In 1978, as an exile from the Soviet Union, Alexander Solzhenitsyn gave the commencement address at Harvard University. The address shocked many people and remains bracing even today. His audience no doubt expected him to praise the West for its individualism and commitment to human rights. He did, to a point. But he also offered a critique of Western materialism and legalism. “A society which is based on the letter of the law and never reaches any higher,” he said through a translator, “is taking very scarce advantage of the high level of human possibilities.” His critique resonates with many current critiques of liberalism, which seems to be at a crisis point.
The Northern Illinois University Press recently released an interesting-looking new book on Solzhenitsyn’s thought, Solzhenitsyn: The Historical-Spiritual Destinies of Russia and the West, by James Madison University historian Lee Congdon. Here’s the description from the publisher’s website:
This study of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn (1918–2008) and his writings focuses on his reflections on the religiopolitical trajectories of Russia and the West, understood as distinct civilizations. What perhaps most sets Russia apart from the West is the Orthodox Christian faith. The mature Solzhenitsyn returned to the Orthodox faith of his childhood while serving an eight-year sentence in the Gulag Archipelago. He believed that when men forget God, communism or a similar catastrophe is likely to be their fate. In his examination of the author and his work, Lee Congdon explores the consequences of the atheistic socialism that drove the Russian revolutionary movement.
Beginning with a description of the post-revolutionary Russia into which Solzhenitsyn was born, Congdon outlines the Bolshevik victory in the civil war, the origins of the concentration camp system, and the Bolsheviks’ war on Christianity and the Russian Orthodox Church. He then focuses on Solzhenitsyn’s arrest near the war’s end, his time in the labor camps, and his struggle with cancer. Congdon describes his time in exile and increasing alienation from the Western way of life, as well as his return home and his final years. He concludes with a reminder of Solzhenitsyn’s warning to the West—that it was on a path parallel to that which Russia had followed into the abyss. This important study will appeal to scholars and educated general readers with an interest in Solzhenitsyn, Russia, Christianity, and the fate of Western civilization.
This year marks the 100th anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution, a self-conscious attempt to break the hold of Christianity and establish an enlightened, secular, egalitarian state. Secular, it was, anyway. Before establishing their state, the Bolsheviks had to overthrow a self-consciously Orthodox Christian regime and remove and then eliminate the ruling Romanov dynasty–the last step, as Omar Sharif’s character explains in Doctor Zhivago, “to show there’s no going back.” Historian Samuel Sebag Montefiore has written a new book on that dynasty, The Romanovs, published in May by Penguin Random House. Here is the description from the publisher’s website:
The Romanovs were the most successful dynasty of modern times, ruling a sixth of the world’s surface for three centuries. How did one family turn a war-ruined principality into the world’s greatest empire? And how did they lose it all?
This is the intimate story of twenty tsars and tsarinas, some touched by genius, some by madness, but all inspired by holy autocracy and imperial ambition. Simon Sebag Montefiore’s gripping chronicle reveals their secret world of unlimited power and ruthless empire-building, overshadowed by palace conspiracy, family rivalries, sexual decadence, and wild extravagance.
Drawing on new archival research, Montefiore delivers an enthralling epic of triumph and tragedy, love and murder, that is both a universal study of power and a portrait of empire that helps define Russia today.
Next week, Marc and I will travel to the Italian city of Trent for an important conference, “Tradition and Traditionalisms Compared,” at the Fondazione Bruno Kessler. The conference, which our Center’s Tradition Project is co-sponsoring with the Postsecular Conflicts Project at the University of Innsbruck, will gather scholars and commentators from the US and Europe to consider the competing understandings of tradition in American and Russian law and politics. It’s a great lineup of participants, and with all that’s going on in the world today, a very timely topic.
From the Tradition Project, aside from Marc and me, the participants include Patrick Deneen (Notre Dame), Rod Dreher (The American Conservative), Michael Moreland (Villanova), and Adrian Vermeule (Harvard). The other participants are listed in the conference program, which you can find here. From the papers people have submitted, it looks like we will have a candid and productive discussion on deep issues–exactly what one hopes for in a scholarly community.
We’ll have a report on the conference after the event. Meanwhile, let me say that we’ve been delighted to plan this program with Kristina Stoeckl (Innsbruck) and Pasquale Annicchino (EUI), and that we look forward to seeing everyone in Trento next week!
In May, Springer Publishing will release Muslims in Putin’s Russia: Discourse on Identity, Politics, and Security by Simona E. Merati (Florida International University). The publisher’s description follows:
This book offers a novel interpretation of Russian contemporary discourse on Islam and its influence on Russian state policies. It shifts the analytical perspective from the discussion about Russia’s Islam as a potential security threat to a more comprehensive view of the relationships of Muslims with Russia as a state and a civilization. The work demonstrates how many Muslims increasingly express a sense of belonging to Russia and are increasingly willing to contribute to state building processes.
In November, Routledge will release “The Catholic Church and Soviet Russia, 1917-39,” by Dennis Dunn (Texas State University). The publisher’s description follows:
This book, based on extensive research including in the Russian and Vatican archives, charts the development of relations between the Catholic Church and the Soviet Union from the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 to the death of Pope Pius XI in 1939. It provides background information on the animosity between the Orthodox and Catholic churches and moves towards reconciliation between them, discusses Soviet initiatives to eradicate religion in the Soviet Union and spread atheist international communism throughout the world, and explores the Catholic Church’s attempts to survive in the face of persecution within the Soviet Union and extend itself. Throughout the book reveals much new detail on the complex interaction between these two opposing bodies and their respective ideologies.
