Orthodox Christianity and the Construction of Civil Society and Democracy in Russia

The project Orthodox Christianity and the Construction of Civil Society and Democracy in Russia was a collaborative effort between CURA, Baylor University, and the Woodrow Wilson Center’s Kennan Institute for Advanced Russian Studies. The project is co-directed by Christopher Marsh (Baylor University) and Elizabeth Prodromou (Boston University). The project brought together scholars and political and ecclesiastical leaders from Russia and the West to foster an informed debate and promote rigorous examination of the role of civil society in contemporary Russia.

Since the country’s conversion to Christianity in the 10th century, Orthodox Christianity has continuously informed the social, political, cultural, and in some ways, economic dimensions of Russia’s historical evolution. Today, Orthodoxy plays a central role in politics and society in such concrete ways as politicians finding it politically expedient to draw upon Orthodox religious traditions, the state entering into a close collaborative relationship with the Orthodox Church, and Orthodoxy being viewed by some Russians as more of a cultural marker than a faith tradition. Since the end of the Cold War, it is unclear how Orthodoxy’s historical and contemporary position in civil society will affect the processes of economic marketization and democratic consolidation in Russia; in both respects, the position of Orthodoxy within civil society and in shaping civil society deserves careful consideration.

Current research into this topic raises more questions than the answers provided. How does the role of the Orthodox Church in Russian civil society compare to the place of religious institutions in other parts of Europe and the Americas? What will be the legal and competitive impacts of applying the Orthodox ideal of symphonia (harmony) to church-state relations in Russia? What effects on Russian national identity follow from the type of church-state relationship currently under reconsideration and recalibration in Russia? In particular, how will the pluralization of Russian civil society be affected by the specific relationship between the Orthodox Church and the state? What do these issues suggest for the theoretical and applied aspects of compatibility versus tension between Orthodox Christianity and diverse types of democracy?

The project is proceeding in two phases. The first phase took place in Russia in summer 2003. Christopher Marsh, Peter Berger (Boston University), and Wallace Daniel (Baylor University) traveled to Russia to meet with governmental, ecclesiastical, and academic figures involved in the theoretical and applied issues central to this project. The trip concluded with a conference at the Danilovskii Monastery, and involved plenary discussion of the core issues under investigation in the project.

The second phase will begin in March 2004, with a three-day conference at the Woodrow Wilson Center’s Kennan Institute in Washington, followed by a presentation of the project’s findings at the US State Department. Participants will include some of the world’s leading scholars on the topics of Russian Orthodoxy, civil society, and politics, including Nikolas Gvosdev, Lawrence Uzzell, Philip Walters, Vsevolod Chaplin, and Andrei Zubov. The final papers will later be published in a volume edited by Christopher Marsh and Nikolas Gvosdev.