Theology, religion, and politics in Imperial Russia

The history of post-Soviet Russia shows that, like the Soviet and imperial periods, it too is compelled to manage ethnic and religious diversity. Current conflicts in Caucasia are a clear instance of this. In addition, its recent history brings out the growing role played by religious issues, notably Orthodoxy, in the country’s political, social, and cultural life. This has transpired in the quest to endow politics with theological legitimacy, and the authorities’ emphasis on religions’ moral function, seen as guaranteeing the established social order. Religion primarily influences the educational system, but its presence may also be felt in international relations; high-ranking religious dignitaries are invited (either officially or unofficially) to attend negotiations and diplomatic encounters, proving that the authorities view religion as a foreign policy instrument. In other words, religion is once again being used by the state as a symbolic and moral resource in its relationship with, on the one hand, the secularized and laicized West (albeit one marked by its Christian Protestant and Catholic heritage), and, on the other, the various Easts, especially the near East, theater of the greatest politico-religious conflicts in the contemporary world.

All these phenomena show that the relationship between the state, religions, and society is a major issue in post-Soviet Russia, which in its political practice increasingly refers back to the imperial period. Current changes in post-Soviet society, together with attempts by the political elite to lay claim to the imperial heritage, raise the question of religion's importance as a long-term factor in Russian history. That is why this text analyzes certain points about the relationship between theology, religion, and politics in imperial Russia from the late nineteenth through to early twentieth century.

Les tours de Kremlin et de la Basilique de Saint-Basile, à Moscou

The religions in Russia, architectures.

Key moments in Russian imperial history

The chronological period selected here goes from the reign of Catherine II, during which the legal and administrative system for managing non-Orthodox religions was introduced, to the end of the reign of Nicholas II and the disappearance of the “Empire of the Tsars”. This period of nearly 150 years is set in turn within the longer period of empire-building, and the relationships between the three major actors of Empire, namely the state, the Orthodox Church, and the non-Orthodox religions. There were two key moments. The first was in the sixteenth century, when the non-Russian and non-Orthodox lands to the east of Moscow started to be conquered. This opened up the Russian realm to Islam and religious heterogeneity. The second was the reign of Peter the Great, who proclaimed himself Emperor of Russia in 1721. He profoundly reformed the structure of the Russian Orthodox Church, abolishing the patriarchate in the same year, and replacing it with the Holy Synod, a collegial institution headed by the chief procurator.

The conquest of non-Russian and non-Orthodox lands started in the sixteenth century and continued for over 300 years. By the nineteenth century the Russian Empire had become an empire of religions, the sole political entity in the world to be home to vast populations from the four major religions (Christianity, Islam, Judaism, and Buddhism). This, however, is not the sole reason why the Russian Empire can be defined as the Empire of religions. Even more importantly, several religions were involved in all the processes to build and administer the Empire. It was religions that legitimized monarchic authority and guaranteed the moral and social order. It was religions, and more specifically Orthodoxy, that underpinned the dominant ideology in nineteenth-century Russia – the triad of “Orthodoxy, Autocracy, and National Spirit” – and spawned the main currents of thought, namely Slavophilia, Pan-Slavism, and Conservatism. It was on the basis of religious belonging that the state defined and identified the ethnic or national belonging of communities. Last, it was the legislative system applied to religions – as set out in the 1832 Law Code and the 1857 Statutes on Foreign Confessions – and the institutions it established to control religious denominations, that enabled the monarchic authorities to govern the multi-religious and multi-ethnic population.

In the last third of the nineteenth century, the (self-)identification of groups and individuals became more complex, with the emergence of national movements and the authorities’ desire to build a Russian nation-state. Equally, the existing legal framework was altered when the regime, responding to the revolutionary context of 1905, promulgated the October Manifesto, rooted in the concept of individual freedom of conscience that had developed in tune with secularist trends in Russian society. Yet despite these two phenomena, in the early twentieth century the Russian monarchy continued to administer the peoples in its empire through confessional policies.

Furthermore, the Russian Empire was fashioned in parallel to the formation of neighboring continental empires, namely the Ottoman, Austrian, and – after 1871 – German empires. Borderlands acted as important zones of influence in this system of contiguous empires with shifting borders. And so the Russian Empire also used religions in its foreign policy. Religions were a way of asserting Russia’s status as a regional power in the eighteenth century, and major European power in the nineteenth century. Russia based its actions on three sorts of religious actor. First, Orthodox pilgrims – together with Muslim, Jewish, and Buddhist pilgrims who were subjects of the Russian tsar. These pilgrims enabled Russia to present itself on the international stage as a country that respected various non-Orthodox religions, and protected them even in the case of Islam and Buddhism. Second, non-Orthodox diasporas from adjacent empires – in particular the Armenian, and at times the Jewish diaspora. Protagonists often viewed these populations as agents of influence. And third, Orthodox populations who, though coreligionists of the Russian tsar, were subjects of foreign sovereigns – notably the Austrian emperor and the Ottoman caliph. By claiming to act as protecting power over these populations, Russia granted itself a right to interfere in these countries’ affairs.

The religious factor was also an important aspect in the colonial empires of the Russian Empire, as it was in European countries. The “civilizing” ideology of colonization converged with the ideal of “Christian civilization” conveyed by European and Russian missionary projects. This transpired in the founding of educational and charitable Christian missionary institutions, closely linked to representatives of secular power. In the case of Russia, this phenomenon occurred, first, on its eastern territories, peopled by non-Orthodox populations (Muslims, Buddhists, and shamans). It also transpired externally, in Palestine and Syria in particular, places that Russia and other European powers were seeking to transform, if not into colonies, at least into zones of political, cultural, and religious influence.

