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The politics of religious experience in Fifteenth-Century Europe through an East-West encounter: a re-interpretation

Tortopidou-Derieux, Kyriaki (2016) The politics of religious experience in Fifteenth-Century Europe through an East-West encounter: a re-interpretation. PhD thesis, London School of Economics and Political Science.

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My thesis works as an experiment, or rather a series of experiments, in methods of thinking about historical material. These methods come from anthropology and engage with myths and ritual, with the concept of “complementary others”, and the concept of “schismogenesis" as it has been developed by Gregory Bateson and advanced further by Marshall Sahlins. My overall goal is not to re-describe a well-researched historical event, but to explore how different ways of analysis, using different analytical frameworks, could lead to valuable explanations of the same political-cum-cultural event. The phenomenon I engage with is the last Oecumenical Council, a major religious event in the history of Councils within already schismatic societies. For this reason, I treat this Council in particular, as a ritual, unprecedented in scale and ambiguous in its inception. I am examining the structure and the return of this Event in History, and the controversies and tensions in the diachrony of East and West. I do this not only through the notion of schismo-genesis and ritual, but specifically the notion of sacrifice as developed by Maurice Bloch, in which the journey from Constantinople to Italy becomes a historical metaphor of mythical realities, regarding the Emperor John VIII Palaiologos. And finally, I explore the significance of Bessarion and complementary others within the notion of transformation and alterity. What I establish through discussions of the historical material, which span eleven centuries of history, is first of all, that there is no event without a system; that means the journey can acquire the form of the ritual. I argue that the relation between the myth and the idea of unity is dialectical in nature; the Event of a Union, which could bring peace in the one Church of Christ, from this moment of realisation becomes a fabrication, a mystery to the witnesses, and all the other myths that will be developed on the way become even more imperative and melancholic, because they seek to express a negative and unavoidable truth. The Event doesn’t portray reality any more, it exists despite it and becomes an extreme position, almost like a dream, and it justifies the vision one wished to be possible, only to show that it is untenable: the “what if it could be”; the possibility of all parts being aspirations to the whole, oecumenicity as a goal rather than unity. Overall, this thesis is about the presence of the past in the present, in relevance to the future.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Additional Information: © 2016 Kyriaki Tortopidou-Derieux
Uncontrolled Keywords: Anthropology, International History, Art History Studies
Library of Congress subject classification: D History General and Old World > D History (General)
G Geography. Anthropology. Recreation > GN Anthropology
N Fine Arts > N Visual arts (General) For photography, see TR
Sets: Departments > Anthropology
Departments > Psychological and Behavioural Science
Supervisor: Humphreys, Patrick and Feuchtwang, Stephan

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