One of our advisory board members, Deacon Andrei Psarev of Holy Trinity Seminary in Jordanville, NY, operates the excellent church history website ROCORStudies.org. As the name suggests, the site is devoted to studying the history of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia (ROCOR). Recently, we asked Deacon Andrei to provide a summary of the site for our readers. He offered the following:
Our Website, Historical Studies of the Russian Church Abroad, is a meeting place for people concerned with the past and present of the ROCOR.
- Posted materials are in English and Russian.
LIVES OF BISHOPS
Hitherto unpublished biographies by Michael Woerl and photos of all bishops who served in the ROCOR, however briefly (e.g., Archbishop James Tooms of the American Orthodox Mission)
Serialization of ROCOR history by Dr. Gernot Seide, bios of clergy and laity, canon law issues, relations with non–Orthodox. Your comments are welcome!
Sister Vassa Larin on theology and education, interviews with historians and witnesses to key developments in ROCOR history
Excerpts from liturgical services of Holy Trinity Monastery in Jordanville, NY
Photographs, including archival and rear images, documenting the history of the ROCOR
ARCHBISHOP LEONTII OF CHILE (1904-1971)
Photos and documents pertaining to a man who was a confessor of the faith in the USSR and became a controversial bishop of the ROCOR 1904-1971 in South America
The Web site is updated once a month. Subscribe to our free newsletters!
A variety of opinions is encouraged as long as academic standards are upheld: claims should be supported by evidence and controversial views must be couched in an inoffensive tone.
There have been a lot of interesting things in the works for SOCHA as of late, and we’re going to put them all into a single post so our readers can be brought up to speed all at once.
It’s hard to believe, but SOCHA has been around for nearly three years. Our founding directors were Fr. Oliver Herbel, Fr. Andrew Stephen Damick, and Matthew Namee. This past October 1st, at the 2011 SOCHA Symposium, we added Aram Sarkisian to our board.
On March 9th, SOCHA was incorporated as a legal entity in the State of Kansas, a step we have long anticipated. We are in the process of obtaining 501(c)(3) nonprofit status from the IRS. Once that happens, we’ll be able to do all sorts of things to expand the work of SOCHA, and we look forward to including all of our readers in these endeavors.
We would also like to announce that on March 9th, Fr. Oliver Herbel resigned from his position as the Executive Director of SOCHA, and is no longer a member of our board of directors. We thank Fr. Oliver for his contributions to the society’s work. With Fr. Oliver’s resignation and our incorporation, we’ve also moved to a different shape of governance for the Society. There will no longer be an Executive Director or Associate Directors, but simply a board of directors.
We also welcome Matthew J. Baker to the SOCHA Advisory Board. Matthew has an M.Div. from St. Tikhon’s Orthodox Theological Seminary, as well as a Th.M. from Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology. He is a Ph.D. student in the Theology department of Fordham University, specializing in the writings of Fr. Georges Florovsky, a towering figure in 20th century Orthodoxy, both in America and throughout the world. Matthew’s special interests include hermeneutics, the intersection of patristics and modern philosophy, and questions of reason, revelation and tradition in Orthodox dogmatics. He has published articles in International Journal of Systematic Theology, Participatio: The Journal of the Thomas F. Torrance Theological Fellowship, Transactions of Russian-American Scholars in the U.S.A., Theologia: The Journal of the Holy Synod of the Church of Greece, and Crkvene Studije, and has several book chapters forthcoming. He is editorial assistant to the journal Participatio and theological advisor to the Fr. Georges Florovsky Orthodox Theological Society of Princeton University. Matthew spoke at the 2011 SOCHA Symposium and has been featured prominently at the 2011 and 2012 Patristics Symposiums hosted by the Florovsky Society at Princeton Theological Seminary.
We are also working on a new format and name for the SOCHA journal (a sort of “reboot”), to be entitled the Journal of Orthodox Church History in the Americas (JOCHA). It will take a while to put together, but we’ll be offering some exciting content from a variety of authors, on subjects both familiar and perhaps less known. Matthew Baker will also be serving on the editorial board of the journal. We’re planning a re-launch later this year.
