The Perils of Moralism: Russian Orthodoxy and Russian Politics

In the recent history of the Russian Orthodox Church and Russian politics, the year 2012 has been a turning point. That year saw the largest mobilization of protesters against the government after the parliamentary elections; in 2012 Vladimir Putin was elected to his third turn as president and received the explicit support of the Patriarch of Moscow; 2012 was the year of Pussy Riot’s “punk prayer” and the ensuing trial; and 2012 saw a number of church scandals which affected the image of the church in public opinion, in particular revelations about Patriarch Kirill’s supposed personal wealth; and simultaneously, the display of famous Orthodox relics in Moscow revealed an astonishing fervour of believers.

Stoeckl_Religious Trationalism and Politcs2_web_jpgAll these events resulted in a shift in the power-balance between the Church and the State. President Putin has endorsed fully the conservative political line of the Patriarchate and has made his own the language of “traditional values” and the “Russian people”. Whereas until then the Church had appeared to pursue an independent course (and had formulated this independence very clearly in various official documents), from 2012 onwards the Moscow Patriarchate has become a stern supporter of Putin’s authoritarian regime. As a result, we observe a growing disaffection with the church-hierarchy among ordinary believers and an increase in ideological internal power struggles within the church, with liberal priests being sidelined or excluded from church offices and conservative and nationalist Orthodox ideologues on the rise.

In our “cluster” we want to bring together all the evidence which our individual research adds to this picture and we want to explore on a more general level the dynamics at play. As we try to understand the situation in Russia, we will ask how this development projects to the neighbouring countries, in particular Ukraine and Belarus, where the Russian Orthodox Church possess the majority of the flock. We will also position the Russian case in the context of major global trends in religion’s political involvement as explored in relevant academic scholarship.


  • “The Perils of Russian moralism: A Lacanian interpretation of the moral discourse in contemporary Russia”
    Dmitry Uzlaner is editor-in-chief of the journal State, Religion and Church as well as Associate Professor at The Russian Presidential Academy of National Economy and Public Administration (Moscow, Russia). His research focuses on contemporary religious transformations in conditions of postsecularity. From February to July 2015 he is Visiting Fellow at the IWM.
  • “Elaborating Orthodox moral identity in Putin’s Russia”
    Alexander Agadjanian is Professor at the Center for Study of Religion at the Russian State University for Humanities. His main research field is religious developments in post-Soviet societies, mostly Russia and the Caucasus. In March 2015 he is Guest at the IWM.
  • “The Russian involvement in transnational alliances of moral conservatives”
    Kristina Stoeckl is APART-Fellow at the Political Science Department of the University of Vienna and research-director of “Religious Traditionalisms and Politics” at the IWM. Her research focuses on church-state relations in Orthodox countries, Orthodox theology and political modernity, and theoretical debates on politics and religion.

The project is related to IWM’s research focus “Russia in Global Dialogue” and Kristina Stoeckl’s research project Religious Traditionalism and Politics.