The Blurry Line Between Sacred and Secular: Putin’s Neo-Tsarist Relationship with the Russian Orthodox Church

Authors: Catherine Studemeyer*, George Mason University
Topics: Russia, Religion, Political Geography
Keywords: Russia; politics; religion; nation building
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/12/2018
Start / End Time: 3:20 PM / 5:00 PM
Room: Galerie 1, Marriott, 2nd Floor
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


The Christian East secularized very differently from the Christian West. As a result, the contemporary politics of church and state in the Christian East operate in ways that are largely alien to Western frameworks within which the religious and secular are much more clearly delineated. Nowhere is the border between Christianity and state politics blurrier than in Vladimir Putin’s Russia, where the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC) enjoys a remarkably cozy relationship with the Kremlin. This paper investigates how Vladimir Putin, as both president and prime minister of the Russian Federation, has sought to remake Russia from the ashes of the USSR with a nation-(re)building project alluding heavily to mythologized glories of its Tsarist past. Putin’s conservative politics and nation-building practices have been legitimated by the ROC, a cornerstone of Russian identity, and in return, the ROC has been able to exist (and thrive) in Putin’s Russia. Based on this analysis, I argue that Vladimir Putin has politicized the ROC into a de facto instrument of the state and part of the “re-Russianization” of the country over the past two decades. In this way, Vladimir Putin is a successor to the Tsars much more so than a successor to any Soviet leader.

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