In August, the Oxford University Press will release “Containing Balkan Nationalism: Imperial Russia and Ottoman Christians, 1856-1914,” by Denis Vovchenko (Northeastern State University). The publisher’s description follows:
Containing Balkan Nationalism focuses on the implications of the Bulgarian national movement that developed in the context of Ottoman modernization and of European imperialism in the Near East. The movement aimed to achieve the status of an independent Bulgarian Orthodox church, removing ethnic Bulgarians from the jurisdiction of the Patriarchate of Constantinople. This independent church status meant legal and cultural autonomy within the Islamic structure of the Ottoman Empire, which recognized religious minorities rather than ethnic ones.
Denis Vovchenko shows how Russian policymakers, intellectuals, and prelates worked together with the Ottoman government, Balkan and other diplomats, and rival churches, to contain and defuse ethnic conflict among Ottoman Christians through the promotion of supraethnic religious institutions and identities. The envisioned arrangements were often inspired by modern visions of a political and cultural union of Orthodox Slavs and Greeks. Whether realized or not, they demonstrated the strength and flexibility of supranational identities and institutions on the eve of the First World War. The book encourages contemporary analysts and policymakers to explore the potential of such traditional loyalties to defuse current ethnic tensions and serve as organic alternatives to generic models of power-sharing and federation.
In July, Harvard University Press will release “Churches and States: Studies on the History of Christianity in Ukraine,” edited by Halyna Hryn. The publisher’s description follows:
This book collects nine articles that originally appeared in the journal Harvard Ukrainian Studies and that arose from the Harvard Ukrainian Research Institute’s Millennium Project, an initiative launched in the 1980s to celebrate one
thousand years of the Christianization of Kyivan Rus´. The articles cover a wide array of subjects: the ecclesiastical structure of the Christian Church in Rus´ in its earliest period (Andrzej Poppe); the conflict between Orthodoxy and the Uniate Church from 1569 to 1700 (Teresa Chynczewska-Hennel); an account of the Uniate Church and the partitions of Poland (Larry Wolff); the transformation of the Greek Catholic Church under the Austrian Empire (1848–1914) (John-Paul Himka); the Greek Catholic Church in the period between the two World Wars (Andrew Sorokowski); a rethinking of the relationship of Church and society in Galician Ukraine from 1914 to 1944 (Bohdan Budurowycz); and the Russian Orthodox Church in Ukraine during the interwar period (Bohdan Bociurkiw). The book concludes with a bio-bibliography of Bohdan Bociurkiw, a scholar who devoted his career to the study of Ukrainian Church history (Andrii Krawchuk). These essays provide new insights and a fresh perspective to the discipline.
Next month, the Oxford University Press will release “The New Russian Nationalism: Imperialism, Ethnicity and Authoritarianism 2000-2015,” edited by Pål Kolstø (University of Oslo) and Helge Blakkisrud (Norwegian Institute of International Affairs). The publisher’s description follows:
Russian nationalism, previously dominated by ‘imperial’ tendencies – pride in a large, strong and multi-ethnic state able to project its influence abroad – is increasingly focused on ethnic issues. This new ethno-nationalism has come in various guises, like racism and xenophobia, but also in a new intellectual movement of ‘national democracy’ deliberately seeking to emulate conservative West European nationalism.
Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014 and the subsequent violent conflict in Eastern Ukraine utterly transformed the nationalist discourse in Russia. This book provides an up-to-date survey of Russian nationalism as a political, social and intellectual phenomenon by leading Western and Russian experts in the field of nationalism studies. It includes case studies on migrantophobia; the relationship between nationalism and religion; nationalism in the media; nationalism and national identity in economic policy; nationalism in the strategy of the Putin regime as well as a survey-based study of nationalism in public opinion.
In May, Brill Publishing will release “The Western Christian Presence in the Russias and Qājār Persia, c.1760–c.1870,” by Thomas S. R. O Flynn. The publisher’s description follows:
In The Western Christian Presence in the Russias and Qājār Persia, c.1760–c.1870, Thomas O Flynn vividly paints the life and times of missionary enterprises in early nineteenth-century Russia and Persia at a moment of immense change when Tsarist Russia embarked on an expansionist campaign reaching to the Caucasus. Simultaneously he charts the relationship between the new Persian dynasty of the Qājārs and missionary activity on the part of European and American missionaries. This book reconstructs that world from a predominantly religious perspective. It recounts the sustaining ideals as well as the everyday struggles of the western missionaries, Protestant (Scottish, Basel and American Congregationalist) and Catholic (Jesuit and Vincentian). It looks at the reactions of diverse tribal peoples, the Tatars of the North Caucasus, the Kabardians and Circassians. Persia was the ultimate goal of these missionaries, which they eventually reached in the 1820s. Altogether this study throws light on the troubled course of history in West Asia and provides the background to politico-religious conflicts in Chechnya and Persia that persist to the present day.
In February, Routledge released “Governing Post-Imperial Siberia and Mongolia, 1911–1924: Buddhism, Socialism and Nationalism in State and Autonomy Building,” by Ivan Sablin (National Research University Higher School of Economics). The publisher’s description follows:
The governance arrangements put in place for Siberia and Mongolia after the collapse of the Qing and Russian Empires were highly unusual, experimental and extremely interesting. The Buryat-Mongol Autonomous Socialist Soviet Republic established within the Soviet Union in 1923 and the independent Mongolian People’s Republic established a year later were supposed to represent a new model of transnational, post-national governance, incorporating religious and ethno-national independence, under the leadership of the coming global political party, the Communist International. The model, designed to be suitable for a socialist, decolonised Asia, and for a highly diverse population in a strategic border region, was intended to be globally applicable. This book, based on extensive original research, charts the development of these unusual governance arrangements, discusses how the ideologies of nationalism, socialism and Buddhism were borrowed from, and highlights the relevance of the subject for the present day world, where multiculturality, interconnectedness and interdependency become ever more complicated.