Russian Orthodox Church Encounters Resistance to Theology

For Russian State University theologians, it is a struggle to have their studies recognized as sciences amongst leading Soviet academics and their views.

The New York Times reported Sunday that the Russian Orthodox Church has helped create over 30 theology faculties at secular state universities. Still, their theologians are faced with stark refusal by the state to incorporate theological studies into a Ph.D program because they claim it isn’t science.

State universities in the country have been trying to synchronize their educational system with the international system. The Bologna Process, an agreement streamlining higher education standards across Europe, caused uproar amongst Russian academics who believe it undermines the Soviet system, which holds that the standard specialist degree requires five years of study.

Archpriest Vladimir Vorobiev of St. Tikhon’s parish told Pravoslavie i mir, an Orthodox news Web site, that he objects to the state’s refusal to recognize theology as a social science at the Ph.D level.

“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.”

Just over 20 years ago during the reign of the Soviet Union, religious education outside of the church was prohibited. Today, Russian Orthodox churches are being built on state university campuses, theology departments have opened all around Russia and from the beginning, the Russian Orthodox Church has done plenty to implement international standards in their educational institutions.

Russian State Social University has over 100,000 students on several campuses across Russia and Kyrgyzstan. Last summer, Social University’s central Moscow campus held an anti-abortion conference which even drew American activists.

Yaroslav Skvortsov, chairman of the department of international journalism at Moscow State Institute of International Relations, said a theological education is vital to Russian government.

“A true understanding of this Orthodox component of state diplomatic service is what will without a doubt help our future diplomats to have a proper sense of themselves,” he said.

Unfortunately, several Russian Orthodox leaders report growing youth resentment that religion is being foisted upon them. According to The Times, some years ago in an open letter, Russian erudite scientists accused the church of “imposing ignorance and clerical rule on Russian society.”

The Church and the Higher School of Economics, the most westernized University, Russian State University, will soon sign an agreement which will include collaboration of their philosophy and history departments.

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