Orthodox Church was split with the nation’s independence in the early 1990s. Knowledge about Orthodox Churches and Churches of the Christian Orient in the Middle East, however, remains scattered around the world.
That is why, under the leadership of the Catholic University of Eichstätt-Ingolstadt (KU), a new interdisciplinary online platform on „Eastern Christian Studies“ will be created, which will preserve and pool the relevant expertise and make it accessible in the sense of Open Science. In addition, the „Eastern Christian Studies Online Campus“ (ESC Online Campus) will create digital teaching formats as well as a range of classes for the general public. The project is headed by Prof. Dr. Thomas Kremer, who holds the endowed professorship „Prinz Max von Sachsen” (Prince Max of Saxony) for Theology of Christian East at the KU. The Volkswagen Foundation is funding the project, which will initially last seven years, with more than 970,000 euros as part of the program „Weltwissen – Strukturelle Stärkung Kleiner Fächer, a program to promote rare subjects.
In addition to a close cooperation with the Research Center Christian Orient at the KU, the partners of the Online Campus include researchers from Germany, Austria, France, Greece, Italy, the USA as well as Ukraine, Armenia and Lebanon. They also include representatives of peace and conflict studies, migration studies, various philologies, and ecumenical and interreligious theology.
The concept, which Professor Kremer developed with his research associate Joachim Braun in exchange with numerous partners, addresses the academic situation of Christian Oriental Studies in the German-speaking world: „On the one hand, specially endowed chairs have not been reoccupied in recent years; on the other hand, the subject has gained in importance precisely because of recent migration movements, in which many Christians have had to leave their Eastern homelands,“ Kremer says. This shows how much the culture of Eastern Christianity is threatened in the countries of origin and how it is simultaneously present in our own country thanks to migration. Historically, the Armenian diaspora in France is an example that continues to have an impact even today: After World War I, the country was a major destination for Armenian refugees, who today form the world’s fourth-largest Armenian community, with over 600,000 people – after Armenia, Russia and the USA. Most of them belong to the Armenian Apostolic Church.
The planned ESC Online Campus also responds to a structural feature of the discipline: While in Germany a distinction has historically been made between studies of the Christian Orient and Eastern Christian or Orthodox theology, internationally the two fields are combined under „Eastern Christian Studies.“ „Against this background, we want to reposition the traditional academic culture – from a purely philological discipline to an interdisciplinary, future-oriented approach with reference to the present,“ says Professor Kremer, who is also chairman of the „Society for the Study of the Christian East.“
Research associate Joachim Braun adds: „We have exchanged views on which disciplines outside our subject play a role for us and how we can specifically involve them – for example, political science, peace and conflict research, or migration research, such as that conducted by the Center for Flight and Migration at the KU. In addition, we want to focus the widely scattered locations where our subject is still present in order to unite the knowledge available on one platform and develop it further.“ Cooperation partners from Christian Eastern Studies are – besides the Research Center for Oriental Christianity at the KU – the Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich, the Martin Luther University of Halle-Wittenberg, the Friedrich Alexander University of Erlangen-Nuremberg, the Ukrainian Catholic University of Lviv and the Université Saint-Esprit de Kaslik in Lebanon.
The portal is explicitly intended to live up to its name of „online campus“ and will not to be a static repository of research results. Rather, those involved want to use the platform to invite exchange between researchers, teaching staff and the public. The ESC Online Campus will compensate for the discipline’s scattered worldwide distribution of research and study locations by means of its digital channels. Just how well this is already working can be seen, to give just one example, in Professor Kremer’s current course program, which includes a digital course for the Armenian language with more than 25 international participants who join the class from as far away as Australia.
With regard to teaching, blended learning formats are being developed for the platform that combine digital offers for self-study with classroom formats in Eichstätt and at partner institutes. These courses are not only intended to complement undergraduate degree programs, but can also be used by people for postgraduate studies, such as those working in journalism, aid organizations, tourism or ecumenical cooperation. In this way, the online campus offers career prospects that go beyond pure academia.
In addition to research and teaching, the third pillar of the portal will be the transfer of knowledge to the general public – through blogs, podcasts, author readings or online exhibitions. Political developments such as the Arab Spring have, almost without exception, been closely linked to religiously motivated discussions and tensions. In addition, there are currently about two million members of Orthodox churches or Eastern churches living in Germany alone – and that number is rising. „The largest diocese of the Syrian Orthodox Church is now the diocese of Germany – with about 100,000 believers. It is important to convey greater awareness and knowledge of such backgrounds among the general population as well,“ says Professor Kremer.
Prof. Dr. Thomas Kremer (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Joachim Braun (email@example.com)