Frank Turner, Professor of History at Yale, has a wonderfully insightful article on the Anglican Communion at Episcopal Café. His thesis is that a group of Anglicans, mainly bishops, have sought to shape the various independent Anglican provinces into a global ecclesiastical community over the past two decades.
Turner calls Benedict Anderson’s concept of imagined communities into play here. The bare bones of Anderson’s theory is that a nation is a socially constructed community based on various presumptions of shared attributes: language, religion, skin colour, culture &c. The question it raises is why do I cheer on an athlete, whom I have never met and with whom I have little in common, at the Olympics just because her uniform says she is British? The question it raises is why it is considered a high ideal to die for ‘queen and country’.
Of course, social constructs are not unreal, but they are perceived realities: nationality is no absolute thing. It is fascinating seeing a ‘nation’ being built over the last score of years, but understanding the Anglican Communion as imagined community does much to help us understand the pressures it is under at this time.