Nederlandse Onderzoekschool voor Theologie en Religiewetenschap
Netherlands School for Advanced Studies in Theology and Religion

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Home / Iconoclashes. Interferences of Gender, Politics, Religion and Art in the Pussy Riot Case

Iconoclashes. Interferences of Gender, Politics, Religion and Art in the Pussy Riot Case

Looptijd: 2013-2014
Coördinatoren: Prof.dr. A.J.A.C.M. Korte (UU), dr. H.E. Zorgdrager (PThU) & dr. K. Tolstaja (VU)
Verslag Seminar Blasphemy, 20 juni 2013

Project description

The “punk-prayer” performance of the group Pussy Riot in the Cathedral of Christ the Savior in Moscow, the video of their protest act through the internet, and the subsequent criminal case and court sentences against three members of the group engendered a serious political and religious controversy. State and ecclesial authorities reacted fiercely against the performance. At the backdrop stands the new reality of a close alliance between the Russian Orthodox Church and the power-vertical state system under president Putin.

Among the issues that raised debate and attracted the attention of a wide international audience, some are of particular relevance for contemporary religious studies and theology, especially when approached in dialogue with other disciplines of the humanities. We distinguish: 1. the accusation of blasphemy, 2. the dynamics of tradition and re-invention of tradition.

As for the accusation of blasphemy, the Pussy Riot case is of interest for close examination of the question why issues of female corporeality momentarily so often lie at the heart of these accusations. In which way does it apply to this case as well – or how is it different from other cases? Further, the Pussy Riot controversy relates to core disputes about religious identity and meaning in contemporary societies, as a clash between various understandings and imaginations of what is held to be sacred (Bruno Latour). Thirdly, the political dimension should be taken into account: under which conditions do authorities turn to the accusation of blasphemy? What mechanism made it possible that the word ‘blasphemy’ was used as a juridical category during the trial? Which factors made the Pussy Riot performance a catalyst for latent tensions between the Russian Orthodox Church and society? How are religion and politics intertwined?
Under the dynamics of tradition and re-invention of tradition we understand the ways in which the political art collective Pussy Riot makes use of visual, musical, religious, liturgical, philosophical and theological aspects of the Russian Orthodox tradition (culture, folk piety, aesthetics) and of a globalized world culture (like punk art, fashion, philosophy of the occupy movement) in order to articulate their protest. Scrutinous examination of the Pussy Riot case can lead to insights into how religious traditions are re-invented and re-actualized under the pressure of actual challenges in (post)modern society.
For both thematic research complexes, the questions of religion in public discourse, religion and politics, and religion in a post-totalitarian context will be of utmost relevance.

The start of the project: On November 29, 2012, and on February 14, 2013, about 16 scholars from the Netherlands, Germany and Russia gathered for explorative multi-disciplinary expert meetings on the Pussy Riot case. The meetings were organized by Anne-Marie Korte (Utrecht University), Heleen Zorgdrager (Protestant Theological University) and Katja Tolstaja (INaSEC, VU University). Methodological approaches, problem statements and interpretative frameworks from different disciplines have been presented and discussed. In the last meeting, the participants agreed on a shared research project.