Mother Teresa’s life and the history of Albania – especially its people’s relationship with Roman Catholicism – are intertwined, with the humanitarian icon epitomising her nation’s cultural and spiritual DNA, a new study, Mother Teresa: The Saint and Her Nation reveals.
Its author, Dr Gëzim Alpion, from the University of Birmingham, claims that personal tragedies and Albanian origins helped shape Mother Teresa into the most influential religious personality of our times.
Alpion is considered the most authoritative English-language author on St Teresa of Calcutta, the founder of Mother Teresa Studies and one of the most intelligent and acute observers on the subject of Albanian culture and its most famous modern representative, Mother Teresa.
More recently he has explored the concept of charism/a from a sociological and public theology perspective, Enoch Powell’s populist rhetoric in the context of the eugenics discourse, and the reasons for the absence of modern spiritual icons in celebrity studies.
As such, Mother Teresa: The Saint and Her Nation is the first study that places Mother Teresa in the context of her ethno-spiritual roots, looking at her vocation and mission as a reflection of the Albanian people’s tumultuous history over the last two millennia.
In his work, Dr Alpion explores what he perceives as the negative impact of the Ottoman Empire and organisations such as the Vatican, Serbian Orthodox Church, Greek Orthodox Church and Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople on the Balkans.
The monograph highlights the need for more objective studies that illustrate the detrimental role of religion in fabricating national identity, as well as justifying territorial annexation.
“Albanians put affinity to national identity above any religious affiliation. In this respect they are different from their Slavic and Greek neighbours and the Italians on the other side of the Adriatic and Ionian seas,” Dr Alpion tells Emerging Europe.
“An icon of Mother Teresa’s global influence does not come about by chance. We must understand her life and work in the light of her family, the Albanian nation’s spiritual tradition, and the impact of the Vatican and other influential powers on her people since the early Middle Ages,” he adds.
“Her personal tragedies and Albanian roots contributed in turning Mother Teresa into the most influential religious and humanitarian icon of our times. Albanian Christianity is rooted in Illyrian antiquity and, together with the Catholic Church’s attitude towards Albanians and the Slavs of the South, was instrumental in shaping Mother Teresa’s life and ministry,” says Dr Alpion.
Dr Alpion has long maintained that the death of Mother Teresa’s father, who was poisoned by Slavic nationalists in 1919 when she was nine, triggered “a dark night of the soul”. The study offers new evidence on the role that this bereavement and the loss of eight close relatives during the Spanish flu pandemic had in Mother Teresa’s religious calling and the charism of her Missionaries of Charity order she set up in 1950.
Her early traumatic experiences, combined with her lifelong spiritual darkness, her brother’s association with Benito Mussolini’s army and her concern about her mother and sister’s safety in communist Albania post-1945, the author claims, caused her to never speak about her private affairs.
Dr Alpion, from the university’s department of social policy, sociology and criminology, adds: “Mother Teresa’s devotion to the poor was unwavering and genuine to the end, but the ever-presence of death in her family during her childhood was a traumatic experience that had a life-long impact on her spirituality and relationship with family members, her nation and vulnerable people. While, she was never cured of her doubts in God, Mother Teresa always held sacred the dignity of every human being.”
Mother Teresa, also known in the Roman Catholic Church as Saint Teresa of Calcutta, was an Albanian-Indian Roman Catholic nun and missionary, born in Skopje (now the capital of North Macedonia) in 1910, then part of the Kosovo Vilayet of the Ottoman Empire.
After living in Skopje for 18 years she moved to Ireland and then to India, where she lived for most of her life until she died in 1997.
Professor Bonita Aleaz, the former head of the department of political science at the University of Calcutta, is in no doubt as to the book’s importance.
“Gëzim Alpion turns into a veritable archaeologist-cum-detective in the construction of the book,” he says. “The process unravels and pierces the veneer of a monolithic ‘religious call’ popularly believed in the transformation of Gonxhe Agnes Bojaxhiu. Layers of hitherto unimaginable evidence – political, social and historical – are scooped up that actually encompassed the field and habitus and acted as compelling pushes and pulls for St Teresa of Calcutta since her childhood. This thorough and timely study is a very good read.”
Educated at Cairo University and Durham University, Gëzim Alpion lectured at the Universities of Huddersfield, Sheffield Hallam, and Newman prior to his appointment in 2002 in the department of sociology at the University of Birmingham. He joined the department of political science and international studies in 2010 and the department of social policy, sociology and criminology in 2016.
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