The Russian Orthodox Church and Human Rights
Church Times Bookshop £81 (Use code CT217
LAST September, I sat opposite Metropolitan Hilarion in the
atmosphere of a semi-eroticised clerical court, talking about Bach
- he has composed his own St Matthew Passion,
magnificently recorded by the Moscow Conservatoire - and about the
active part played by the Church in Putin's Russia, and
specifically Russian foreign policy towards Syria.
I had been speaking about secularisation and secularism (and
Habermas's notion of the "post-secular") at Moscow State
University, and my first questioner had asked about St Paul's
teaching concerning the "powers that be". A little later, Bernice
Martin lectured in front of the double-headed eagle of Byzantium
about the evanescence of the majorityfaith of Roman Catholicism in
Brazil, as an oblique way of indicating the possible advent of
serious religious pluralism in Russia.
These are the themes of Kristina Stoeckl's remarkable and
penetrating analysis of the way the Russian Church is handling its
return to power in a context where it recognises its need to make a
response to modernity, in particular human-rights discourse. As
someone who regards Habermas's notion of the "post-secular" as
speculative, normative, and sociologically ignorant, I am glad
Stoeckl shifts to Charles Taylor's notion of a shared fragility and
self-consciousness felt by participants in the debate on the public
place of religion.
It is this self-consciousness that underpins the need of the
Russian Orthodox Church to respond. Moreover, in the person of
Metropolitan Hilarion, the responsetacks subtly in the direction of
redeploying human rights, understood theologically as an emphasis
on divine creation, and on thecommunity rather than the individual,
either to defend the rights of majority communities and their
specific national traditions,as in Russia, or of religious
Stoeckl focuses on a series of official statements both from the
"European" human-rights side and the Russian Orthodox Church,
though she also looks at the clashing rights involved in the
prosecutionof the Pussy Riot punk group for invading the rights of
worshippers in pursuit of the right to protest at the Church's
increasing collusion with Vladimir Putin.
She notes that the Russian Orthodox Church redefines
"Christianophobia" as positive discrimination against majority
religious traditions: for example, the Lautsi case against
crucifixes in Italian classrooms. It also envisages an alliance of
conservative Roman Catholics and Orthodox against "critical" RCs
and liberal Protestants.
Stoeckl pins some hopes on the idea that the Russian religious
intelligentsia will follow in the footsteps of the murdered
The Revd Dr David Martin is Emeritus Professor of Sociology
at the London School of Economics.