Russian Traditional Culture: Religion, Gender, and Customary Law

Russian Traditional Culture: Religion, Gender, and Customary Law

Russian Traditional Culture: Religion, Gender, and Customary Law

Russian Traditional Culture: Religion, Gender, and Customary Law

Excerpt

The surge of national and historical consciousness jolting peoples of the post-Soviet, deconstructivist world has been nowhere stronger than among the Russians themselves. This consciousness is not necessarily chauvinist or even outer-directed, but rather, for many, is an inner searching for lost cultural values and traditions. While Russians' popular awareness of their history may have been stimulated by comparable movements among national groups on their peripheries, the process has more complex dynamics. Since the Khrushchev period, Russian historians of the Middle Ages, of pre- Christian beliefs, and of peasant life have had a considerable following, as have scholars of Russian folk art, ritual, and music. Small folk culture museums opened and were supported by private funds in the Brezhnev era, joining a few large outdoor state-organized complexes such as Kizhi. With the very first glimmers of glasnost', writing on Russian folk culture became a growth industry.

Several main themes permeate recent historical scholarship on Russian traditions. The first is military glory, including the heroism of Russian empire builders before and after the Russian Revolution. Some who stress this "single stream" of Russian military might are indeed in a chauvinist camp, justifying historical expansion of Russians into the Baltic, Ukraine, Caucasus, Central Asia, and Siberia. Others are simply interested in the lives of specific generals and tsars.

A second theme involves the search for political legacies, whether democratic or authoritarian. The popular historian Dmitri Likhachev, one of the founders of the Culture Fund supported by Raisa Gorbacheva, has sought roots of folk democracy in traditions of Kievan Rus' as well as the peasant mir (commune). Others point to the rules of authoritarian leaders from Peter the Great and Ivan the Terrible to Stalin to stress (both critically and approvingly) Russian reliance on urban-based central planning and traditions of reform from above.

Themes centering on village life are similarly controversial, since idealization of village tradition continues to vie with progress-oriented views . . .

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