Ecumenicism Research Paper

This sample Ecumenicism Research Paper is published for educational and informational purposes only. Free research papers are not written by our writers, they are contributed by users, so we are not responsible for the content of this free sample paper. If you want to buy a high quality research paper on history topics at affordable price please use custom research paper writing services.

Generally, ecumenicism is associated with the Christian tendency to promote religious unity, but the term more loosely refers to a desire for global cooperation among all religions. Ecumenicism dates back as far as the split between Rome and Byzantium in 1054. In modern times, ecumenicism was seen during European colonial expansion and again as those colonies gained independence and began their search for religious freedom.

Ecumenicism refers to the striving for reconciliation and unity across the diversity of Christian denominations. To a lesser extent, it can also mean a looser goal of harmony among religions, both Christian and non-Christian. The term ecumenicism comes from the Greek word oikoumene, designating the entirety of the inhabited Earth (in the scope of Greek knowledge, roughly the lands from the western Mediterranean to India). It is one among many modes of universalistic thinking in world history.

Premodern Ecumenicism

The first wave of Christian ecumenicism occurred in the centuries after the split between Rome and Byzantium. The fairly short-lived unity of early Christendom had rested on the success of the Council of Nicaea (325 CE) and Constantinople (381 CE) in stamping out heretical sects, and of the far-reaching rule of the Roman Empire, which had adopted Christianity as its official religion in the fourth century. The division between the Latin West, centered on Rome, and the Orthodox East, centered on Byzantium, came to involve differences deeper than mere politics: a divergence of ideas about state–church relations, the relative strength of Roman and Greek cultural legacies, and so on. When the crusades brought more intense contact between western and eastern Christendom, the greater visibility of contrasts only worsened the state of ill will. Ecumenical thinking in these centuries revolved around the perceived need to restore the unity of Christendom as one expanding community of believers defined by correct doctrine and loyalty to one organized church (in practice, given the greater Western interest in ecumenicism, the Catholic Church with its pontiff at Rome).

To a lesser extent, the same kind of thinking appeared in sixteenth- and seventeenth-century western Europe. The Protestant Reformation had put an end even to the unity of western Christendom, which had rested on the cultural-religious-intellectual syntheses of Aquinas, Dante, and the like. Despite these multiplying political and doctrinal divisions, the ideal of a single universe of believers lingered throughout Christianity’s second millennium. Much as in the other major Eurasian civilizations, a fragmented reality was being measured against the standard of a unified golden age. It was believed that cleavages of nation, race, and class should properly yield to the ultimate solidarity of the faithful.

Of course, broader ecumenical patterns of thinking had long allowed intellectuals to imagine unity, or at least convergence, across the boundaries of sect and rite. Mystics within the world religions have often believed that ultimate spiritual truth, being higher than any doctrine or practice, cuts across the world religions. The most ecumenically minded groups have included world renouncers like the gnostics, the Sufis, and the Upanishadic forest dwellers. But even more mainstream theologians in each of the world religions have found ways to justify interreligious openness. For medieval Catholics, there was the idea that other religions, even if they lacked the crucial centrality of Jesus as savior, at least reflected natural law and an innate human tendency to seek the divine. Islam had a framework of respecting other religions, such as Judaism, Christianity, and Zoroastrianism, as legacies of earlier divine revelations that had become distorted over time. And the various branches of Hinduism tended to imagine all religions as alternative paths to the same goal. This kind of ecumenical openness has been a recurring theme in those world-historical encounters that go beyond trade and migration into the more challenging realm of intellectual dialogue. Religious cosmopolitans have always tried to step back from superficial differences of practice and symbolism, to find common ground in divine or human nature. Examples include the interreligious councils of Akbar and Abu’l Fazl in Mughal India, and the entry of Jesuit missionaries to Confucian China in the 1500s.

Ecumenicism in Modernity

The twentieth century saw a second major wave of Christian ecumenicism. At first the need for a common front in European colonial missionary activity drove the search for unity, especially across the Protestant denominations. The 1910 World Missionary Conference at Edinburgh is often seen as the start of this ecumenicism. Later, the broadening of ecumenicism to encompass Protestant, Catholic, and Orthodox branches of Christianity responded to other pressures, like the crisis of secularization in the West. Many Christians saw fragmentation as due to petty squabbles, and as an obstacle in counteracting the broader decline of religious belief among the peoples of the developed world. Social and geographic mobility also increased many believers’ desire to crossdenominational boundaries and do such things as take communion together.

In the later twentieth century, ecumenicism often took on a more leftist cast. The rise of national Christian churches in newly independent African and Asian countries broadened the base of transnational ecumenical bodies like the World Council of Churches. Issues of human rights, nuclear disarmament, and social equality figured more prominently in ecumenical circles from the 1960s onward. Efforts have aimed mainly at enhancing practical cooperation, moving toward mutual recognition of baptisms and marriages, and overcoming thorny debates over the historical roots of priestly authority. Ecumenicism has tended to draw support mainly from high-culture establishment versions of Christianity like Anglicanism and Catholicism, and from the more liberal currents like Unitarianism. Opposition has remained strong among Evangelicals and others who consider it misguided to downplay core doctrinal commitments, or who for various reasons dislike the political agendas that ecumenicism has embraced. Often the strongest voices of present-day religious resurgence, such as born-again Christians, have affirmed their identities in a way that leaves little room for ecumenical bridge-building.

Broadening Horizons in World Religions

In the last few decades, the scope of ecumenicism has also expanded to include openness to non-Christian religions. Theological dialogues with Jews and Muslims, who share many of the same historical and metaphysical reference points, are one example. The broadening of ecumenicism also reflects a growing Western interest, especially since midcentury, in Asian religious traditions such as Buddhism. Ecumenically minded clergy and laypersons alike often look beyond Christianity for sources of meaning in a disenchanted modern world, and for potential allies in an era of growing secularization. This interest in the non-Christian traditions is loosely analogous to the way the study of world history itself has been broadened, and the effort to overcome earlier Eurocentrism in how Westerners made sense of their place in the world.


  1. Kryanev, Y. (1980). Christian ecumenism. Moscow: Progress Publishers.
  2. Panikkar, R. (1964). The unknown Christ of Hinduism. London: Darton, Longman, and Todd.
  3. Rizvi, S. A. A. (1975). Religious and intellectual history of the Muslims in Akbar’s reign, with special reference to Abu’l Fazl. New Delhi, India: Munshiram Manoharlal Publishers.
  4. Ronan, C. E., & Oh, B. B. C. (Eds.). (1988). East meets West: The Jesuits in China, 1582–1773. Chicago: Loyola University Press.
  5. Rouse, R., Neill, S. C., & Fey, H. E. (Eds.). (1970). A history of the ecumenical movement, 1517–1968. London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge.
  6. Sagovsky, N. (2000). Ecumenism, Christian origins and the practice of communion. New York: Cambridge University Press.
  7. Schuon, F. (1975). The transcendent unity of religions (P. Townsend, Trans.). New York: Harper and Row.
  8. Till, B. (1972). The Church’s search for unity. Baltimore: Penguin Books.

See also:

Free research papers are not written to satisfy your specific instructions. You can use our professional writing services to order a custom research paper on political science and get your high quality paper at affordable price.


Always on-time


100% Confidentiality
Special offer! Get discount 10% for the first order. Promo code: cd1a428655