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Breakthrough to Modernity, Apologia for Traditionalism: the Russian Orthodox View of Society and Culture in Comparative Perspective

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This paper will explore the fundamental views of Russian Orthodox Christianity on the contemporary world and its own place in it, and will then inscribe these views within a broad narrative of western thought of recent centuries. I proceed from an assumption that the main objective in western religious thought over the last three centuries was the construction of subtle bridges and continuities linking 'this world' with the transcendental, identifying as its central concern man's relationship to 'this world', and further associating 'this world' with new epistemological fields of 'culture' and 'society'. Russian religious thought was definitely a part of this process. Thus my purpose here is to approach the issue of where Russian Orthodoxy stands today in its vision of the whole complex of world/culture/society.

The main source for this study is a document produced by the Russian Orthodox Church, the Foundations for a Social Concept (FSC), officially adopted by the Bishops' Council of 2000. The word 'social' in this document covers a variety of socio-cultural phenomena, encompassing a whole range of issues from state and law to culture to bioethics to secularism. The very fact of formulating these objects of theological quest as an official authoritative endeavour is unprecedented in Eastern Christianity; the document can be seen as the first official, though indirect, response to independent theological modernism in the Christian East, to mainstream trends in western culture, and to (post)modernity as a whole.

While drawing a comparative background for the ideas vocalised by the FSC, I chose as a main point of reference another official and authoritative document - the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) (Catechism, 1997). This text is far larger than the Russian text and by definition cannot be seen as a direct counterpart to it. The Russian document under study can be compared to it only in what both of them say about social/cultural topics, which is just a small part of the Catholic Catechism. Nevertheless, I chose to compare these two documents of different genre and scale because no other authoritative Orthodox Christian catechism addresses most of the topics that interest me in this paper.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: December 1, 2003

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