Historiography and research topics

Over the past two decades international scholarship has clearly demonstrated the important role of the religious factor in building and maintaining the Russian Empire. The history of religions was neglected during the Soviet period, or else studied using the rules of “scientific atheism”1. But a new approach to Russian imperial history emerged as of 1991, when the Russian archives were opened, rapidly giving rise to the “imperial paradigm”2 This encouraged analysis of religious phenomena, and the ways they interacted with various forms of imperial policy (relating to confessions, the nation, culture, and language)3 Further still, two scholars – Robert Crews and Mikhail Dolbilov – put forward a new interpretation of the history of the Russian Empire in the nineteenth century, a move referred to in the scholarship as the confessional turn.

Robert Crews was influenced by the work of American sociologist Philip Gorski on the “disciplinary revolution” and the “rapid rise of the modern state in Europe”. Gorski had in turn borrowed certain powerful ideas from the theory of confessionalization, put forward by German historians in the 1980s, showing how “church and state were interwoven in the early modern period and during modernization”4Crews sets out a new analysis of Russian state policy towards “foreign confessions” (and particularly Islam) in the nineteenth century. He defines this state as confessional, since, he argues, it determined and regulated through various means the “Orthodoxy” of each non-Orthodox religion present on imperial soil5 Mikhail Dolbilov took up Crews’ model and developed it in turn, describing how the Russian state managed the Catholic clergy and faithful in the second half of the nineteenth century, using the twin methods of “disciplining” and “discrediting”6.

This is not the place to go into the methodology of these works – which is, for that matter, of great interest for scholarship on Imperial Russia. Still, they raise a major question. To what extent may we apply the vocabulary and lines of analysis put forward by the theory of confessionalization – a theory developed in Germany to describe the relationship between politics and religion in the Holy Roman Empire (and certain European countries) and explain the birth of the modern state in the context of the Protestant Reformation – to nineteenth-century Russian Orthodox imperial policies towards non-Orthodox religions? Or, to put that differently, how are we to analyze and describe similar trends, probably with shared underpinnings, in the processes by which the religious realm was politicized – observable in different political religious entities and at different stages in the early modern and late modern periods –without simply transposing ideas and concepts from the theory of confessionalization (which, for that matter, has continued to evolve ever since it was first set out)7.

One further remark is required. Historians working on the relationship between the state and non-Orthodox religions (particularly Islam and Catholicism) tend to pay less attention to theological issues, such as how the Russian Orthodox Church perceived religions it defined as “heterodox”, labeled “foreign confessions” by imperial legislation. For behind this seemingly minor problem lies another, larger one. How did the Russian church build up “official” knowledge about “heterodoxy” within the ecclesiastical teaching system, and propagate it amongst the Russian Orthodox population? The first ecclesiastical schools in Russia were set up in the seventeenth century. But it was not until the late eighteenth and very early nineteenth century that the Orthodox Church hierarchy, working closely with the monarchical authorities, set up its own institutionalized ecclesiastical education system. Indeed, analysis of three processes – the institutionalization of Orthodox clerical training, the systematization by church “intellectuals” of theological knowledge, and the propagation of this knowledge amongst the great mass of believers – brings out the links between three strands of identity. Namely official theological identity as formulated by church “scholars”, religious identity as disseminated by the clergy and shared by all the faithful, and (Russian national/imperial) political identity. Analysis of these three processes also helps understand the mechanisms and procedures for fashioning what I propose to call “the orthodoxy of Orthodoxy” as practiced by the Russian Church. Unlike the Roman Catholic Church, it did not have the doctrinal authority of the pope, or an equivalent of the Supreme Sacred Congregation of the Holy Office, or even the authority of a patriarch at this period, as was also the case for other Orthodox Oriental Churches. Lastly, examination of how Orthodox theological knowledge was fashioned helps understand how it was taken up by the imperial authorities and used in their domestic and foreign policy.

Thus the purpose of this text is, first, to examine how the Russian Orthodox Church built up and disseminated theological knowledge about “heterodoxies”, and, second, to show how the Russian imperial authorities exploited this knowledge in policies for managing “foreign confessions”.

Institutionalizing the Orthodox ecclesiastical teaching system in the Russian Empire

The development of religious and theological thought in Russia was bound up with changes to the Orthodox clerical training system, often at the initiative of the monarchical authorities. The reign of Peter the Great was characterized by the opening of ecclesiastical schools for children of the clergy in all regions of the Russian Empire. That of Catherine II was marked by the idea of removing ecclesiastical teaching from the direct control of the Orthodox Church, by opening theology faculties in lay universities. Alexander I, preoccupied with the general reform of public instruction throughout the Empire, decided to maintain the principle of the separation between the two teaching systems, granting the Church the prerogative of training its own professional body within an institutionalized framework. This had three levels: elementary schools, ecclesiastical seminaries, and theological academies. Despite numerous reforms – in the 1830s (known as the Nikolai Protasov reform, after the chief procurator of the period), the 1860s (the Dimitry Tolstoy reform, chief procurator and Minister for Public Instruction), and the 1880s (the Konstantin Pobedonostsev reform) – this system was maintained throughout the long nineteenth century, and regulated by imperial legislation.

L’Académie de théologie de Saint-Petersbourg

St Petersburg Theological Academy.

The theological academies, of which there were four in the nineteenth century, acted as teaching and research centers in the field of the humanities and theological sciences. They fulfilled a triple function: forming the religious elite (the future dignitaries of the Russian Church), elucidating and systematizing Orthodox discourse, and preparing teachers for all levels of ecclesiastical schooling.

