Sunday, December 18, 2011

Russian Orthodox Church Asserts Role in Civil Society

MOSCOW — Just over 20 years ago, any religious education outside church walls was still banned in the Soviet Union. Today, churches are being built on state university campuses, theology departments have opened around Russia, and the Russian Orthodox Church has built its own educational network with international contacts and even become something of a model for the secular system.

Still, state universities struggle on many levels to integrate into the international system; the Bologna Process, an agreement streamlining higher-education standards across Europe, has upset many Russian academics who contend that it undermines the achievements of the Soviet system, where a standard specialist degree required five years of study.

But the Russian Orthodox Church, which started building its education system virtually from scratch in the post-Soviet era, has applied international standards from the outset, said Archimandrite Cyril Hovorun, deputy chairman of the church’s education committee. Speaking of the state education system, Father Hovorun said, “It is more concerned about finding compromises between the old Soviet system and the new European standards.”

At the same time, the church is proposing its vision of educational reform.

“Education is not a personal matter but a sphere of public life on which the existence of society and the state depend,” Patriarch Kirill I, the church’s leader, said in September in a speech at Voronezh State University. “It is the backbone of the existence of society, and that’s why the transfer of education exclusively into the sphere of rendering of market services is, in my view, a big mistake.”

Yulia Rehbinder, 30, who received a degree in social pedagogy this year from St. Tikhon’s Orthodox University, which was founded in Moscow in 1992 as a theological institute, said she had chosen the university because she thought it offered a more sophisticated humanities program than state universities. It received state accreditation as a university in 2004.

“In Soviet times, everything connected with Christianity, its history and culture, was purposely removed from humanitarian education,” said Ms. Rehbinder, who is now working with orphans and doing graduate research on Russian émigré teaching methods in France. “As a result, it ended up that specialists couldn’t understand the essence of works of art, of many historical events, or the motives of human actions, since a Christian worldview was alien to them.”

While the church has helped create over 30 theology faculties at secular state universities, Father Hovorun said, the state education authorities still refuse to recognize theology as a stand-alone doctoral-degree subject.

Archpriest Vladimir Vorobiev, rector of St. Tikhon’s, told Pravoslavie i mir, an Orthodox news Web site, that he objected to the state authorities’ refusal to recognize theology as a social science at the doctorate level. He asserts that some people in high levels of Russian academia are still influenced by a Soviet mind-set that cannot accept a social “science about God.”

“In Europe, they would only laugh at the phrases we have heard here about theology not being a science,” Father Vorobiev said. “To them, it’s the equivalent of saying that math is not a science.”
Read the rest here.

1 comment:

Eurasleep said...

Maybe Russia could learn from the mistakes of the secularized West, and leave theological degrees to the seminaries. For example, I have a German friend who got a MDiv from Tubingen, and although he is legally entitled to be a pastor in Germany, lead a congregation, and get a stable and secure job with full pension, he is nevertheless an atheist. Go figure: an atheist pastor that cannot be removed..... At least he has the integrity to have pursued a non-theological career.