As a Greek professor at Harvard University, what do you think is the relevance of Greek education?
Greek education is of paramount importance. I am teaching political theory and it is no surprise that some of the most fundamental authors are from Ancient Greece. Even the terms of the discipline, polis and theoria, are Greek.
The same is true of the issues that we typically discuss. For instance, a few months ago, in my undergraduate seminar, we were debating whether direct democracy, of the kind that one finds in Ancient Athens, is possible, or even desirable, in the modern world, or whether representation is better suited to a world which is increasingly fragmented.
What is the main focus of your research?
I am currently doing research on religion and politics, focusing on Greece. Some of the general questions of the field are: Why is it that, in some countries, religion seems to decline with modernity, but not in others? How does globalization affect religious and national identities? What is the relationship between ethnicity, religion, and politics? For decades, the dominant theory, often referred to as “secularization theory,” was that modernization would lead to the withdrawal of religion into peoples’ private sphere and, in the long run, its gradual decline. Today, this thesis is largely contested: religion still plays a very important role in modern politics, and scholars have pointed out that many countries which are classified as very “modern,” like the United States, also have a very large religious population.
Greece is, in this respect, a very interesting case. In Greece, religion became tied to the country’s national identity. This had the effect of slowing down the secularization of the society, while at the same time nationalizing (and to a certain extent secularizing) the Church itself. The identification between Greek national identity and religion is very important in America too, where Greek Orthodox Churches are often asked to play a double role.
Center for Hellenic Studies, Washington, DC
You are also working with the Harvard Center for the Hellenic Studies. Talk to us about your projects there.
Harvard University’s Center for Hellenic Studies was founded in 1961, by a private endowment. Its purpose is to promote the study of Hellenism broadly understood. Under the leadership of its current director, Gregory Nagy, the Center for Hellenic Studies has also established a campus in Nafplio, Greece, which supports various programs.
Summer Greek students at CHS in Nafplio, Peloponnese
The Center for Hellenic Studies organizes publications, holds workshops in both Greece and Washington DC, and welcomes fellows and interns who want to do research and participate in the intellectual life of its community. I am currently participating in the organization of this year’s summer programs. Through them, we hope to give as many opportunities as possible to students and scholars from all over the world. You may have a look at the list of our activities at the Center’s new website
as well as its Facebook
From your experience, what do you think is the image of Greeks in America?
I think that it’s a very positive one overall. Greeks have had a very successful integration in America, without losing their cultural uniqueness. Most Americans I know have Greek friends and have either visited, or want to visit, Greece. I am also happy to see that my students have a strong interest in Greece, which ranges from Antiquity to contemporary Greek politics, and are always eager to learn more.
Nicolas Prevelakis with his students at CHS in Nafplio, Peloponnese
About Nicolas Prevelakis
Nicolas Prevelakis is Lecturer on Social Studies at Harvard’s Committee on Degrees in Social Studies and Assistant Director of Curricular Development at Harvard's Center for Hellenic Studies. He has a Ph.D. in Moral and Political Philosophy from the University of Paris-Sorbonne (Paris 4) and a second one in Political Sociology from Boston University. His interests include the history of political philosophy, religion and politics, globalization, and the European Union. He is currently working on a book manuscript on religion and politics in modern Greece.