The proposed paper will center an ongoing conflict around a small Ukrainian Orthodox parish in the village of Ptyche as the starting point for an analysis of the movement for Ukrainian autocephaly – i.e., the cessation of the Ukrainian Church’s subordination to Moscow. Ptyche’s Ukrainian Orthodox parish, which seeks to join the Kyiv Patriarchate – the largest “schismatic” denomination in the country – while facing the often violent opposition of Moscow loyalists is representative of many similar conflicts over contested parishes around the country. While many scholars and journalists describe the battle for and against autocephaly as a simple “proxy war,” the proposed paper will argue that this conflict is in fact inextricably tied to questions of canonical jurisdiction that have become crucial in the post-Soviet Slavic Orthodox space. This analysis, informed by cultural geography and spatial analysis, proposes a link between: Moscow’s current project of the creation of an optics of a pious Russia through widescale church construction, restoration, and the seizure of formerly secularized property; the battle against Ukrainian autocephaly, which represents the loss of sites holiest to Russian Orthodox spirituality and an end Moscow’s status as the world’s largest Orthodox denomination; the joint Church-State project of protecting Middle East Christians and helping to maintain historically Christian spaces in the region via access to a military apparatus that the Ecumenical Patriarchate lacks; and Moscow’s campaign to achieve primacy in the Orthodox world in place of Constantinople.
The Politics of Religion
Paper Presentation in a Themed Session
Visiting Assistant Professor of Russian, Modern Languages, College of the Holy Cross, United States
I am a scholar of Russian religious thought with a passion for research at the intersection of theology, cultural studies, and literature. My work focuses on the historical roots of contemporary Church-State relations in Russia, particularly the regulation of gender and sexuality and the promotion of Russia's global role as the guardian of traditional family values. My article on the Day of Family, Love, and Fidelity, exploring the use of Orthodox theology to promote family values in the public sphere, will be published in the journal Religion, State, and Society in Fall 2018. More broadly, I study the Russian Orthodox Church's movement towards primacy in the Orthodox world via cultural imperialism within Slavia Orthodoxa and the discourse of cultural superiority to the West. My current project explores the ways in which the Moscow Patriarchate's current battle to maintain the subordination of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church is predicated upon the threat to Orthodox primacy and global exceptionalism represented by an independent Ukraine given its "European" loyalties and its challenge to the maintenance of a culturally conservative "Orthodox bloc". In addition to my scholarly research, I write about issues of religion in Russia for various non-academic outlets including my blog (below) and a daily Twitter digest (@RussRLGNWatch) and am a podcast host on thew New Books Network (newbooksnetwork.com).