Each academy had its own specificity, its own specialization. The St Petersburg Academy, re-founded in 1809, was defined as the “methodic and methodological” center for controlling and guaranteeing the orthodoxy of the teaching received by the ecclesiastical elite. It oversaw the standardization of Orthodox theological knowledge. The Moscow Academy, re-established in 1814, was the place of production for Orthodox Church discourse against Old Believers (staroobrjadcy). The Kiev Academy, founded as part of Alexander I’s reforms in 1819, acted as the teaching and research center for the “internal mission” amongst the Orthodox population8. Lastly, the Kazan Academy was founded in 1842 as a center for the study of the non-orthodox religions of populations in the east of the Russian Empire (Islam, Buddhism, and shamanism). It was thus viewed as the seat of “Orthodox missiology” and particularly as the center of “anti-Muslim missions”.

The academies built up libraries and purchased many works abroad to help carry out these essential functions. For instance, as of the 1850s and 1860s the St Petersburg Academy had collections, series, reviews, and specialized journals brought from Germany, Britain, France, and Italy, including the Journal des Églises réformées, the Allgemeine Kirchenzeitung, and so on. Thus by the end of the nineteenth century the library of the St Petersburg Academy held nearly 3844 manuscripts and 80,000 printed items in French, Germany, English, and other European languages. These included the Migne and Bollandist collections, and several Protestant and Catholic journals. A similar phenomenon occurred in the three other theological academies. To read these books and journals in foreign languages, the students needed to know the languages in which they were written, particularly Latin. Up until the 1820s and 1830s, Latin, viewed by the Orthodox Church hierarchy as the sole and unique academic language, continued to be used as the teaching language in the Russian ecclesiastical system. But while knowledge of the “classic” languages of Greek and Latin was imposed by the academies, the students themselves clamored for modern languages – German, French, and sometimes English. For instance, at the Moscow Academy, one of the criteria for judging the best dissertation was the inclusion of numerous quotations from contemporary Western authors, particularly German philosophers.

This brief presentation of the theological academies shows that as of the early nineteenth century, and especially the late imperial period, the Russian Orthodox Church had all the requisite means to access the sources of Western (be it Catholic, Protestant, or atheist) thought and Eastern (or “Greek”) thought. It was the task of Oblitchitel’noe bogoslovie (or “polemical theology”), one of the disciplines taught in the academies, to produce and disseminate knowledge about the non-Orthodox world (and hence about Orthodoxy itself) amongst future priests, theologians, and dignitaries of the Russian Orthodox Church.

Producing orthodoxy about “heterodoxies”

“Polemical theology” was initially an integral part of “Orthodox dogmatic theology”, before breaking away in the early nineteenth century and emerging as a discipline in its own right, taught in the academies as of the 1840s to 1860s9. Over time it changed its approach to analyzing and teaching non-Orthodox religions. In the 1860s the exegetical polemical approach, or “hermeneutic” approach as it was called by theologians of the period, gave way to what may be defined as the “theological historical” approach. It was also in the 1860s that the object of study of polemical theology was more precisely defined, as reflected in the new title of the discipline. According to the 1869 Academic Statutes, “polemical theology” became “comparative theology”, privileging the study of “non-Orthodox Christian confessions”. These changes were, for that matter, closely linked to the “historical turn” in Russian Orthodox theological sciences in general. In the 1860s, under the influence of the emerging human sciences, or humanities, changes occurred in ways of thinking, exploring, and writing about theology, accompanied by transformations in how Russian society perceived the theological sciences. History, archaeology, and philology were particularly influential. These disciplines started to develop shortly after the French Revolution, before really taking off in Europe during the Romantic period. The humanities, dominated by German idealism, left a mark on the methods employed in the theological sciences in European countries in the 1830s and 1840s. Works by representatives of the Tübingen school of theology – ranging from the Catholic Möhler on the one hand, to the Protestant Baur on the other – played a role in the construction of European political and cultural identity. From the 1850s to 1870s teachers and students at the theological academies read, analyzed, and appropriated these works . They played a fundamental conceptual, methodological, and epistemological role in the construction of Russian theological knowledge.

These epistemological changes, which also affected “polemical theology” – now renamed “comparative theology” – took place in the context of political opening, with the great reforms of Alexander II. Later on, in 1884, against the backdrop of Alexander III’s counter-reforms, “comparative theology” became “the history and criticism of Western confessions”, before becoming (once again) the “history and polemics against Western confessions” after the publication of the October 17, 1905 Manifesto. In other words, after a cycle of 100 years, “polemical theology” was once again on the syllabuses of the theological academies, and part of politico-religious life in the Russian Empire – though without ever having definitively disappeared during this period.

While the object of study of “polemical theology” became more clearly defined over time, with the emphasis now placed more generally on “non-Orthodox Christian confessions”, teachers of this discipline continued to start their courses by criticizing non-Christian “heterodoxies”. As an example, the “polemical theology” course written in the 1830s by an anonymous teacher at the Moscow Theological Academy starts by presenting “paganism”, “Mohammedanism”, and “Judaism”, before progressing to the non-Orthodox Christian “doctrines” (both “Eastern” and “Western”)10. This order remained unchanged a few decades later at the same academy.

Islam (“Mohammedanism”) was the non-Christian “heterodoxy” which attracted the most attention from the theologian-polemicists. Catholicism (or “Latinism”, the faith of “Latin society” or “the Western Church”) was the “Western confession” discussed in greatest detail. This preference to oblitchat’, or criticize, Islam and Catholicism was linked to the position these religions held in contrast to Orthodoxy in the theologian-polemicists’ imaginary. But it also stemmed from two other aspects, one statistical and one political. From the late eighteenth through to the early twentieth century, these two religions had the largest number of members in the Russian Empire after Orthodoxy. Equally, in the wake of the Polish insurrections (of 1830-31 and 1863-64), the “Polish question” and its “Catholic component” posed a threat in the nineteenth century to the development, stability, and existence even of the Russian Empire to the west of its frontiers. As for the “Muslim question”, this pertained to the loyalty of the populations of Islamic confession, to the east and south of the borders of the Russian Empire, in the countless military conflicts with the Ottoman Empire, and hence with the sultan and caliph of all Muslims.

