Morality instead of peace. The social and ethical discourse of the Russian Orthodox Church between theological sovereignty and political adaptation

Project coordination: Dr. Regina Elsner

First the church, then the housing: in Pargolovo in St. Petersburg, a new Orthodox church was built in 2017. © Denis Sinyakov / n-ost.

This project investigates the dynamics of Russian Orthodox social ethics since the fall of the Soviet Union. Although social and ethical issues may not lie at the heart of Orthodox theology, in Russia there is a striking dynamic of social and ethical positioning that impacts on sociopolitical discourses. While some basic documents of the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC) have since 2000 offered guidelines within the church, the discourse around values has gained notable relevance for the state and society. Recourse to orthodoxy, to the views of church leaders, and to Russian history, which is shaped by traditional orthodox values, is a permanent element of current sociopolitical debates.

The dynamics of the ROC’s social and ethical discourse and its interaction with sociopolitical processes in Russia throw up questions that this research project seeks to answer. On the one hand, these questions focus on the theological foundations of the current sociopolitical orientation of the ROC, the ways of organising the development of social and ethical positions, and the search for alternative theological social and ethical concepts. On the other hand, the project seeks to investigate and determine what parallels and ruptures may exist between the church’s social and ethical positions and sociopolitical developments, what convergences and divergences there are between state and church interests, and whether there is any evidence of the ROC’s social and ethical positions influencing sociopolitical dynamics with regard to internal and external conflicts.

Patriarch Kirill leads prayers in support of the Orthodox Church after protest punk band Pussy Riot - which is critical of the Russian government and the Church - staged a »guerrilla« performance in the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour in Moscow. © Denis Sinyakov / n-ost.