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   Course Title    Popular Religion via Documents of State and Church Authorities in Russia (Late Medieval - Early Modern Times)
Lecturer    Elena B. Smilianskaia
Institution    Russian State University for Humanities
Country    Russia

The course in the curriculum: It is a special (optional) course in the Russian State University for Humanities for 2-5th year students of different divisions (departments of history, philology, religious studies). It fits into the curriculum in combination with mandatory courses and seminars on source studies, the history of Russia, history of religions, and culturology.

The course consists of 7 lectures and 5 workshops.

Course Requirements:

The progress in the course will be evaluated as follows:

Midterm workshop 35 %

Term written work 35%

Participation in class discussions 30% .

Although the course is optional, for the evaluation regular attendance and participation are expected. The latter may consist of questions and comments related to the weekly lectures.

The Midterm Examination will be taken in class: students will have to answer two questions referring to the topics discussed during the first half of the term.

The Term Paper (10-15 pages, written at home) has to be a more personal project, focusing on main issues of the course and based on modern Russian and foreign historiography.

General statement (aim of the course)

The course proceeds from the general premise that the history of ‘popular Christianity’ remains one of the most complicated and topical issues of intellectual and cultural history of the world and that its development is possible only if we combine modern source-study methods with interdisciplinary studies in the humanities.

The course analyzes different aspects of interactions and confrontations between subjects and state, ‘educated’ and ‘popular’ cultures, between religious outlooks of ‘enlightened’ rulers and ‘superstitious’ subjects from Sixteenth to Eighteenth century Russia.

The course is based on rarely or never studied or published documents (mainly trial cases, as well as sermons, polemics etc.), and must help to offer insights into many areas: how popular Orthodoxy represented itself; forms of popular Christian ethics; ways in which an individual's religious views included both Christian and archaic elements; sources on the formulation of religious views and the influence of educated book culture on an individual's religious world-view; and material for recreating the connections between religious world views and conduct—specifically, an individual's mental orientation in a changing world.

The course aims to prepare the student for understanding new methodology of source study, for independent archival research, and must support students in developing their knowledge of modern trends of ‘comparative history’, ‘anthropological history’ interdisciplinary studies.

During the course students will discuss questions about the transformation of the mental world-view of Orthodox believers in the 16th-18th centuries, about the influence of mass religious ideas on social-political behavior, law, and ethical consciousness, work and private life, and stereotypes of individual conduct.


Schedule – 11 weeks (1 lecture/workshop per week).

1-st, 2-nd weeks

Lectures 1-2: Russian Orthodoxy between Ivan the Terrible and Catherine the Great. Church and State.

An introductory part of the course aims to describe the main events of the Russian Orthodox Church history from the mid 16th century (Stoglav) until the Late 18th century (after the secularization of the church lands). It points out different kinds of traditional interactions and temporal conflicts between secular and ecclesiastical powers. A special analysis of the development of Church dogma is based on Orthodox polemical writings, sermons and Church council decisions (both in manuscripts and in printed versions).

3-rd week

Lecture 3: State and Church against popular ‘superstitions’ and ‘heresies’

The lecture intends to answer the following questions: a) How the Church interpreted the difference between ‘true’ and ‘false’ faith; b) When the Church appealed to secular administration to protect ‘official Christianity’ from the ‘stupidity’ of the ‘illiterate’ or from the criticism of ‘heretics’ c) What was the inventory of manifestations of forbidden and allowed popular ‘superstitions’ from the late medieval Russia until the epoch of the ‘tolerance’ of the ‘Enlightened absolutism’.

4-th – 5th weeks:

Lecture 4 and midterm workshop: Archaic beliefs. Christianity and Magic in medieval and early modern Russia.

This section of the course is dedicated to the role of witchcraft and sorcery for religious consciousness of Russians, to a combination of Christian and magical in ‘Popular Orthodoxy’, some issues of popular demonology, magical rituals and the image of magician in literature, homilies, and everyday impressions of neighbors. The analyses of "witchcraft trials’ in 17th and 18th century Russia offer some parameters for comparative study of magical rituals and beliefs, mythology of witchcraft, and of the organization of the ‘witch-hunt’ in the European East and West.