For these reasons it is worth looking in greater detail at what Russian polemical theology had to say about Catholicism and Islam.

Studying Catholicism as a ritual and dogmatic system. From Byzantine anti-Latin polemic to more “neutral” knowledge?

It is widely agreed that Russian discourse on Catholicism started to emerge not in the nineteenth century but well before, in fact dating back to the ninth century. Byzantine anti‐Latin polemical literature traces its roots back to the Encyclical Letter, written by Patriarch Constantinople Photius in 867. This literature really took off after the 1054 schism between the Church of the East and the Church of the West, triggered by the conflict between the Patriarch of Constantinople Michael Cerularius and the papal legate Cardinal Humbert. Old Russia, Christianized by Greek missionaries at the end of the tenth century, inherited the negative perception of Latin Christians as set down in Byzantine polemical literature. This perception lasted through to the early modern period. The Reformation and Counterreformation, with the development of the Catholic/Protestant controversy, and the “opening up” of Russia to Europe in the early eighteenth century, necessarily impacted on Russian religious thought. In the wake of the Reformation the Orthodox clergy adopted a new strategy, starting to appropriate certain Protestant arguments against the Catholics, and vice versa. Russian Orthodox thought underwent the dual Catholic and Protestant influence of Western thought in its language and way of thinking. This dual influence persisted through to the middle of the nineteenth century, as did the “alternating influence” (oscillating back and forth between Catholicism and Protestantism). This necessarily shaped the (negative) content of Russian theological knowledge about Catholicism. However, the “historical turn” taken by the Russian theological sciences also affected ways of analyzing Catholicism and presenting it as a ritual and dogmatic system. A more neutral, more “objective” approach was adopted as of the 1860s and 1870s. In addition, teachers at the academies were sensitive to contemporary events relating to the Roman Church. These included the anticlerical policy pursued by various European governments (in Italy, France, and Germany), the papacy’s loss of its States and temporal powers, and Vatican I and its consequences (with the proclamation of papal infallibility and birth of the Old Catholics movement). Changes in the internal and external situation of the Roman Catholic Church led to a wave of Russian theological production. This production was intended both for the public inside the Russian Empire, and for that outside it. It focused on five major issues that Russian theologians of the second half of the nineteenth century held to separate Orthodoxy from Catholicism: the perception of dogma (and Newman’s theory of dogmatic development), papal infallibility/supremacy/primacy, the Filioque, the Immaculate Conception, and the unity of the Church.

In addition to this, a new element in discourse about Catholicism appeared in the late nineteenth century. Theologians, observing the religious situation in European countries, even expressed a degree of sympathy for Catholics, confronted by “revolutionary forces” ranging from rationalism to republican governments. They viewed the Catholic Church, "suffering from all these evils”, as an integral part of the united Christian religious field, confronted by atheists, rationalists, revolutionaries, and so on. Yet when Russian theologians changed their scale of analysis to the Christian religious field, divided between Catholics, Protestants, and the Orthodox, the former became their “adversaries”, though they did not therefore propose to convert them.

Studying Islam “passionately”

Orthodox theologians’ polemical presentation and analysis of Catholicism was many-faceted, especially as of the second half of the nineteenth century. But their treatment of Islam remained more cursory, more descriptive, and more polemical throughout the period under study. For instance, in the 1830s “polemical theology” course, a teacher at the Moscow Theological Academy presented “Mohammedanism” as a religion that “recognizes Mohammed, God’s Envoy to re-establish the former religion of Abraham amongst humanity by adding certain new laws”11. Without entering into theological discussions, the author of the course recounts the history of “Mohammedanism” in his own manner. Mohammed, “its founder, characterized by his keen and sharp intelligence”, simply took advantage of “the ignorance of his tribe, imposing his doctrine, dominated by fanaticism, throughout Arabia by force, cunning, and deceit”. “The ignorance of Mohammedans” and “strict defense of the Alcoran in analyzing the doctrine itself has preserved the Mohammedan religion from any internal evolution”. However, the unity desired and propagated by Muhammad was not genuine, for according to the polemicist “there are nearly seventy Mohammedan sects”.  Furthermore, this “religious weakness is accompanied by extreme political weakness, a characteristic of all Muslim powers recently”. He closes his presentation of the Islam by stating that “it is a religion which has no solidity in itself”, and “can only subsist by violence”, being “absent from regions where there is no tyranny”12.

