Tag Archives: Russia

Sergeev, “Theory of Religious Cycles: Tradition, Modernity, and the Bahá’í Faith”

In September, Brill will release “Theory of Religious Cycles: Tradition, Modernity, and the Bahá’í Faith” by Mikhail Sergeev (The University of the Arts, Philadelphia). The publisher’s description follows:

In Theory of Religious Cycles: Tradition, Modernity and the Bahá’í Faith Mikhail Sergeev offers a new interpretation of the Soviet period of Russian history as a phase within the religious evolution of humankind by developing a theory of religious cycles, which he applies to modernity and to all the major world faiths of Judaism, Buddhism, Christianity, and Islam.

Sergeev argues that in the course of its evolution religion passes through six common phases—formative, orthodox, classical, reformist, critical, and post-critical. Modernity, which was started by the European Enlightenment, represents the critical phase of Christianity, a systemic crisis that could be overcome with the appearance of new religious movements such as the Bahá’í Faith, which offers a spiritual extension of the modern worldview.

“Religion, Politics and Nation-Building in Post-Communist Countries” (Simons & Westerlund, eds.)

In March, Ashgate released “Religion, Politics and Nation-Building in Post-Communist Countries,” edited by Greg Simons (Uppsala University) and David Westerlund (Södertörn University). The publisher’s description follows:

The increasing significance and visibility of relationships between religion and public arenas and institutions following the fall of communism in Europe provide the core focus of this fascinating book. Leading international scholars consider the religious and political role of Christian Orthodoxy in the Russian Federation, Romania, Georgia and Ukraine alongside the revival of old, indigenous religions, often referred to as ‘shamanistic’ and look at how, despite Islam’s long history and many adherents in the south, Islamophobic attitudes have increasingly been added to traditional anti-Semitic, anti-Western or anti-liberal elements of Russian nationalism. Contrasts between the church’s position in the post-communist nation building process of secular Estonia with its role in predominantly Catholic Poland are also explored.

Religion, Politics and Nation-Building in Post-Communist Countries gives a broad overview of the political importance of religion in the Post-Soviet space but its interest and relevance extends far beyond the geographical focus, providing examples of the challenges in the spheres of public, religious and social policy for all transitional countries.

Putin and the Pope

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How have you been?

From Crux’s John Allen, here is an interesting and provocative article on today’s scheduled meeting between Russian president Vladimir Putin and Pope Francis. Surprisingly, Allen writes, on some issues, the two men have “forged an improbably strong partnership.”

One of those issues is the persecution of Mideast Christians. While Western nations have temporized, refusing even to acknowledge the sectarian dimension of the crisis–ISIS’s actions have nothing to do with religion, apparently–Putin has made himself the champion of the region’s Christians:

“As regards the Middle East and its Christians, their situation is dire,” Putin said in April. “The international community is not doing enough … this is the motherland of Christians. Christians have lived there from time immemorial, for thousands of years.”

In some corners of the Middle East, such as the Syrian region of Qualamun, Russia actually has floated the idea of granting citizenship to pockets of Orthodox Christians, effectively offering them a security blanket.

Now, talk is cheap. And Putin’s motivations are not wholly humanitarian. By offering itself as the protector of Mideast Christians, most of whom are Orthodox, Russia can exert influence in the region. (France has traditionally put itself forward in the same role, although France tends to focus on Catholics). Speaking out for Christian minorities also increases Putin’s credibility as the representative of traditional Christianity, which no doubt wins him admirers in the developing world, where Christianity is expanding, often in conflict with a rising Islam. And, of course, championing the cause of Orthodox Christians increases his political appeal in Russia itself.

Still, whatever his motives, Putin has focused on the suffering of Christians as Christians, and that is something many leaders in the West are apparently reluctant to do. It is also a stance, Allen writes, that appeals to Pope Francis:

Since Francis’ election in March 2013, meanwhile, no social or political issue has engaged the pontiff like the plight of persecuted Christians, especially in the Middle East.

In March, he demanded that the world stop trying to “hide” the reality of anti-Christian violence, and he’s also argued that the shared suffering of Orthodox, Catholics, and Protestants alike is the basis for a contemporary “ecumenism of blood.”

Allen notes that the conflict in Ukraine will pose obstacles for any real partnership between Russia and the Vatican. Ukrainian Catholics believe that Pope Francis has taken too soft a line in that particular crisis. Francis has described the conflict as an unfortunate disagreement between Christians, while Ukrainian Catholics tend to see it as the result of Russian provocation, which they wish Francis would denounce. In particular, Ukrainian Catholics resent what they see as bullying and duplicity on the part of the Russian Orthodox Church, particularly the Moscow Patriarchate.

