Authority and tradition in contemporary understandings of hesychasm and the Jesus prayer
Johnson, Christopher David Leonard
In today’s global religious landscape, many beliefs and practices have been dislocated and thrust into unfamiliar cultural environments and have been forced to adapt to these new settings. There has been a significant amount of research on this phenomenon as it appears in various contexts, much of it centred on the concepts of globalisation/localisation and appropriation. In this dissertation, the same process is explored in relation to the traditions of contemplative prayer from within Eastern Orthodox Christianity known as the Jesus Prayer and hesychasm. These prayer practices have traveled from a primarily monastic Orthodox Christian setting, into general Orthodox Christian usage, and finally into wider contemporary Western culture. As a result of this geographic shift from a local to a global setting, due mainly to immigration and dissemination of relevant texts, there has been a parallel shift of interpretation. This shift of interpretation involves the way the practices are understood in relation to general conceptions of authority and tradition. The present work attempts to explain the divergence of interpretations of these practices by reference to the major themes of authority and tradition, and to several secondary themes such as appropriation, cultural transmission, “glocalisation,” memory, and Orientalism. By looking at accounts of the Jesus Prayer and hesychasm from a variety of sources and perspectives, the contentious issues between accounts will be put into a wider perspective that considers fundamental differences in worldviews.