An even more polemical presentation of Islam and its founder is given in the “polemical theology” course written in the 1850s in the same Moscow Academy. Nevertheless, the “historical turn” mentioned earlier has brought about a shift in the perspective used to present and analyze Islam. An end-of-study dissertation found in the archives of the Moscow Academy, entitled “Islam in comparison with Christianity”, takes an opposite tack. Instead of presenting “the exceptional personality” of Muhammad, the author seeks to understand “which exceptional characteristics of the Arab people enabled the figure of Muhammad to appear”, asking “why did Islam spread amongst Arab peoples?”. Several pages are thus devoted to the history “of the Arab tribes before Muhammad appeared”13. The author tries to discover and explain the links between “the Muslim religion”, “the nature of the state in the East”, and “the specificity of the arts, poetry, and Arab sciences marked by Islam”. Yet while endeavoring to be neutral in accordance with the “historical turn”, the author – probably a future teacher and trainer of parish clergy – nevertheless fell back on a polemical vision. There is nothing surprising about this, since he is continually referring back to authors with polemical ideas. His dissertation draws on works by the Austrian Orientalist Alfred Von Kremer, by Ernest Renan, the professor of Hebrew at the Collège de France, and by “anti-Muslim” theologian-polemicists at Kazan Theological Academy, such as Evfimi Malov and Nikolai Ostroumov14The latter, for instance, in his 1872 programmatic article “Notes on the importance of Mohammedanism in the history of Christianity and in the history of humanity generally” suggests imagining “what would happen if the Mohammedans had a political force equal to the forces of the Christian state”. But for Ostroumov, “Christianity developed nowhere in the old world” outside Russia. That is why “the Russian Church is faced with the enormous task of converting to Orthodoxy the inhabitants of Central Asia, where the success of Christianity is still a possibility”, as well as that of “preserv[ing] pagans from the regions in the East from the influence of the Mohammedans”15A few years later, in his book Islamology, Ostroumov declared that the twentieth century could be defined “as the century of Islam's awakening”, which “should incite the Russians to study the Islamic world in greater depth”. But he then reverts to the same discourse fuelled by the same stereotypes and anti-Muslim representations16This example provides proof that the Russian theological academies were unable to move beyond their polemical vision of Islam to produce more neutral, less confessional discourse, closer to the standards “of the Eastern sciences” that were taking shape in the non-confessional academic system of the period17.

This brief presentation of the formation of Orthodox theological knowledge about Islam and Catholicism shows that the latter was studied in greater detail than the former. Despite its shortcomings, Catholicism was viewed by Orthodox scholars of the nineteenth century as an integral part of Christianity and a religion of “the civilized world”, hence worth studying in depth. Islam, on the other hand, was seen as a religion from an inferior world, the “non-civilized world, hence one “to be converted”.

Propagating theological knowledge and transforming it into religious belief shared by all Orthodox believers

Orthodox theological knowledge about Christian and non-Christian “heterodoxies” – built up by Orthodox “scholars” and defining the core of Orthodox theological identity – was propagated to the faithful in a form accessible to all. In this process scholarly theological knowledge was transformed into simplified knowledge shared by all the faithful. Various channels were used, primarily the parish clergy. Theological knowledge about “heterodoxies” and Orthodoxy was taught in “light” format in ecclesiastical seminaries. These started to be systematically set up to train the “professional” clergy during the reign of Alexander I (there were fifty-eight by the early twentieth century). In the eyes of the political and ecclesiastical authorities, the priest not only had to fulfill the role of spiritual father and often that of doctor, looking after both soul and body of the faithful, he also had to act as the sole mediator between the authorities and the people. It was the task of the priest, acting as the agent forging the “Russian spirit”, to Orthodoxize the population of the Empire and incite feelings of loyalty towards Autocracy, as part of the “internal mission” amongst Orthodox subjects, and the “external mission” amongst non-Orthodox, non-Russian subjects.

To Orthodoxize and Russify the population, the Orthodox Church devised various Prinjatija rituals, for “Introduc[ing] into the Orthodox Church” each category of “non-Christians (pagans, Jews, Mohammedans)” and “adepts of Christian sects”. It set these out in The Book of Rites, an integral part of the Orthodox Priest’s Bedside Book in the late nineteenth century. For instance, in the rite for individual conversion of a Catholic to Orthodoxy, the priest would start by asking a person “come from the Roman Latin confession” about Catholic doctrine, before then explaining the doctrinal differences between the two Churches, and asserting “the truths of Orthodoxy”. Amongst the various errors, pride of place went to the Filioque, followed by the issue of church organization and the relationships between the apostles. Purgatory and the composition of Holy Scripture were mentioned in the second part of the rite (which is affirmative in nature), but there was no reference to the Immaculate Conception. The Roman Church was defined in the 1895 Book of Rites as the “Roman Latin Church” or “Roman Latin confession”. There was no mention of “papism” or “Latinism”, as may be seen in the wording used in the section of the Book of Rites about Catholicism. This largely corresponds to the language of “comparative theology” taught in the academies in the late nineteenth century. The rite of “Introduction to the Orthodox Church” was often accompanied by a homily delivered by the parish priest to the Orthodox faithful. For instance, in a sermon entitled “Speech delivered after having given Chrismation to a Catholic convert to Orthodoxy”, the priest briefly explained the differences between the two Churches to the convert and the faithful gathered in his church, using a language accessible to all. The priest did not go into the details such as the procession of the Holy Spirit (the Filioque), but spoke about changes to the Symbol in the Niceno-Constantinopolitan creed. He did not refute the doctrine of papal infallibility/supremacy/primacy, but did refute “the visible power” of the Bishop of Rome. The Immaculate Conception and other questions requiring theological knowledge were barely mentioned. The homily placed the emphasis on the sacramental and ritual dimension, on the daily life of the Orthodox faithful, on a dimension accessible to the understanding of all, rather than on abstract theological details. These examples show that the homily preached after the rite of conversion went over the discursive parts of this rite, supplementing or simplifying certain points, to enable the convert to “relive” and better understand this moment in their life. This type of homily after the rite of conversion also fulfilled other functions, namely helping the faithful to memorize the differences between Orthodoxy and “heterodoxy” by presenting the information twice, once in the rite and once in the sermon. It thereby reinforced feelings of belonging to the “apostolic universal Church”, that is to say the Orthodox Church.