We’ve decided to postpone the previously scheduled 2012 SOCHA Symposium that had been slated for Princeton this Fall and to expand to a national-level conference in 2013, as well as looking at some regional conferences on a smaller scale. This was a difficult decision for us to make, but we feel it will lead to an extremely productive event next year. We thank Princeton Seminary and the Florovsky Society for their support, and look forward to working with them again in the future.
We are very excited about the future of SOCHA. There are a lot of things in the works, and we look forward to keeping you posted through OrthodoxHistory.org, our Facebook page and our new Twitter account. As always, we welcome your input on topics you would like us to research, as well as any other ideas you may have for SOCHA’s consideration.
Those of us in the Academy are (our should be!) quite aware of the limitations of Wikipedia. Of course, some of the weaknesses are the same as they have been for any encyclopedia. Students too often think research begins and ends with them (alas, even in college). Too many citizens share that approach. Also, encyclopedia entries cannot take the time to be as nuanced as perhaps they should. In the case of Wikipedia, this can become a real problem. Recently, Timothy Messer-Kruse wrote from personal experience about how this is so (http://chronicle.com/article/The-Undue-Weight-of-Truth-on/130704/). I’d recommend reading the article, but in a nutshell, Dr. Messer-Kruse edited a Wikipedia entry on the Haymarket trial of 1886 based upon primary source research he had done through the Library of Congress. Wikipedia reacted by deleting his comments and noting he had to cite reliable sources! He tried again, again citing the court documents and also his own published work. It didn’t matter.
Now, on the one hand, one might argue that such is all an encyclopedia can do. It must simply add up the number of secondary sources making a particular point (that no evidence was presented by the prosecution at the trial–yeah, that was the point). Anyone stating otherwise, even if supported by primary sources, won’t be given a say. To some degree, that is what encyclopedias have always done–tried to present the general consensus on a given topic. Furthermore, Wikipedia is not a peer-reviewed journal. Perhaps it shouldn’t be expected to prioritize primary source scholarship.
On the other hand, it is difficult to understand how a platform that is supposed to be open to editing can dismiss the actual primary sources (say letters or diaries or court documents) in favor of historiographical ignorance (which happens for various reasons–no judgment intended at all toward other scholars of the Haymarket riot and trial).
Furthermore, this is a perennial problem within American Orthodox history. Both Matthew Namee and I have encountered it on more than one occasion, especially when discussing what we’ve called “the myth of unity”–the idea that all Orthodox in America were always under the Russians until 1917 and/or that the Russians always worked hard to demonstrate that they always clearly had jurisdiction everywhere and anywhere on the North American continent (or perhaps Americas more generally). Often those screaming the loudest were used to doing “history” work by collecting a bunch of secondary sources together. Similarly, when discussing Archbishop Arseny of Canada, those who seemed most upset with what I found in the court documents were not those who had actually read the court documents (we at SOCHA read them and made them available). Sometimes, people simply like the “conventional mendacity” (to quote Lord Acton) built up over the ages.
One of the long-term goals of SOCHA is to provide a platform that highlights primary sources and their importance. Exactly how this will be done is still coming into view, but certainly this blog is a beginning. We have posts by the four of us directors as well as by others who are knowledgeable in particular primary sources. We will continue to provide informative articles based on primary source work. More than that, once we are able to move forward with our future digitization project, readers will have access to primary sources themselves. We even envision a platform in which readers will be able to submit primary documents to the database. This will make it similar to Wikipedia, in that people will be able to add to the knowledge base and influence what is known and learned. Yet, it will differ in that it will be source material that is added, not conventional mendacity nor even a well documented interpretation. There will be limitations, of course, as readers won’t be spoon fed interpretations but would have to read, say, Bjerring’s writings themselves to determine what he tended to emphasize in his extant sermons, but I think this is actually better. Encyclopedias can be nice starting points, but a platform that forces people to think critically and rely on primary sources is better.
Of course, scholars and researchers are seriously questioning the degree to which people are prepared to think critically (you could follow the trail starting with this: http://chronicle.com/article/Academically-Adrift-The/130743/) but that’s a different discussion for another time.
