Aaron Eldridge

Cultivating an Antiochian Orthodox Tradition: Renewal and Political Life in Lebanon
Anthropology, Critical Theory
Spring 2017

A general feeling of quiet crisis dominates in contemporary Lebanon: gridlocked government, the breakdown of basic civil services, and increasing municipal protests are compounded by Hezbollah’s military imbrication in Syria and the increasing influx of Syrian refugees into a polity already laden with considerable youth unemployment. My research addresses the Antiochian Christian Church’s renewal efforts, which negotiate Lebanon’s fraught social and political landscape. I seek to better understand the relationship between religious practice and political belonging in a region that has historically been defined through sectarian divisions. Antiochian Orthodox—also called Greek Orthodox—are the third largest Christian group in Lebanon, tracing their origins back to ancient Antioch (modern day Turkey). Following the devastating Lebanese Civil War (1975-1990), major internal population shifts have resulted in the emergence of new church communities in Beirut’s Mount Lebanon suburbs, setting the stage for renewed communal practices. This shift, compounded with the current deadlock between political factions and the ongoing conflict in Syria (2011-present), have catalyzed calls for a renewed, sustained life in the Church, gesturing to the failures of the broader Lebanese polity. I explore these novel formations of Christian renewal, focusing on the Orthodox communities within Beirut and its suburbs in Mount Lebanon, as well as the Church’s major theological center, The St John of Damascus Institute of Theology. Tracing the ways liturgical life emerges discursively as the center of a Orthodox Christian life, I seek to show the ways Antiochian tradition reconfigures notions of political belonging, readdresses the historical narrative of sectarianism, and grapples with contemporary crises in Lebanon.