As I say, an interesting and provocative piece.

Kalkandjieva, “The Russian Orthodox Church: From Decline to Resurrection”

Last month, Routledge released “The Russian Orthodox Church, 1917-1948: 9781138788480From Decline to Resurrection,” by Daniela Kalkandjieva (University of Sofia, Bulgaria). The publisher’s description follows:

This book tells the remarkable story of the decline and revival of the Russian Orthodox Church in the first half of the twentieth century and the astonishing U-turn in the attitude of the Soviet Union’s leaders towards the church. In the years after 1917 the Bolsheviks’ anti-religious policies, the loss of the former western territories of the Russian Empire, and the Soviet Union’s isolation from the rest of the world and the consequent separation of Russian emigrés from the church were disastrous for the church, which declined very significantly in the 1920s and 1930s. However, when Poland was partitioned in 1939 between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union, Stalin allowed the Patriarch of Moscow, Sergei, jurisdiction over orthodox congregations in the conquered territories and went on, later, to encourage the church to promote patriotic activities as part of the resistance to the Nazi invasion. He agreed a Concordat with the church in 1943, and continued to encourage the church, especially its claims to jurisdiction over émigré Russian orthodox churches, in the immediate postwar period. Based on extensive original research, the book puts forward a great deal of new information and overturns established thinking on many key points.

Koesel, “Religion and Authoritarianism”

Next month, Cambridge University Press will publish Religion and Authoritarianism by Karrie Koesel (University of Oregon). The publisher’s description follows.Religion and Authoritarianism

This book provides a rare window into the micropolitics of contemporary authoritarian rule through a comparison of religious-state relations in Russia and China – two countries with long histories of religious repression, and even longer experiences with authoritarian politics. Drawing on extensive fieldwork in multiple sites in these countries, this book explores what religious and political authority want from one another, how they negotiate the terms of their relationship, and how cooperative or conflicting their interactions are. This comparison reveals that while tensions exist between the two sides, there is also ample room for mutually beneficial interaction. Religious communities and their authoritarian overseers are cooperating around the core issue of politics – namely, the struggle for money, power, and prestige – and becoming unexpected allies in the process.

The Ukrainian Protests and the Orthodox Church(es)

Even casual observers know that Orthodox Churches traditionally have close ties with the state. So many in the West don’t know what to make of the fact that, in the current conflict in Ukraine, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church appears to be siding with the protesters. The New York Times, for example, reports that protesters running from riot police in Kiev take refuge in a historic Orthodox monastery, and that the Church’s patriarch, Filaret (above), strongly opposes the government. Filaret has stated that Ukraine should look West and join the European Union, and that President Victor Yanukovich, who recently announced that Ukraine would not agree to a long-anticipated trade deal with the EU, should resign.

To understand what’s going on, one has to know a little about the divisions within Orthodoxy in Ukraine. Patriarch Filaret is the leader of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church-Kyvian Patriarchate. The Kyvian Patriarchate is in schism from the main body of Orthodoxy in Ukraine, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church-Moscow Patriarchate, which, as its name suggests, is under the jurisdiction of the Russian Orthodox Church in Moscow. The Moscow Patriarchate does not recognize the canonical status of the Kyvian Patriarchate; indeed, no Orthodox Church  in the world does. (To make things even more confusing, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA is under the jurisdiction of neither the Kyvian or Moscow Patriarchates, but the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople).

It’s not at all surprising, therefore, that Patriarch Filaret would support closer ties with Europe and a weakening of Russian influence in Ukraine. He and his flock are likely to have more status and independence in a Ukraine that looks toward the West. This is just another example of how religious and political interests often converge. As Daniel Larison writes, it will be interesting to see if there is now a pro-Russian pushback from those Ukrainians loyal to the Moscow Patriarchate.

Bernstein, “Religious Bodies Politic: Rituals of Sovereignty in Buryat Buddhism”

This month, the University of Chicago Press published Religious Bodies Politic: Rituals 9780226072722of Sovereignty in Buryat Buddhism, by Anya Bernstein (Harvard University). The publisher’s description follows.

Religious Bodies Politic examines the complex relationship between transnational religion and politics through the lens of one cosmopolitan community in Siberia: Buryats, who live in a semiautonomous republic within Russia with a large Buddhist population. Looking at religious transformation among Buryats across changing political economies, Anya Bernstein argues that under conditions of rapid social change—such as those that accompanied the Russian Revolution, the Cold War, and the fall of the Soviet Union—Buryats have used Buddhist “body politics” to articulate their relationship not only with the Russian state, but also with the larger Buddhist world.

