A university-funded, month-long trip to Moscow from April 5 - May 5, gave Pankhurst his latest opportunity to make new contacts, visit old friends and consult with Russian sociologists and other scholars on the nation’s current religious conditions and changes taking place in the country. He also made plans for collaborative research projects, one of which will be carried out jointly with researchers at the Institute of Sociology of the Russian Academy of Sciences aimed at improving the sociological measurement and conceptualization of religion among Russian Orthodox Christians.
Shortly after arriving in Moscow, Pankhurst lectured at the Center for the Study of Religion of the Russian State University of the Humanities on recent theoretical developments in the sociology of religion. He also presented a lecture at the Institute of Sociology of the Russian Academy of Sciences on applying the insights of the sociology of religion in understanding current developments in Russia. Pankhurst delivered both lectures in Russian.
Pankhurst witnessed firsthand some of the changes that have taken place since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.
“Essentially all religions were persecuted under Soviet rule,” Pankhurst said. “Churches were permitted one worship service a week with no educational programs or Sunday school programs.”
As a member of global society, Pankhurst explained that Russia has to develop a national identity that includes all religions.
“Between 1988 and the early 1990s, Russian churches were reconstituted, and all needed to rebuild their infrastructures,” Pankhurst said. “The Russian Orthodox, the biggest by far, needed to expand its seminaries and rebuild its churches, most of which were transferred to other uses or closed and left to ruin during the communist period.
“In 1991, modern Western, democratic laws of religion were put in place in Russia, but by 1997, the Russian parliament ruled that four religions, Russian Orthodox, Islam, Judaism and Buddhism, would be recognized as traditional religions of Russia,” Pankhurst said, “and that no one should attempt to convert any of their members.”
He added that this decision largely ignored all other faiths, including Protestant, Roman Catholic and various smaller groups.
Eastern Orthodoxy in a Global Age: Tradition Faces the Twenty-First Century, a book that Pankhurst co-edited with Victor Roudometof ( University of Cyprus, Nicosia) and Alexander Agadjanian ( Russian State University of the Humanities, Moscow), concerns the varied conditions of Eastern Orthodoxy around the world and was published July 7 by Alta Mira Press. A collection of essays by experts on the Orthodox faith around the world, the book will be the subject of a special session at the August conference of the Association for the Sociology of Religion in Philadelphia.
“The overreaching theme of the book is tradition encrusted with history,” Pankhurst said. “For instance, how will they adapt as a free institution to modern influences? Is the church serving or hindering the development of democracy?”
Pankhurst’s new research will explore reasons why the Russian Orthodox churches have acted as they have on political elections to parliament and the presidency; examine Russian demeanor in public places; and investigate how sociologists should measure the strength of religious faith in Russia, improving on current techniques, which were devised by Western sociologists mostly to study Protestantism and Catholicism.
Much of the information Pankhurst gathered on his visit to Moscow will find its way into his Russian Area Studies Program courses at Wittenberg.
“That’s what it’s all about,” he said. “Bringing the world into perspective for our students.”
— Phyllis Eberts
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