In the last several years, the discipline known as the “Digital Humanities” has come to the fore. Digital Humanities is basically the intersection of the humanities and digital technology, for all the breadth that can mean, but often involves meta-data (data about data, if you will). One of the sub-disciplines in the digital humanities field is digital history.
Digital history has generally meant using digital tools to help analyze historical source materials, though this can be done in different ways, from digital archives and interactive maps to text mining (assessing a text for patterns, perhaps of place-names or certain verbal structures). By virtue of this blog and our associated Journal of American Orthodox Church History, SOCHA is certainly involved in digital history. Furthermore, we intend to establish an online digital archive that will be searchable. It will take time for this to occur, of course, but it is our full intention to work toward that.
That said, there are some areas of caution that one ought to have when thinking about digital history. This recent blog post by Stanley Fish gets at one way in which text mining can be problematic:
Essentially, Mr. Fish notes the problem of omitting contextual considerations. It is too tempting for people in the digital humanities to perform their search, find some pattern of something or other and then make a bold claim.
I think he’s spot on, and even more so when applied to digital history. It is a temptation in history generally. It is difficult sometimes for historians not to confuse trivia with history. Already, historians, especially new (young) historians, find a unique little snippet only to be faced with the challenge of confronting that initial excitement with the prospects of context. That is, what is the ultimate significance of that snippet? What does it tell us about American Orthodox Church history, for instance, or religion in American more generally in the nineteenth century, etc.? That is, the contextual questions are there to keep the historian honest and avoid a myopic vision. Text mining, though, as noted by Mr. Fish, is already beginning to make the temptation of mistaking trivia for history all too real. The larger contextual and theoretical questions are sometimes pushed aside all too easily.
So, are we at SOCHA part of the problem? I don’t think so. I realize any singular blog post, taken on its own, could certainly seem to be analogous to the context-less argument from text mining, but I think if one realizes that the blog entry ought to be seen within the context of the blog as a whole, and really in the context of SOCHA’s work as a whole, all is well. Matthew Namee and I have both written on early jurisdictional issues. We also have JAOCH, which often deals with larger American-Orthodox historical concerns. It is true that JAOCH is “narrow” in that it is concentrated on certain ecclesiastical histories, but it still requires the articles to be grounded in the larger histories of those various churches. Also, when we do finally, some year down the road, unveil our digital, searchable archive, the intention will be to further the use of source material and not simply to encourage “pattern finding.” There is much that digital history has to offer, but in keeping with the concerns raised by Mr. Fish, it is our hope and belief that SOCHA will be part of a creative but historically honest and grounded use of digital technology.
It has come to my attention that people have been confused by our past calls for membership all the while there is nothing concrete by way of that membership. One person asked me what it even meant to acknowledge that he/she would like to be considered a member. This is a fair response and so I thought I would speak to this concern.
First and foremost, please accept our apologies here at SOCHA. It has taken us longer to develop some aspects of SOCHA than we had initially anticipated. In large part, this is because we have limited funds and also time constraints as well. Our requests for “membership” in the past have been to help us get a sense of how many people would actually be willing to become due paying members in time. This information has been helpful to us in our strategic planning.
Secondly, here are some things that we anticipate for the future. We intend to have SOCHA legally incorporated. This necessary step will enable us to collect funds. Once that is done, we will determine what sort of benefit to members could come from our partner journal, the Journal of American Orthodox Church History (JAOCH), published by Prairie Parish Press (http://prairieparishpress.com). Future members will either receive a discount on the journal or receive it as part of their membership in SOCHA. We will also explore the possibility of providing SOCHA members with a discounted registration for our symposia.
Another future project will be an online database of searchable primary sources. That will take quite some time to develop, and we are still debating whether this will be free or available to members only via a password, but we hope that some year down the road, this will come to fruition. Regardless of how we structure this, monies from future membership will help fund this.
In the very long run, we also hope that membership monies will help fund research grants (modest in size). Obviously, all of this takes time to develop and we ask for your patience. It is our hope and prayer that SOCHA will continue to be a beneficial presence to anyone interested in Orthodox Christian history and thought and we assure you that we are doing the best we can.
Yours in Christ,