Comparison of sermons about conversion to Orthodoxy by Catholics, Jews, Muslims, Lutherans, and Old Believers, published in the second half of the nineteenth century and early twentieth century, shows that their tone was characterized by a certain degree of benevolence towards the new members of the Orthodox Church. They tended not to include any prejudices or negative images about representatives of non-Orthodox religions, except probably about Muslims. In a sermon published in 1869, “Speech delivered after the conversion of a Mohammedan”, the author, a parish priest in the diocese of Penza, declared that “I greet you using your Christian name, now that you are no longer a daughter of Satan, you are no longer a heir to hell, but Christ’s bride”18.

These rites and sermons celebrated and delivered by parish priests were the main channel for disseminating orthodoxy about “heterodoxies” amongst the Orthodox faithful, irrespective of their social belonging. But as of the great reform period, a new way of disseminating Orthodox theological knowledge emerged, this time primarily targeting the educated public in the Russian Empire’s two capitals and provinces. As of the 1870s Orthodox theology “crossed” the threshold of the theological academies. It was disseminated in the central and academic ecclesiastical press in organs such as the Ecclesiastical Messenger, Christian Reading, and the Orthodox Interlocutor, as well as in the provincial religious press, such as Diocese News. Or, to be more precise, in editorials by theologians and teachers of “comparative theology” analyzing political and religious processes occurring outside the Russian Empire, especially in Europe19. It was also disseminated in articles in the first Orthodox Encyclopedia, which started to be published in 1893 by Aleksandr Lopukhin, a former teacher of “comparative theology” and parish clergyman in the New York Orthodox Church. It was also propagated in works of popularization, such as those by Aleksandr Beliaev from Moscow Theological Academy about the union or unity between the Churches.

When the theological becomes political

The process of “democratization”, or rather popularization of Orthodox theological knowledge, took place within the context of building up Russian national and religious identity and the proclaiming the policy of domination over the non-Orthodox and non-Russian peoples in the Empire. It was supported by “intermediaries” between the theological and political spheres, such as “General and theologian” Aleksandr Kireev. He took purely theological discourse and transformed it into national and religious discourse, providing a source of inspiration to the state authorities. In addition to Kireev – adjutant to Grand Duke Constantine (the brother of the Emperor and Governor General of the Kingdom of Poland during the second Polish revolt of 1863-1864) – suggested using this discourse for political aims to resolve “the Polish question”. After his “Polish experience”, Kireev started becoming interested in the Old Catholics movement, founded in the wake of Vatican I by Ignaz von Döllinger and other German-speaking theologians, who refuted the new dogma of papal infallibility. Kireev conducted a vast correspondence with theologians from this movement despite having no “professional” theological training, and published several books and articles about political and theological problems20. Above all, he supported Orthodox theologians willing to dialogue with the Old Catholics, for his own ambitions transcended the strictly ecclesiastical and academic framework. Kireev wished to “propagate Orthodoxy in the West” by drawing on his contacts with “this section of Latin theologians”, as he called them, and thereby establish opposition to the Pope in Rome. He also hoped to “introduce Old Catholicism in Poland and Russia”, thereby establishing similar opposition in Catholic Poland and throughout the territories of the Russian Empire. He envisaged using one of the branches of Old Catholicism (the Mariavites in Poland) to reunite the Churches, with the supreme aim of reconciling the Russian and Polish peoples. But despite having the support of the imperial authorities, from Alexander II to Nicholas II, Kireev failed in this unification project. He died in 1910 before the beginning of the First World War interrupted the dialogue between Old Catholics and Russian theologians.

Classifying “heterodoxies” on the basis of how close they are to Orthodoxy

The links between theology and politics also transpire in imperial taxonomy of non-Orthodox religions, as set out in the 1857 Statutes on Foreign Confessions that remained in effect up until the end of the Russian Empire. No sources have yet been discovered confirming direct contact between theologians and representatives of the imperial authorities working on the Statutes in question. But this taxonomy clearly hierarchizes religions on the basis of how close they are to the Orthodox Church, defined by the law as “first and dominant”. These Statutes determine the place of each non-Orthodox religion found in the territories of the Russian Empire. They are classified into two groups: a group of “non-Orthodox confessions”, defined by the law as “tolerated confessions”, and a group of “prosecuted confessions”. Amongst the former are the “Christian confessions” (presented in the following order): “the Roman Catholic confession and the Armenian Catholic confession”, “the Protestant confession”, and “the Armenian Gregorian confession”. These are followed by the “non-Christian confessions”: “the Karaites”, “the Jews”, the Mohammedans”, and “the Lamists [Buddhists] and pagans”. Amongst the “prosecuted confessions” are certain raskol “sects” (raskol denoting the seventeenth-century schism in the Orthodox Church). According to imperial legislation these “sects” were to be prosecuted because they were “detached from Orthodoxy”, and because “their doctrine demands ferocious cruelty” and “accomplishing acts against the law”21.

Le Code des Lois de l’Empire russe de 1857, qui a publié les Statuts des « confessions étrangères »

The 1857 Law Code of the Russian Empire, in which were published the statutes on “foreign confessions”.

This classification accurately reflects the vision of Orthodox theologians of “heterodoxies”. Despite the importance of “the Polish question” for the existence of the Russian Empire, and the two insurrections organized by Catholic Poles and supported by part of the Catholic clergy, Catholicism appears at the head of the category of tolerated religions, for it was closest to Russian Orthodoxy in terms of dogma and ritual. Islam comes in sixth position, just before “pagans”. This order corresponds to that presented in the courses on “polemical theology” in all its various forms, taught in the Russian theological academies throughout the long nineteenth century.

Some avenues for future enquiry

Further work needs to be done on reconstructing the historical path taken by each theological academy, as well as on the process of fashioning Russian Orthodox theological knowledge. More in-depth understanding is needed about how the process of homogenizing knowledge specific to the Russian Orthodox Church was linked to attempts by the monarchic authorities to homogenize the Russian Empire, especially during the second half of the nineteenth century, with the goal of creating a common Russian political and cultural sphere during a period when European countries were building their nation states22.

