Accepted Paper:

Charity and salvation in the Eastern Churches: an ethnography of faith-based charities in Hungary and Greece  
Stéphanie Mahieu (Institut National du Patrimoine, Paris)

Paper short abstract:

The paper is based on ethnographical case studies among religious (Eastern Christian) charities in eastern Hungary and northern Greece. It investigates the relation between charity and salvation within the Byzantine tradition. For a long time, institutionalised charity was not considered as a way to salvation in the Eastern Christian Churches. This has changed in the last decade, mostly in urban areas where the fieldwork was conducted.

Paper long abstract:

This paper focuses on faith-based charities in the Eastern Churches. My ethnographical case studies are Paraklisz, a Greek Catholic detoxification centre in Hungary, and Allilevigui, an NGO led by the Greek Orthodox Church. I put the accent on the social doctrine of the Eastern Churches rather than on the Church-State relations. The study of Nationalism within Eastern Churches in South East Europe is indeed of crucial importance, as it appeared during the wars in the former Yugoslavia and the debates over the identity card or the European Constitution. However, it has been over-emphasized during the last decade, and therefore somehow neglected other fundamental socio-historical aspects of religious life. The crucial role played by religious actors, besides traditional state-provided resources, in providing forms of social security, is indeed getting more and more acknowledged both by policy makers and scholars. However, few researches have been undertaken about faith-based charities in Central and Eastern Europe. This apparent lack of interest is partly related to the fact that charity as an institutional activity was much less developed in the Eastern tradition. This relative lack can be explained by three set of reasons: geo-political factors, the role of the Eastern Churches itself (in terms of salvation and morality), and community-based organization of the society. Nevertheless, in the most recent years, significant forms of a structured Eastern non-profit sector have developed. Labeled as the Diakonia, the doctrine of Eastern charity is growing. Organizations such as International Orthodox Christian Charities, and Ortaid (led by the Finnish Orthodox Church) are developing charitable activities in Europe, but also all over the world. Do Eastern charities promote a specific set of values connected with Orthodox morality? How do they interrelate with other European faith-based institutions? Are charitable activities a way to salvation, like in other Christian traditions? These are few of the questions I am interested in.

Panel W031
New perspectives on 'European' Christianity