The Orthodox Church and Civil Society in Russia

By Gvosdev, Nikolas | The Catholic Historical Review, January 2008 | Go to article overview

The Orthodox Church and Civil Society in Russia


Gvosdev, Nikolas, The Catholic Historical Review


The Orthodox Church and Civil Society in Russia. By Wallace L. Daniel. [Eugenia and Hugh M. Stewart '26 Series on Eastern Europe.] (College Station: Texas A&M University Press. 2006. Pp. xvi, 251. $29.95.)

Most works that assess the role of the Russian Orthodox Church in contemporary post-Soviet society gravitate to one of two approaches: hostile (the Church is a tool of the government, an obstacle to reform, progress, and democratization) or hagiographical (the Church is the fount of Russian culture and values and the most trusted institution in Russian society). Baylor University's Wallace L. Daniel steers between both extremes; The Orthodox Church and Civil Society in Russia presents a complete picture from someone who, while sympathetic to the Church, does not whitewash some of the serious problems it faces.

Daniel is a long-time observer of the Russian religious scene, and he constructs his examination of the role played by the Orthodox Church in Russian society via four case studies-the reform-minded priest who tried to create a new type of parish community based on the vision of the early twentieth-century Russian theologians; the Soviet scientist-turned-abbess who recreated a living, thriving women's monastic community at the museum complex of the Novodevichy Monstery; the traditionalist pastor charged with re-estabHshing the parish at Moscow University; and the journalist who inaugurated the first regular coverage of religion at one of Russia's leading newspapers. In particular, his reliance on first-person interviews gives a much richer picture of church life than would be obtained from documentary sources-although it must be noted that his examples are all Moscow-based.

Daniel captures the feeling of many within the official Church that the role of civil society is not to act as an oppositional check on the state, but rather to work in close partnership to pursue shared goals. To paraphrase Fareed Zakaria, the Church is a proponent of what we might term an "illiberal civil society"-and Daniel's work explores further what the ramifications of this might be. …

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