More detailed examination is also required of how representatives of the imperial authorities picked up on and used Orthodox theological, historical, and archaeological knowledge fashioned by the theological academies. This needs to be examined within the borders of the Russian Empire, but also further afield, especially for lands outside Europe, in the “East” (Palestine and Syria), where, as of the 1840s, the Russian Empire established itself as a political and religious power confronting other European powers and non-Orthodox Christian confessions.

Lastly, it would be important to know more about the process by which religious knowledge was deconfessionalized due to political and intellectual changes, both in Russia and abroad. In other words, to examine the shift at the turn of the century from Orthodox theological knowledge to the incipient religious sciences, whose development was interrupted by the October Revolution.

Unfold notes and references
Retour vers la note de texte 1911


Work by Pavel Zyrjanov provides one example of this tendency in the study of religions and Orthodoxy in the Soviet Union. However, mention must also be made of two historians from the first half of the twentieth century, whose fundamental work still acts as a point of reference, namely Georges Florovsky, Puti russkogo bogoslovija [The paths of Russian theology], Paris, 1937, and Igor Smolytsch, Geschichte der Russischen Kirche, 1700-1917, Leiden-Wiesbaden, 1964-1990, tt.1-2.

Retour vers la note de texte 2256


This paradigm pertains to study of the Russian Empire, as well as other modern empires. See Ann Stoler, Frederick Cooper (eds.), Tensions of Empire. Colonial Cultures in a Bourgeois World, Berkeley, 1997; Karen Barkey, Mark von Hagen (eds.), After Empire. Multiethnic Societies and Nation-Building. The Soviet Union and the Russian, Ottoman and Habsburg Empire, Boulder, CO, 1997; Kathleen Wilson (eds.), A New Imperial History. Culture, Identity, and Modernity in Britain and the Empire, 1660-1840, Cambridge, NY, 2004; Nicolos Dirks, Scandal of Empire. India and the Creation of Imperial Britain, Cambrigde, MA, 2006; Jane Burbank, Frederick Cooper, Empires in World History. Power and the Politics of Difference, Princeton (NJ), 2010.

Retour vers la note de texte 3180


Particularly Daniel Brower, Edward Lazzerini (eds.), Russia’s Orient: Imperial Borderlands and Peoples, 1700-1917, Bloomington, 1997; Robert P. Geraci, Window to the East. National and Imperial Identities in Late Tsarist Russia, Ithaca, London, 2001; Robert Geraci, Michael Khodarkovsky, Of Religion and Empire: Missions, Conversion, and Tolerance in Tsarist Russia, Ithaca, 2001; Paul Werth, At the Margins of Orthodoxy. Mission, Governance, and Confessional Politics in Russia’s Volga-Kama Region, 1827-1905, Ithaca, Cornell University Press, 2002; Paul Werth, The Tsar’s Foreign Faiths. Toleration and the Fate of Religious Freedom in Imperial Russia, Oxford, 2014; Eileen Kane, Russian Hajj. Empire and the pilgrimage to Mecca, Ithaca, London, 2015, and so on.

Retour vers la note de texte 3181


Philip Gorski, The Disciplinary Revolution. Calvinism and the Rise of the State in Early Modern Europe, Chicago and London, 2003. See for instance Heinz Schilling, Religion, Political Culture and the Emergence of Early Modern Society, Leiden: Brill, 1992; Wolfgang Reinhard, Heinz. Schilling (eds.), Die katholische Konfessionalisierung, Gütersloh: Gütersloher Verlagshaus (Schriften des Vereins für Reformationsgeschichte, 198), 1995.

Retour vers la note de texte 3182


Robert Crews, “Empire and the Confessional State: Islam and Religious Politics in the Nineteenth-Century Russia”, American Historical Review, 2003, no. 108/1, p. 50-83; Robert Crews, For Prophet and Tsar. Islam and Empire in Russia and Central Asia, Cambridge Mass., 2006.

Retour vers la note de texte 3183


Mikhail Dolbilov, Russkij kraj, tchuzhaiai vera [Russian country, foreign faith], Moscow, NLO, 2010.

Retour vers la note de texte 3184


For a recent analysis of the concept of “confessionalization” and how it may apply to the early modern French framework (as well as more generally), see Christophe Duhamelle, “Confession, confessionnalisation”, HMC, 2013/2, no. 26, p. 59-74.

Retour vers la note de texte 3185


It was a matter of reinforcing "the Orthodox spirit" amongst the Orthodox Church faithful, who were living alongside Catholics and Greek Catholics (or Uniats) in the west of the Russian Empire.

Retour vers la note de texte 3186


This is the branch of theology that studies Church dogma (in this case Orthodox dogma).

Retour vers la note de texte 3187


RGB, Manuscripts department, Fonds 173, op. 4, d. 117.

Retour vers la note de texte 3188


RGB, Manuscripts Department, MDA Fonds, op. 4, d. 117.

Retour vers la note de texte 3189


RGB, Manuscripts Department, MDA Fonds, op. 4, d. 117.

Retour vers la note de texte 3196


RGB, Manuscripts Department, MDA Fonds, op. 187, d. 10.

Retour vers la note de texte 3197


For discussion of the Kazan Academy anti-Muslim missionary school, see: Robert P. Geraci, Window to the East. National and Imperial Identities in Late Tsarist Russia, Ithaca, London, 2001.

