The main focus of this issue of NZ is on religion and confessional diversity. NZ wishes to start a debate on an aspect of religious change which, suprisingly, has so far been neglected in Russian debates, namely that of secularisation. To this end we publish a translation of the chapter on Religion and the Problem of Plausibility from a study on The Social Reality of Religion (1967) by American sociologist Peter Berger. This book, which is known in the USA as The Sacred Canopy, was written during Berger’s most liberal phase as a sociologist of religion. The chapter we publish examines the social conditions under which churches operate in the modern, secularised world, where they have lost their former monopoly on defining reality. Exposed to something rather like a ▒market of beliefs’, they either need to adapt to this new situation and begin to operate more and more like modern corporations in presenting their ▒products’ to consumers, rationalising competition, and bureaucratising their operations, or else consciously decide to ignore ▒consumer demands’ and cling on to, or recreate, conservative structures and life worlds in order to resist social change.
In his introduction to this text, historian Alexander Dmitriev gives a brief general overview of Berger’s sociology, and questions whether the process of secularisation in the West has continued in the vein that Berger described in the 1960s. Dmitriev also points to the specific situation of Russia, a country that was forcibly secularised in the 20th century and is now living through something which may turn out to be a process of desecularisation. He promises that the debate will continue in a forthcoming issue of our sister journal, the New Literary Review.
The topic is continued in the Morals and Mores rubric with a detailed article by sociologists of religion Sergei Filatov and Anastasia Strukova entitled From Protestantism in Russia to Russian Protestantism. Filatov and Strukova use a wide array of sources on the various Protestant churches and communities in contemporary Russia to show how Protestants have been dealing with the traditional view of Russianness being inexorably linked to Orthodoxy. Their attitudes have ranged from staunch rationalism to adapting elements of traditional Orthodox ritual, and from political neutrality to active involvement on both the liberal and nationalist flanks of the political spectrum. Filatov and Strukova conclude that protestantism, far from being an ▒alien’ religion, has taken solid root in Russia to the point of having become its second most important confession in many respects.
There follows a series of articles on various aspects of contemporary Russian Orthodoxy, published under the heading An Anatomy of Russian Orthodoxy. Nikolai Mitrokhin presents an extended version of the concluding chapter of his book on the Russian Orthodox Church as an insitution, which will be published in the NZ Library series in 2004 (The Russian Orthodox Church — Grand Total of a Decade). Mitrokhin reviews the social profile of active church-goers as well as relations between local parishes and monasteries on the one hand and the central church bureaucracy on the other hand, and comes to the conclusion that the Russian Orthodox Church has become a rallying-point for social outcasts of all sorts. It has failed to extend its reach to society as a whole, mainly because it has been more interested in reclaiming material benefits for the church itself and extending its political influence than catering to the spitiritual needs of believers and non-believers. Mitrokhin argues that the church has missed its opportunity to become an active agent of social change, and will therefore remain a passive (though vociferous) bystander.
Alexander Verkhovsky recently published a book on Orthodox fundamentalism in post-Soviet Russia. In his article Orthodox Nationalism: Notes on the Definition and Prospects of the Movement, he shows that historically, those who could be classified as Orthodox fundamentalists came out of the Russian nationalist movement rather than the Orthodox church as such, and thus the defining features of their brand of Orthodoxy are those of a non-racist, but extremely anti-liberal and ultra-conservative nationalism. Verkhovsky argues that the core of today’s Orthodox fundamentalist activists are unlikely to become an important political force, though it is not totally impossible that the current tendency towards an acceptance of Orthodox nationalist ideas by Russian mainstream culture will be strengthened by a further shift of the Russian Orthodox Church towards fundamentalist ideas.
Religious philosopher Alexander Kyrlezhev writes on the liberal flank of Russian Orthodoxy. In his essay Liberal Tendencies in Russian Orthodoxy: Towards Defining the Terms of the Question, he reflects upon the theoretical compatibility of liberalism as a political philosophy and Orthodox theology. He then shows that ▒liberalism’, as used in debates on contemporary Russian Orthodoxy, is usually a negative term which, far from corresponding to any positive characteristics of the people so labelled, serves only to set them apart from the conservative wing of religious thought.
The topic is rounded off in the Politics of Culture section with an article by sociologist Olga Chepurnaya on Soviet Intellectuals’ Neo-Christian Ethics of Protest. Chepurnaya traces how, in the post-Stalin era, some Soviet intellectuals in the big cities took an interest in Christian thought from a variety of traditions, from late 19th and early 20th century Russian religious philosophy to modern Protestant theology. This, along with an interest in ▒Eastern’ thinking and other philosophies banned by official Soviet ideology, led to the formation of a number of religious debating and study circles in Leningrad and Moscow, such as the notorious nationalist VSKhSON or more liberal groups around e.g. Tatyana Goricheva or Alexander Ogorodnikov. Chepurnaya argues that through their eclectic blend of ideas from different intellectual traditions, these groups laid the foundations for the muddled religious beliefs professed today by a majority of Russians.
