Soviet Dissidents and Religion: Between Human Rights and National Roots

Stanislav Panin holds a PhD in Philosophy from Moscow State University and is a doctoral student in the Department of Religion at Rice University.

In the Soviet Union, religious or religiously argued ideas often helped people make sense of current events. When looking through the bulletin Materialy Samizdata, a collection of Soviet dissident texts maintained by Radio Liberty since 1968, one can find multiple examples to illustrate this. These texts tell a story of how people turned to religion to preserve their inner autonomy, find hope, and think about the future. They can also aid understanding of the social changes in Russia after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

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The Use of Religious Arguments for the Justification of the Russian Invasion of Ukraine

Kristina Stoeckl is Professor of Sociology of Religion at the University of Innsbruck (Austria). Her forthcoming book, co-authored with Dmitry Uzlaner, is titled The Moralist International. Russia in the Global Culture Wars (Fordham University Press 2022).

The Russian war against Ukraine has put a religion at the center of public perception and journalistic reporting that has so far remained largely under the radar of broad public attention: Orthodox Christianity and, more specifically, the Russian Orthodox Church and the Orthodox churches in Ukraine. Nearly every news outlet these days has shown at some point symbolic images of the Patriarch of Moscow Kirill and Vladimir Putin in a gilded church setting. And indeed, this war and the justifications given by the Russian president and the head of the church for the military aggression have made clear how closely the Orthodox Church and the state are linked in Russia. On the other hand, the critical reactions of the Orthodox churches in Ukraine and the Orthodox churches worldwide have also demonstrated that Orthodoxy is not always guided by a “symphonic” closeness of church and autocratic state but that there are also Orthodox voices that speak for democracy, peace, and liberal values.

In this blog post, I focus on the Russian church-state side of this story. For the critical reactions of global Orthodoxy to the Moscow Patriarchate, I refer the reader to the blog Public Orthodoxy of the Orthodox Christian Studies Center at Fordham University and, in particular, to the recent post “A Declaration on the ‘Russian World’ (Russkii Mir) Teaching.”

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The End of Unity: How the Russian Orthodox Church Lost Ukraine

Regina Elsner is a Researcher at the Centre for East European and International Studies (ZOiS).

Since the end of the Soviet Union, dozens of theologians and scholars of religion elaborated on the complicated relationship within the church community of the so-called Holy Rus’. The Moscow Patriarchate defines its territory of spiritual responsibility in the borders of the Soviet Union—except for the old churches of Armenia and Georgia. The core of this spiritual community is Kyiv as the place of baptism of Rus’ in 988 and Moscow as the residency of the head of the church, today Patriarch Kirill. Bitter as it is, the territory of the Soviet Union was always closer to the ecclesiastical understanding of this sacred territory than the Russian Federation and its independent neighbor states, and the Russian Orthodox Church made comprehensive theological, historiographical, and political efforts to design the unity of the people in a new way.

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