6th week:

Lecture 5: Extreme cults of saints and blasphemy as two sides of popular religiosity.

Different historical sources offer a large number of examples both of super-devotion of Russians to the veneration of icons and saints, as well of blasphemy and sacrilegious acts toward icons and cults of saints. The lecture gives comparative European materials (R.Geary, A.Cabantous, L.Levi) and shows that in the majority of cases blasphemy didn’t mean religious criticism, nor atheism, but it was a shadow side of popular religiosity: notably, a majority of ‘blasphemous’ cases started after the attempts of ‘accused in blasphemy’ to find their own profit in an appeal to the ‘Beyond’, or to punish an object of worship if it didn’t justify hopes.

7th week:

Discussion: Russian carnival tradition and sacrilegious acts.

Modern literature on Russian culture in the 17-18 th cc. doesn’t lend itself to a conventional interpretation of blasphemous buffoonery and ‘a play with the sacred’. Some scholars insist on describing the satirical folkloric tradition as ‘anticlerical’ and the content as a skeptical parody of Christian dogma and religious rites. Researchers of the ‘farcical world’ of medieval Russia take a different approach. They point out that in the 17th century widespread parodies of liturgy and prayers were not perceived to be sacrilegious. These approaches will be offered for discussion during the workshop. On the basis of an interdisciplinary bibliography as well as on examples from Russian 17-18 cc. literature and trial cases students must make some conclusions - did the medieval satirical tradition and so called ‘medieval humor’ exist both in the 17th and in the 18th centuries in Russia, how did the world of counter-cultural humor conflict with elite religious and secular culture.

8th – 9th weeks:

Lecture 6 and workshop: Russian ‘heresies’ and ‘heretics’. What is the true faith?

For many centuries during the millennium of the Christianity in Russia individual free-thinking very often was blamed as a ‘heresy’ or ‘dissent’. The lecture and a workshop on the basis of materials of the 17th century Schism, early sectarian groups (Khlysty, Molokans and Dukhobors) aims to show the history of the Russian religious dissent as the history of spiritual struggle between tolerance and intolerance, conformity and non-conformity, between pretensions of civil and church authorities on ideological totalitarianism and the coming into being of the diversity of an individual comprehension of the ‘true faith’. The workshop aims to study on the basis of the church-trial documents the main features of the dogma of different ‘heretics’ and to discuss modern interpretations of the origins of the religious conflicts in Russian society.

10th –11th weeks:

Lecture 7 and source studies workshop: Polemics on faith with ‘heretics’ in 16-18th century Russia.

A source study of the Church and Civil literature as well as archival court-trial documents helps to understand some influential features of the cultural conflict, represented in the diversity of notions of ‘true piety’, ‘rational faith’ and ‘superstition’. The lecture and the workshops teach traditional and modern methods of the source-study and interpretations of medieval and early modern polemical writings.

12th week:

Conclusions. Presentation of Term written works. Evaluation.

Required Readings:

Anisimov E.V. Dyba I knut: politicheskiy sysc I russkoye obschestvo v XVIII veke. M., 1999.

Bushkovitch ?. P. Religion and Society in Russia: The Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries. NY, Oxford, 1992.

Davis N. Z. Some Tasks and Themes in the Study of Popular Religion //The Pursuit of Holyness in the Late Medieval and Renaissance Religion. Leiden, 1974.

Drevnerusskiy dukhovnik. Isledivaniya po istorii tserkovnogo byta. Moscow, 1914.

Eleonskaya E.N. Skazka, zagovor I koldovstvo v Rossii. M., 1994.

Florovsky G. Puti russkogo bogosloviya (any edition).

Freeze G. L. The Rechristianization of Russia: The Church and Popular Religion, 1750-1850 in Studia Slavica Finlandensia. Helsinki, 1990. ?.Tomus VII. ?. 101-136.

Gal'kovskiy N.M. Bor'ba hristiansktava s ostatkami yazichestva v drevney Rusi. T. 1, 2 (any edition).

Golubinskiy Ye.Ye. Istoriya russkoy tserkvi (any edition).

