Excellent Analysis of Eastern Orthodox Conversions in America
Amy Slagle’s “The Eastern Church in the Spiritual Marketplace” is an excellent, scholarly look at conversions to Eastern Orthodoxy in America. As an Anglican priest and professor, I’ve been interested in Eastern Orthodoxy, and especially the churches in the U.S. However, information other than that provided by the Orthodox churches themselves (which are not very self-reflective or self-critical) has been hard to come by. Slagle’s book helps fill this niche. Not only will this book help Americans understand the Orthodox churches but Slagle’s work is especially aimed at helping us better understand the process of conversion, using conversions to Orthodoxy as her lens.
I find the way she frames her work in terms of the “spiritual marketplace” to be particularly useful. In my Ph.D. work at Lancaster University in Religious Studies I did a lot of reading in the sociology of religion, especially works by Stark, Finke, Ammerman, Berger, and others. Like it or not, churches and religions inAmericaare all competing in a spiritual marketplace or in what Stark and Finke call the “religious economy.”
Slagle uses several different methodologies on producing her research, but I especially appreciate that she spent a lot of time in several Orthodox parishes to capture the inner life of such churches. This is in contrast to the more “official” view of Orthodox (and other) churches that we often read. It was in taking the time to listen to the stories of converts that she was able to better understand the choices they made to become Orthodox. And choice is an important aspect of Orthodox conversions. Slagle correctly points out the irony in such converts participating in the religious marketplace of choice and using that choice to choose a fairly rigid tradition that allows little choice.
Slagle presents her work in the following order:
Chapter 1 – Introduction to the Orthodox World
Chapter 2 – Eastern Orthodox Conversions in a Pluralistic Context
Chapter 3 – Processes of Catechesis and Socialization for Orthodox Converts
Chapter 4 – Meanings and Motivations for Conversions to Orthodox Christianity
Chapter 5 – Convert Perspectives on Eastern Orthodox Ritual
Chapter 6 – “The Other Side of the Veil”: Convert Responses to Ethnicity
Chapter 7 – Orthodox Christianity in Mississippi
I would have liked more information on the topic of Chapter 4, which deals with converts’ motivations for choosing Orthodoxy. This is an issue of immense importance to me and others who like to understand the religious choices people make, and I believe it merited more time in her discussion.
So much more needs to be written about the Orthodox churches, especially a work on the development of those churches over time and an account of their history and diversity. However, Slagle has made a significant contribution to the discussion not only of Orthodoxy and the process of conversion but also of the religious marketplace in America.
Category: Book Reviews