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Turns of Faith, Search for Meaning

Orthodox Christianity and Post-Soviet Experience


Alexander Agadjanian

The book examines deep shifts in the religious life of Russia and the post-Soviet world as a whole. The author uses combined methods of history, sociology and anthropology to grasp transformations in various aspects of the religious field, such as changes in ritual practices, the emergence of a hierarchical pluralism of religions, and a new prominence of religion in national identity discourse. He deals with the Russian Church’s new internal diversity in reinventing its ancient tradition and Eastern Orthodoxy’s dense and tense negotiation with the State, secular society and Western liberal globalism. The volume contains academic papers, some of them co-authored with other scholars, published by the author elsewhere within the last fifteen years.
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7. Breakthrough to Modernity, Apologia for Traditionalism: The Russian Orthodox View on Society and Culture in Comparative Perspective



This chapter will explore the fundamental views of Russian Orthodox Christianity on the contemporary world and its own place in it, and will then inscribe these views within a broad narrative of Western thought of recent centuries. I proceed from an assumption that the main objective in Western religious thought over the last three centuries was the construction of subtle bridges and continuities linking “this world” with the transcendental, identifying as its central concern man’s relationship to “this world”, and further associating “this world” with new epistemological fields of “culture” and “society”. Russian religious thought was definitely a part of this process. Thus my purpose here is to approach the issue of where Russian Orthodoxy stands today in its vision of the whole complex of world/culture/society.

The main source for this study is a document produced by the Russian Orthodox Church, the “Bases of the Social Concept” (BSC), officially adopted by the Bishops’ Council of 20001 (Osnovy 2001). The word “social” in this document covers a variety of socio-cultural phenomena, encompassing a whole range of issues from state and law to culture to bioethics to secularism. The very fact of formulating these objects of theological quest as an official authoritative endeavor is unprecedented in Eastern Christianity; the document can be seen as the first official, though indirect, ← 133 | 134 → response to independent theological modernism in the Christian East, to mainstream trends in Western culture, and to (Post)Modernity as a whole.2

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