Group on Religion and Identity
This thematic group will focus on the role of religion in constituting, challenging, and changing national and ethnic identities in Russia. We understand the term nation to mean the formation of a distinct group as a political community that sees itself "deserving of self determination, which usually entails self-rule, control of its own territory, and perhaps a state of its own," (Suny). We understand the term ethnicity to emphasize the more cultural aspects of group formation (including, for example, traditions, language, and religious beliefs and practices). In carrying out our research, the group will concentrate both on historical and comparative approaches to the theme.
A historical approach considers the dialectical role that religions have played in identity formation over time. When the monotheistic religions emerged, for example, they served as unifying forces promoting a universal destiny for all peoples, and promoted the emergence of great empires. With the Renaissance and Reformation, however, ideas of nationalism began to challenge the predominant conception of universal religions supported by a universal church and state. The religious teachings of national churches promoted the disintegration of the Christian community, while the emergence of many Muslim states after the collapse of the Khalifats and the Ottoman Empire demonstrated a similar opposition to political-religious universalism. This centrifugal tendency has strengthened in recent years, and currently expresses itself in resistance to globalization. We will pay special attention to understanding how religious philosophies have changed over time to adjust to new political or social situations, and how this evolutionary process has affected the relationship between religious teachings and formation of national or ethnic identities.
A comparative approach considers the roles played by a variety of religions and religious actors in shaping national and ethnic identity in Russia, and then looks at these roles in a broader historical and geographical context. This thematic group will not only consider the roles of Russian Orthodoxy and Islam in molding national and ethnic identities, but will also incorporate Protestantism and Buddhism. Moreover, we will consider a wide range of religious viewpoints in our study, such as those of religious modernists, atheists, secularists, reformers, revivalists, and fundamentalists. Finally, we will put our project into a broader context of world history and politics, keeping in mind the experiences of other nations, empires, and multicultural societies in dealing with problems similar to those Russia has faced. We anticipate that our cooperation with the groups in France, Thailand, and China will be especially valuable in this regard.
In carrying out its research,
this group will consciously focus on the key themes of the "Identifications"
project, and in particular on the connections and contradictions
between official and vernacular identifications in Russia over
time and across regions. For example, what role has official
state support for Russian Orthodoxy in the imperial and post-Soviet
periods played in (re)creating a Russian identity? Or, on the
contrary, how has state ignorance or repression of religions
such as Islam and Buddhism affected the self-identification of
Tatars, Buryats, etc. within the Russian/Soviet state? These
kinds of questions fully embrace the themes of membership, geographies
of identification, and placement and displacement outlined by
Sahlins and Scott in "Official and Vernacular Identifications
in the Making of the Modern World."
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