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

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Theology after Gulag: Developing a New Interdisciplinary Research Field

Looptijd: 2016
Coördinator: dr. E.V. Tolstoj (VU)

Project description
The main aim of the ‘Theology after Gulag’ (ThaG)-group is to establish conditions for initiating an interdisciplinary post-­Soviet theology. Such a theology is highly urgent in view of the socio-­political and theological developments in post-­Soviet space, and Russia in particular. In 1990s Russia there have been fragile attempts to stimulate public debate about Soviet crimes and commemoration of the victims.
Some of these came from ‘liberal’ Orthodox representatives and appealed to theological notions such as guilt, repentance, and reconciliation. Since the 2000s, however, the past is increasingly being ideologized and ‘rewritten’ for political purposes. Meanwhile, academic and civil society efforts to account for the USSR’s legacy of injustice (e.g. by the human rights organisation ‘Memorial’) are being marginalised. This affects the way wider society deals with the Soviet past. The rewriting of history ‘is part cause and part effect’1 of the fact that coming to terms with the past has failed.
As a prominent and influential institution, the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC) seems well-­placed to stimulate and support reflection on the past. However, the ROC at best reflects upon the past in the context of the persecuted Church, for example by canonising Soviet-­era martyrs. Moreover, since the decline of the Soviet regime, State and Church increasingly promote Orthodoxy as a core component of Russian national identity. In the process religion and ideology conflate, which hinders reflection. The current geopolitical events in the post-­Soviet space can largely be read as a consequence of the unprocessed Soviet past (both in the ‘West’ and the ‘East’).
Scholars from various disciplines have written about this unprocessed past; in the Netherlands for example Nanci Adler, and numerous scholars abroad, varying from Irina Sherbakova to Alexander Etkind. As yet there is no contribution from the perspective of theology, which is indispensable given the prominent role of Orthodoxy and the Orthodox Church in Russia and in other post-­Soviet societies. Here lies an important task for initiating an interdisciplinary theology to consider conditions of coming to terms with the past, and working toward reflection which is now absent.

Report of the ThaG-expert meeting: 19 May 2016
Report RCG Theology after Gulag, mei 2016