During these periods, Bernstein shows, certain people and their bodies became key sites through which Buryats conformed to and challenged Russian political rule. She presents particular cases of these emblematic bodies—dead bodies of famous monks, temporary bodies of reincarnated lamas, ascetic and celibate bodies of Buddhist monastics, and dismembered bodies of lay disciples given as imaginary gifts to spirits—to investigate the specific ways in which religion and politics have intersected. Contributing to the growing literature on postsocialism and studies of sovereignty that focus on the body, Religious Bodies Politic is a fascinating illustration of how this community employed Buddhism to adapt to key moments of political change.

Kivelson, “Desperate Magic: The Moral Economy of Witchcraft in Seventeenth-Century Russia”

This month, Cornell University published Desperate Magic: The Moral desperate magicEconomy of Witchcraft in Seventeenth-Century Russia by Valerie Kivelson (University of Michigan).  The publisher’s description follows.

In the courtrooms of seventeenth-century Russia, the great majority of those accused of witchcraft were male, in sharp contrast to the profile of accused witches across Catholic and Protestant Europe in the same period. While European courts targeted and executed overwhelmingly female suspects, often on charges of compacting with the devil, the tsars’ courts vigorously pursued men and some women accused of practicing more down-to-earth magic, using poetic spells and home-grown potions. Instead of Satanism or heresy, the primary concern in witchcraft testimony in Russia involved efforts to use magic to subvert, mitigate, or avenge the harsh conditions of patriarchy, serfdom, and social hierarchy.

Broadly comparative and richly illustrated with color plates, Desperate Magic places the trials of witches in the context of early modern Russian law, religion, and society. Piecing together evidence from trial records to illuminate some of the central puzzles of Muscovite history, Kivelson explores the interplay among the testimony of accusers, the leading questions of the interrogators, and the confessions of the accused. Assembled, they create a picture of a shared moral vision of the world that crossed social divides. Because of the routine use of torture in extracting and shaping confessions, Kivelson addresses methodological and ideological questions about the Muscovite courts’ equation of pain and truth, questions with continuing resonance in the world today. Within a moral economy that paired unquestioned hierarchical inequities with expectations of reciprocity, magic and suspicions of magic emerged where those expectations were most egregiously violated.

Witchcraft in Russia surfaces as one of the ways that oppression was contested by ordinary people scrambling to survive in a fiercely inequitable world. Masters and slaves, husbands and wives, and officers and soldiers alike believed there should be limits to exploitation and saw magic deployed at the junctures where hierarchical order veered into violent excess.

Law, Religion, and Putin’s Times Op-Ed

Law and religion is not at the very forefront of the rapidly changeable geo-political situation regarding Syria (though, as we have noted here, it is certainly in the immediate background). But somehow, some way, law and religion managed to make its way into Russian President Vladimir Putin’s New York Times editorial (which the Times decided to title, “A Plea for Caution From Russia“), printed on no less exceptional a date than September 11. After condemning “the language of force” (at least when used by the United States) and praising the newly emergent “growing trust” that marks his “working and personal relationship with President Obama,” Putin saw fit to throw a final rhetorical body-blow against American exceptionalism by deploying the language of law and religion:

I carefully studied [Obama’s] address to the nation on Tuesday. And I would rather disagree with a case he made on American exceptionalism, stating that the United States’ policy is “what makes America different. It’s what makes us exceptional.” It is extremely dangerous to encourage people to see themselves as exceptional, whatever the motivation. There are big countries and small countries, rich and poor, those with long democratic traditions and those still finding their way to democracy. Their policies differ, too. We are all different, but when we ask for the Lord’s blessings, we must not forget that God created us equal.

Religion in Russia

My friend and St. John’s colleague, Peggy McGuinness, alerts me to a worthwhile review essay by the Berkley Center’s Irina Papkova, “Believing in Russia,” on a religion and media blog called The Revealer. Papkova reviews Geraldine Fagan’s Believing in Russia–Religious Policy After Communism (2013). Here’s an excerpt:

Without being iconoclastic, “Believing in Russia” is based on impeccable research, and brings a useful corrective to many widely held assumptions about religion in Russian society.  Journalists writing about Russian politics for major news outlets like the New York Times and the Washington Post usually present a cozy relationship between the ROC and the Putin regime, suggesting that this relationship is detrimental to religious minorities and non-religious Russians. There is some truth to this view but, as Fagan’s work demonstrates, the marginalization of minority faiths has as much to do with bureaucratic incompetence and the weakness of the rule of law in Russia as with the ROC’s plan to obliterate competition from other religions. Fagan tells the story of how religious policy is created and applied across the Russian Federation.  In doing so, she brings to light the role of personalities and personal convictions of bureaucrats in creating guidelines for how the state should deal with religion, and the efficiency with which they are applied.

You can read the whole review here.