Moving on to the topic of the current political situation after December’s Duma elections, the Culture of Politics rubric features an article by historian Alexander Shubin, who questions the generally held view that the Putin regime is being increasingly stabilised by its measures aimed at crushing opposition and consolidating the political elites around the president (The Fragility of Normalisation: Putin’s Political System in the Mist of the Elections). Shubin reviews different types of ▒stable’ political regimes in the latter half of the 20th century, and argues that the elections have shown that the majority of Russians are not represented by any existing political movement. As an illustration, he points to the unexpected success of small eccentric parties and movements, such as the Anastasiite sect which took part in the elections on the Yedinenie (Unification) party ticket and garnered a surprising 1% of the votes cast.
Sociologist Alexei Levinson reviews the results of a recent large-scale poll of Russians between the ages of 15 and 35. He notes that while formally, a greater share of them is inclined towards supporting liberal parties than in other age groups, their answers to substantial questions about democratic freedoms and state control show an alarming tendency towards an acceptance of authoritarian methods which is often in direct contradiction with their own interests as they state them, e.g. concerning limits on showing sex and violence on TV, or restricting the rights of business. Levinson concludes that this points towards a new type of society which can no longer be usefully labelled ▒post-Soviet’ and needs to be studied very carefully in its very internal contradictions (Not a Time to Grow Stupid).
The next big topic of this issue is entitled The Economics of Culture. Two young Russian economists, Pavel Luksha and Yury Avtonomov, introduce the basics of a sub-discipline of economics which studies the market mechanisms to which cultural goods are subject, and which has still to work out many of its methodological tools. Both Luksha (in The Economics of Culture — Elements of A Science of the New Era) and Avtonomov (in A Perspective on Art through the Prism of Economic Theory: Demand in the Fine Arts Market) base themselves on the apparatus of neo-classical economics, with its view of the human being as a rational actor always striving to maximise benefits, though Luksha is more prepared to question these premises in view of the findings of the economics of culture. In our next issue, we intend to continue the debate on this topic by presenting a more sociological perspective on the economics of culture. For the time being, the discussion is rounded off with an empirical article by sociologist Boris Khlebnikov on Economics and Culture: The German Variant. Citing the latest German and international statistics on the dynamics of time spent on work, leisure, sleep, and other occupations, he shows that in highly developed countries such as Germany, the consumption of cultural goods, and especially media, has now taken pride of place in terms of the general economy of time.
Poet and economist Yevgeny Saburov, in his column Humane Economics, asks whether the turn away from liberalism is necessarily only a result of irrational behaviour. He argues that in a post-totalitarian society like Russia’s, micro-economic business interests may well be compatible with supporting the onslaught on state-independent big business and a clampdown on economic freedoms in general (Homo oeconomico-politicus).
Our third focal point is entitled What Does the Medium Tell Us? and is devoted to the theory and empirical study of media, another topic which we intend to expand on in forthcoming issues. The first article is an excerpt from philosopher Boris Groys’ book Under Suspicion: A Phenomenology of the Media, a Russian translation of which is soon to be published by the Moscow Art Magazine. Groys grapples with Marshall MacLuhan’s media theory and the famous metaphor ▒the medium is the message’, and questions whether the separation between the author or sender of a message and the medium used, which is implicit in this formula, can stand up to closer scrutiny. Philosopher Oleg Aronson, in The TV Image, or Emulating Adam, proposes to describe the world of contemporary media by using the language of Christian theology rather than modern technological discourse, and understanding it through the concept of temptation. Finally, cultural sociologist Vera Zvereva analyses the Discourses of ▒Knowledge’ on Russian TV, and reviews TV shows ranging from trivial pursuit-type question & answer games to ▒intellectual’ talk shows on modern science or issues of cultural policy. For each programme, Zvereva shows which conception of ▒knowledge’ is implicitly conveyed and what type of audience they are aimed at.
The New Institutions rubric presents two Moscow-based think tanks which study various aspects of post-Soviet political life, and especially nationalism and xenophobia in all its forms: Panorama, which in one form or another has functioned since 1989, and a new centre called SOVA which was founded by former Panorama experts in 2002 and specifically concentrates on religious extremism and a new type of nationalism often presented as New Conservatism.
The Journals Review section features an expanded version of our traditional review of Russian intellectual journals: we have included more titles in the review, and split it up into two parts, one on philosophical and inter-disciplinary and one on sociological and political science journals.
Finally, the New Books section includes reviews of a range of new books on Orthodoxy and religion in general, including the first two volumes of a new Encyclopaedia of Religious Life in Russia, as well as other Russian, Ukrainian and Italian books on various topics.