Religious and Secular Concepts of Evil in Contemporary Russia

My project is focused on the connection between religious and secular discourses about evil and social transformation in contemporary Russia. At the one level I study what is considered as evil in the society by the Russian Orthodox Church which is the most important religious institution of the country. Phenomena like the new media, emerging patterns of consumption, expansion of sects, alternative healers challenge the moral sensibility of the ROC. On the other level I am interested in how evil is perceived by individuals in their everyday life. Facingfamily problems, illness, employment and business insecurity or poverty common people often conceptualize their hardships using the traditional notions of religious or popular demonologies (Devil, demons, witches, unclean powers etc.). The church and the individuals articulate moral opinions on contemporary social problems and reflect on social changes. They communicate with each other through the interaction of the clergy with the faithful, through the numerous publications circulated by the church, and through the mass media. My primary focus is on the face-to-face interactions and their consequences.

The location of my field-research is the small town of Sergiev Posad (Moskow region). Fieldwork is carried out in the Trinity Monastery of Saint Sergius (Troitse-Sergieva Lavra) which is considered one of the main religious centers of Russia and in a neighborhood of the city focusing on a local parish. I am interested in understanding the interactions between the monks and their recurrent visitors, as well as between a parish priest and the members of his community. Methods of research include participant observation, interviews with priests, monks, and local people. I also intend to study the publications of the church which offer a general view on the moral judgments supported by the ROC. Through careful observation and listening to many personal experiences and opinions it will be possible to identify the other important sources of morality and the reasons people follow or reject the guidance of the church.

The aim of my study is to compare problem-areas depicted as evil in Russian society by the clergy and by common people in order to analyze the impact of the clergy on faithful. Complementing the work of my colleagues my research will contribute to the understanding the role religion plays in shaping moral values in contemporary Russia. The wider context of this research is the literature addressing the connectedness of demonologies to economic and social transformations.

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