Gurevich A.Ya. Problemy srednevekovoy narodnoy kul'tury. M., 1981.

Gur'yanova N.S. Krest'yanskiy antimonarkhicheskiy protest v staroobriadcheskoy eskhatologicheskoy literature perioda pozdnego feodalizma. Novosibirsk, 1988.

Inikova S. A. Spiritual Origins and The Beginnings of Doukhobor History in The Doukhobor Centenary in Canada. Ottawa, 2000. ?. 1-21.

Klibanov A.I. Dukhovnaya kul'tura srednevekovoy Rusi. M., 1996.

Lavrov A.S. Koldovstvo I religiya v Rossii 1700-1740. M., 2000.

Likhachev D.S., Panchenko A.M., Ponyrko N.V. Smeh v Drevney Rusi. Leningrad, 1984.

Lotman Yu. M. Ob «Ode vybrannoy iz Iova» Lomonosova in Iz istorii russkoy kul'tury. M., 2000. P. 637-656.

Religion and the People, 800 – 1700. Ed.: James Obelkevich. Chapel Hill, 1979.

Seeking God: The recovery of Religious Identity in Orthodox Russia, Ukraine, and Georgia DeKalb, 1993. P.1-82, 144-159.

Smilianskaia E. Insulted Saints and Defiled Icons: Blasphemy, Popular Religion and Modern Rationalism in Early Imperial Russia from Late 1680's -1750s in Fonction sociales et politiques du culte des saints dans les société de rite grec et latin au Moyen Âge et à l'epoque moderne. Approch comparative. Wroclaw, 1999. ?. 367-379.

Witchcraft in Early Modern Europe: Studies in Culture and Belief. Past and Present Publications. Cambrige, 1996.

Uspenskiy B.A. Mifologicheskiy aspekt russkoy expressivnoy frazeologii (any edition).

Vinogradov P.V. Poucheniya protiv drevnerusskogo yazichestva I narodnih suyeveriy in Pamiatniki drevnerusskoy uchitel'noy literatury. SPb., 1897. ?.3.

Zguta R. Was there a witch craze in Muscovite Russia? //Southern Folklore Quarterly. 1977. ?.41. ?. 119-128.

Zivov V.M. Dvoyeveriye I osobiy harakter russkoy kul'turnoy istorii in Philologia slavica. K 70-letiyu akademika N.I.Tolstogo. M., 1993. P. 50-60.

Zuravel' O.D. Sujet o dogovore cheloveka s d'yavolom v drevnerusskoy literature. Novosibirsk, 1996. P. 234.

Suggested Readings:

Cabantous A. Histoire du blasphème en Occident. Fin XVIe-milieu XIX siècle Paris, 1998.

Farrel D. E. Laughter Transformed: the shift from Medieval to Enlightenment Humor in Russian Popular Prints in Russia and the World of the Eighteenth Century. Columbus, 1988. ?. 157-176.

Histoire de la France religieuse Paris, 1988. ?.2: Du Christiansme flamboyant à l'aube des Lumières. P. 539-553.

Levi L. Blasphemy: verbal offense against the sacred from Moses to Salman Rushdi New York, 1993.

Klaniczay G. The Uses of Supernatural Power: Transformation of Popular Religion in Medieval and Early Modern Europe Cambridge, 1990.

Muchembled R. Culture populaire at culture des ?lite dans la France moderne (XV-XVIII si?cles).Essai. Paris, 1978 (In English: Popular Culture and Elite Culture in France, 1400-1750. Baton Rouge, 1985).

Russian Orthodoxy under the Old Regime. Minneapolis, 1978.

Ryan W. F. The Bathhouse at Midnight: An Historical Survey of Magic and Divination in Russia University Park, Pennsylvania, 1999.

Schmitt J.-C. Religion populaire et culture folklorique in Annales: Economies, Société, Civilization. 1976. ?.31 (1976). ?. 941-953.

Thompson E. M. Understanding Russia: The Holy Fool in Russian Culture Lanham; NY; London, 1987.

Worobec C. D. Possesed: women, witches, and demons in Imperial Russia. DeKalb, 2001.

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