Athanasios Papathanasiou, Dr of Theology

E-mail: paptam [at]

Published in the journal “Panta ta Ethni” 122 (2012) pg 11-12

A while ago this journal published an article of mine titled Meeting with “todayness” [1] I had tried to demonstrate a particular danger: the danger of the supposed preoccupation with Africa (and with every “Africa”). In other words, for one to express interest in the place, to go there possibly and to boast of his extended stay on African soil, but without ever having in reality built up contact with the real Africa. Without practical willingness to get to know her “todayness”, in other words, that which constitutes Africa at this moment, the said boaster in reality remains far from her, embraced in an apparition of her, which in no way represents her. The article concluded that “without meeting todayness, the admittedly valuable disposition for the acceptance of varied cultures may become trapped in a fantasy that today’s cultures are what they were centuries ago before their osmosis with technology, modernism, parliamentarism etc. Furthermore, the uncultivated conviction that cultures are solid substances, makes it impossible to see that cultures are complex realities that are in continual motion. Within each culture powers develop. Powers that free and powers that enslave […]. Our imaginary entrapment […] in the past and in generalisations, can simply resemble naïve romanticism, in reality however perhaps it constitutes a poignant expression of arrogance; the arrogance of him who shamelessly believes that his backyard is the centre of the earth.”

A recent publication confirms, from its own viewpoint, the existence and extent of this danger. It is the outstanding booklet by RyszardKapuściński, “The Other One”[2]. Kapuściński (1932-2007) was a renowned Polish journalist and his country’s first foreign correspondent. He travelled to the flaming areas of Africa, Asia and Latin America trying to document the life of their people by living “from within”. In this manner he proceeded under the crust, he bore timely witness and formulated penetrating observations.[3] The book consists of four discourses that he gave at conferences and universities, as an extract precisely of his experiences and of his reflections on the meaning of the “other” person and of that one which is “different”. Kapuściński arrived at very significant standpoints, which can, in my opinion, fruitfully encounter Orthodox Theology and her traditional sensitivity of the experience of the “other” one as a unique person as a condition of our existence and as a meeting place with God. We can discuss these things, however at another opportunity. That which I wish to borrow here from the witness of Kapuściński is the revelatory advocacy in favour of contact with todayness.

Kapuściński refers to the studies, the surprises and the findings of social anthropology, of a valuable science that the theological-ecclesiastical sphere would have prized, if it had prized mission studies, in other words, the importance of being open to what is different. At some point the Polish journalist writes about the top social anthropologists:

Writers like Rivers, the Ratcliff–Brown and Evans-Pritchard showed that cultures of others were the just as valuable and logical as European culture , with the only difference that they were simply others. Malinofskitook one step further – but what an important step though!, who made ​​the so-called field research  a necessary condition to get to get to know others: it is not enough to visit , one must alsolive among them or with them . Thus he began from the Trovriana islands in the Pacific, and there, in the middle of a village , pitched his tent.Malinofski discovered to his surprise that the white people who had lived in those islands for decades not only lived far away from the local village , but what they said about the locals was a load of nonsense, nothing but false and absurd platitudes. In short the white people in the tropics are the worst and most inaccurate source of information on indigenous peoples and their cultures. The first avoid the latter, because a meeting with others is not something simple and obvious, but, on the contrary, it requires a willingness and an effort that not everyone is always willing to take […] .

The texts that emerged as a result of field research had a tremendous influence on European thought concerning the relationship with Others, because they showed that the Others were not enigmatic hordes, loafer primitives, but lived in highly developed civilizations who had complex and intricate structures and hierarchies […].

Although the field research played an important and positive role in the investigation of knowledge about the human family, it presented […] weaknesses […] .There was an attempt to research and study traditional cultures by taking for granted that they were in a pure form, which had been in isolation for centuries. Thus they are described as static structures, immutable and constant forever, when in reality, especially in our time, they are subject to a constant change, to a complete and sometimes fundamental transformation. Before Evans-Pritchard, for example, managed to complete the description of the Zante tribe, it had already begun to differentiate completely or  it had become completely scattered and it had ceased to exist along with its culture and its gods. At that time, period of rapid and increasing immigration had begun, as millions of people moved to the cities, and the mainstay of tradition, the village, was deserted as residents were decimated by famine, civil wars, drought and epidemics. The person we meet in the big cities of the Third World is now another Other One- the product of an urban, altered culture that is difficult to determine, the offspring of different conflicting worlds, a composite creation of unstable, transient contours and features. This is precisely the kind of Other Person we usually encounter today […].

The price paid by [Malinofski] for that break away from his own culture was great. That is why it is so important for someone to have his own distinct identity, a sense of his ownstrength, value and maturity. Only then can one boldly encounter another culture. Otherwise he will lurk in his hideout, fearfully isolating himself from the Others. And even when the Other Person is a mirror in which I see myself and in which I become an object of observation – a mirror to reveal and lay bare, something which we would have avoided”[4] .

Kapisinski managed to record, in outline, the monumental truth that every man is existent in his todayness[5]. There is no true man outside of it, and if you do not care for it, you will not meet anyone. Therefore, we need philotimo and awareness for the exit from the peculiar autism of not going forth to all the nations to become possible. Because this autism, this clinging to oneself and ones phantoms, is often manifested in a way that deceives. That is to say, you may not be standing frozen but spinning around, however, always thus self-embraced. And what’s more that spinning on your axis makes you rant that it is supposedly “going forth” –  laborious journey to the other person!


[1]Πάντα τα Έθνη 115 (2010), pg. 6-8.

[2]From the Greek translation from Polish: Alexandra Ioanidou, publ. Μεταίχμιο, Athens 2011.

[3]From his other books that have been translated into Greek, especially loved is “Ebony, the colour of Africa” (trans. ZogiaMavroidi, Publ. Μεταίχμιο, Athens 2002

[4]Kapisinski, pg 34-37, 97

[5]Regarding anthropologists mentioned byKapisinski, William Rivers (1864-1922), Alfred Reginald Radcliffe-Brown (1881-1955), Edward Evan Evans-Pritchard (1906 to 1983) and BronislafMalinofski (1884-1942), the Greek reader who cannot deal with their own works, basic information can be found in the essay by Paul Erickson and Liam Murphy, History of anthropological thought (trans. Fanny Boubouli, Luminous Timpiridou ed.), ed review, Athens 2002, especially pp. 142-149

Foto: from the Metropolis of Mexico