Based on ethnographic research conducted in Pittsburgh, this article examines the experiences of American-born intermarriage converts to Eastern Orthodoxy. Long characterized as a variety of Christianity fundamentally ethnic in its orientation and insular in its relationships to American religious and cultural mainstreams, Eastern Orthodoxy has attracted increasing numbers of American-born converts over the last thirty years. While the motives and perspectives of more overtly theologically driven conversions have garnered attention, intermarriage conversions are often dismissed as the natural outcomes of entering into marriage and family life. Significantly, intermarriage converts frequently stress their decisions to enter the Orthodox church as autonomously made apart from external influences.
By gauging the ways intermarriage converts are depicted in parish life as well as the motives and perspectives they themselves convey in interviews, I argue that the language and assumptions of the American spiritual marketplace profoundly influence Orthodox Christian understandings of family and religion today. Personal choice and individualism rather than the expectations of traditionally ascribed identities have come to be highly valued and valorized means of counting Orthodox identity in the United States. Yet, the prevalence of marketplace values does not diminish the emotional and social impacts of family and community for intermarriage converts. Rather, I observed a general elevation in the importance of both and a frequent substantiation of their roles as the transmitters of shared values among these individuals. Thus, this article provides a case study of how individual and familial concerns further religious choice-making.
- ©© 2010 by The Center for the Study of Religion and American Culture