Retour vers la note de texte 3198


Nikolai Ostroumov, Zapiska o znatchenii mukhammedanstva v istorii khristinastva I v istorii tchelovetchestva voobtse [Notes on the importance of Mohammedanism in the history of Christianity and in the history of humanity generally], L’interlocuteur orthodoxe, Kazan, September, 1872, p. 16.

Retour vers la note de texte 3199


Nikolai Ostraumov, Islamovedenie. Vvedenie [Islamology. Introduction], Tashkent, 1914.

Retour vers la note de texte 3200


Vera Tolz, Russia’s Own Orient, Oxford University Press, 2011; Édith Ybert, “La première revue d’islamologie: Mir Islama (1912-1913)”, Slavica Occitania, no. 29, 2009, p. 391-420, etc.

Retour vers la note de texte 3201


Poutchenia i retchi na vsevozmozhnye slutchai iz pastyrskoj praktiki [Preaching and speeches for various cases in pastoral practice], St Petersburg, 1904, vol. 2, p. 26.

Retour vers la note de texte 3203


Such as Ivan Ossinine and Ivan TroickiI from St Petersburg Theological Academy.

Retour vers la note de texte 3205


Aleksandr Kireev, Sotchinenija [Works], St Petersburg, 1912, vols. 1-2.

Retour vers la note de texte 3208


“Ustavy dukhovnykh del inostrannykh ispovedanij”, Svod Zakonov [“Statutes on Foreign Confessions", Law Code], St Petersburg, 1896 (second edition), vol. XI.

Retour vers la note de texte 3209


Homogenization both of the civic sphere (with the emancipation of the serfs, the setting up of the zemstvo, the introduction of virtually universal military service, and advent of state-financed primary education) and in the cultural and religious sphere (with the Russification of language, and Orthodoxization of certain populations in the Russian Empire).

Karen Barkey, Mark von Hagen (éd.), After Empire: Multiethnic Societies and Nation-Building: The Soviet Union and the Russian, Ottoman and Habsburg Empire, Boulder, Westview Press, 1997.

Daniel Brower, Edward Lazzerini (eds.), Russia’s Orient: Imperial Borderlands and Peoples, 1700-1917, Bloomington, Indiana University Press, 1997.

Jane Burbank, Frederick Cooper, Empires in World History: Power and the Politics of Difference, Princeton, Princeton University Press, 2010.

Robert Crews, For Prophet and Tsar. Islam and Empire in Russia and Central Asia, Cambridge, Harvard University Press, 2006.

Robert Crews, "Empire and the Confessional State: Islam and Religious Politics in the Nineteenth-Century Russia", American Historical Review, vol. 1, n° 108, 2003, p. 50-83.

Nicolos Dirks, Scandal of Empire. India and the Creation of Imperial Britain, Cambridge, Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2006.

Mikhail Dolbilov, Russkij kraj, tchuzhaiai vera, Moscou, NLO, 2010.

Christophe Duhamelle, "Confession, confessionnalisation", Histoire, monde et cultures religieuses, vol. 2, n° 26, 2013, p. 59-74.

Georges Florovsky, Puti russkogo bogoslovija, Paris, 1937.

Robert P. Geraci, Michael Khodarkovsky, Of Religion and Empire: Missions, Conversion, and Tolerance in Tsarist Russia, Ithaca, Cornell University Press, 2001.

Robert P. Geraci, Window to the East. National and Imperial Identities in Late Tsarist Russia, Ithaca, Cornell University Press, 2001.

Philip Gorski, The Disciplinary Revolution. Calvinism and the Rise of the State in Early Modern Europe, Chicago, The University of Chicago Press, 2003.

Eileen Kane, Russian Hajj. Empire and the pilgrimage to Mecca, Ithaca, Cornell University Press, 2015.

Aleksandr Kireev, Sotchinenija, Saint-Pétersbourg, t. 1-2, 1912.

Nikolaj Ostraumov, Islamovedenie. Vvedenie, Tachkent, 1914.

Nikolaj Ostroumov, "Zapiska o znatchenii mukhammedanstva v istorii khristinastva I v istorii tchelovetchestva voobtse", L’interlocuteur orthodoxe, septembre 1872.

Poutchenia i retchi na vsevozmozhnye slutchai iz pastyrskoj praktiki, Saint-Pétersbourg, t. 2, 1904.

Wolfgang Reinhard, Heinz Schilling (dir.), Die katholische Konfessionalisierung, Gütersloh: Gütersloher Verlagshaus (Schriften des Vereins für Reformationsgeschichte, 198), 1995.

Heinz Schilling, Religion, Political Culture and the Emergence of Early Modern Society, Leiden, Brill, 1992.

Igor Smolytsch, Geschichte der Russischen Kirche, 1700-1917, Leiden-Wiesbaden, O. Harrassowitz, 1964-1991.

Ann Stoler, Frederick Cooper (éd.), Tensions of Empire: Colonial Cultures in a Bourgeois World, Berkeley, University of California Press, 1997.

Vera Tolz, Russia’s Own Orient, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2011.

"Ustavy dukhovnykh del inostrannykh ispovedanij", Svod Zakonov, Saint-Pétersbourg, t. XI., 1896.

Paul Werth, At the Margins of Orthodoxy. Mission, Governance, and Confessionnal Politics in Russia’s Volga-Kama Region, 1827-1905, Ithaca, Cornell University Press, 2002.

Paul Werth, The Tsar’s Foreign Faiths. Toleration and the Fate of Religious Freedom in Imperial Russia, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2014.

Kathleen Wilson (éd.), A New Imperial History: Culture, Identity, and Modernity in Britain and the Empire, 1660-1840, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2004.

Édith Ybert, "La première revue d’islamologie: Mir Islama (1912-1913)", Slavica Occitania, 29, 2009, p. 391-420.