Reading Russian Philosophy in the Age of Putin

The Russian Orthodox Church and the Russo-Ukrainian War, Religion, Human Rights, and the Rule of Law

The third part of the lecture series, “Reading Russian Philosophy in the Age of Putin,” offered contemporary readings on religion and human rights topics. In the afternoon session, the two speakers considered the official rhetoric of the Russian Orthodox Church on the Russo-Ukrainian War. They looked closely and critiqued some of the positions of the Church, frequently identified with the pronouncements of Patriarch Kirill, which make intentional associations with a long intellectual tradition of Eastern Orthodox and Russian thought. The evening lecture considered the contemporary demise of a nineteenth-century Russian intellectual tradition of human dignity and human rights.  



16:00 CET - 17:30 CET:

The Russian Orthodox Church and the Russo-Ukrainian War

Does the Russian Orthodox Church Support the Russo-Ukrainian War? 
On the Gulf between Patriarch Kirill's "Military" Sermons, the "Russian World" Concept, and the Daily Life of the Church

In the media and in political reality, the sermons of Patriarch Kirill aimed at supporting the war are, in most cases, associated with the position of the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC). From here, far-reaching conclusions are drawn about the harm that it brings to gullible believers or that the ROC is a propagandist of the concept of the "Russian World," which Kirill allegedly came up with 
At the same time, unknowingly or consciously, journalists, politicians, and religious figures of other faiths ignore the real structure of the ROC––as a large church with a collective leadership, which has a complex hierarchical structure. In this report, we will talk about the extent to which the ROC itself supports some of the ideas expressed by Kirill and why his pronouncements have caused a backlash among many people worldwide, including many bishops, priests, and believers of the ROC. The report is based on an analysis of a set of official and administrative documents of the Russian Orthodox Church, the church press, as well as hundreds of interviews with the episcopate and clergy of the Russian Orthodox Church and the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, conducted between 2010 and 2022. 

Nikolay Mitrokhin, Fellow at the Research Centre for East European Studies, University of Bremen. 

What Have Gay Parades Got to Do with the Russo-Ukrainian War?
A Theological Inquiry and Why It Matters 

The Russian Patriarch has been vocal in his support of Putin’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine. This may not be particularly surprising, but what is probably confusing is that Kirill has chosen a line of argumentation that is frequently focused on denouncing gay rights. The Patriarch is, in fact, notorious for his obsession with gay parades––a topic that he almost never fails to mention. But how do gay parades in Berlin justify Russia’s bombing of Kyiv?   
In this talk, Clemena Antonova considered this question by looked at the theological background of the Russian Orthodox Church’s understanding of human dignity elaborated over the last two decades. Her interest was, firstly, to determine to what extent, if at all, this notion is indebted to Orthodox Christian theology. Secondly, she examined the ways in which the Church’s understanding of human dignity can tie in with ideas promoted by the Christian Right in the West. It matters whether we are confronting a way of thinking that is somehow typically Eastern Orthodox and Russian––as some, both in Russia and in the West have been claiming––or whether we have an instance of a wider tendency that cuts across the Western world as well. 

Clemena Antonova Research Director of the IWM Program The World in Pieces

Dessy Gavrilova, Founding Director of The Red House – Center for Culture and Debate, Sofia, moderated the afternoon session. 

18.00 CET – 19.30 CET

Religion, Human Rights, and the Rule of Law 

Bakhmut, a city in eastern Ukraine, has been the site of the fiercest fighting in Russia’s naked war of aggression against the country. It is now not only a symbol of the Ukrainian people’s heroic resistance but also of the Kremlin’s contempt for the nineteenth-century Russian intellectual tradition of human dignity and human rights: Bakhmut is the birthplace of one of Russia’s great philosophers of law, Pavel Novgorodtsev (1866–1924). Novgorodtsev believed that the rule of law depended fundamentally on respect for human dignity, or on the intrinsic and absolute worth of the human person. For him, human dignity was the source of human rights—their protection being the basic purpose of the rule of law. Human dignity was also one of the grounds of Novgordtsev’s Orthodox faith. He believed that the absolute worth of the human person, and more generally human consciousness of what he called the absolute ideal, entailed the metaphysical or ontological reality of the Absolute or of God. This lecture explored the robust Russian religious-philosophical tradition of human dignity and human rights, focusing on Novgorodtsev’s philosophy of law. It also addressed Patriarch Kirill’s shameful renunciation of this rich intellectual and spiritual tradition. 

Randall Poole, Professor of Intellectual History at the College of St. Scholastica in Duluth, Minnesota.

Serguei Oushakine, Professor in Slavic Languages and Literatures, Princeton University, moderated the evening session.