Jahrbücher für Geschichte Osteuropas

Im Auftrag des Instituts für Ost- und Südosteuropastudien Regensburg
herausgegeben von Martin Schulze Wessel und Dietmar Neutatz

Ausgabe: 62 (2014), 4, S. 608-610

Verfasst von: Scott M. Kenworthy


Redefining the Sacred. Religion in the French and Russian Revolutions. Ed. by Daniel Schönpflug / Martin Schulze Wessel. Frankfurt a.M. [usw.]: Lang, 2012. 226 S. ISBN: 978-3-631-57218-4.

Table of contents:



This collection consists of a series of parallel articles examining religion in the French and Russian Revolutions, bringing together leading scholars in both fields. Such an effort is novel (only Arno J. Mayer’s “The Furies” attempted something similar) and fruitful. The examination of religion and the revolution is in its infancy in western scholarship of the Russian Revolution, and specialists stand much to learn from the comparison with the French case, the historiography of which is well developed.  New currents of research in both fields seek to get beyond viewing religion and revolution as antagonistic forces with religion on the side of tradition or conservatism and revolution on the side of modernity, or churchmen either as counter-revolutionaries or victims of revolution. Recent work seeks rather to understand the complex relationship between religion, society, and politics, the religious origins of revolutions, clergy and churches as revolutionary actors, the transformation of religion and its institutions in moments of revolutionary change, and finally how revolutionary movements appropriate religious patterns of thought and behavior.  

The first pair of articles examines the connection between religion and the causes of revolution. In the French case, older historiography viewed the monarchys legitimacy as significantly rooted in the notion of its sacrality, on the one hand, and on the other asserted a steady dechristianization of French society in the eighteenth century. According to what Daniel Schönpflug terms thejoint-declinethesis, the dechristianization of French society undermined the legitimacy of the monarchy and hence contributed to the revolution. Scholars of the Russian Revolution have assumed much the same, though based on considerably less research (especially when it came to dechristianization, which has frequently been asserted but never demonstrated). Historians of France have recently disputed the various facets of thejoint-declinethesis, as Schönpflug discusses in this article, especially the notion that there was religious decline in eighteenth century France.

Like Schönpflug, Gregory L. Freeze argues that there was not widespread secularization or dechristianization in pre-revolutionary Russia, on the basis of confession and communion records that demonstrate extraordinarily high levels of religious participation and not a substantial decline in the years leading up to the revolution. Freeze does see a connection between religion and the revolution, however, in relation to three crises: in church-state relations, within the church, and increasing religious pluralization. He analyzes the disintegrating relations between church and state in the last decades of the empire that weakened support of each for the other. Further, Freeze argues that the Orthodox Church was threatened by growing lay assertiveness within and also by defections to other religious alternatives.

The second pair of essays looks at the connection between politics and religious dissent. Dale Van Kley has argued that the battles over Jansenism had political consequences; in particular, its condemnation by both papacy and French monarchy led its supporters to advocate more democratic or conciliar models of church governance and also to support patriotic politics that is, political positions that advocated law and rights over the arbitrary rule of despotism. In this contribution, Van Kley argues for complex and sometimes surprising alignments of ideologies and political positions, with religious actors falling on both sides of the political divides.

Alexander Etkind examines Russian religious dissenters and revolutionary politics. He argues that Russian intellectuals and revolutionaries followed the assertions of an early scholar of religious dissent, Afanasii Shchapov, in believing that Russian religious dissent was in fact a mask for political dissent and that these dissenters had great revolutionary potential. This resulted in an enduring interest in religious dissenters, from the populists to the likes of Viktor Chernov, Aleksandr Mikhailov, Georgii Plekhanov, and Vladimir Bonch-Bruevich. In reality, according to Etkind, the majority of sectarians were politically passive, so that the connection between religious dissent and revolutionary politics in Russia existed primarily in the minds of the revolutionaries and their actions toward the sectarians.

The third section of the book analyzes churchmen as revolutionary actors. Bernard Plongeron considers tensions between higher and lower clergy in the French Church before the Revolution, which led some clerical activists to advocate a conciliar ecclesiology. He follows the story through the Civil Constitution of the Clergy and the subsequent formation of the Gallican Church in 1795 that sought to be afree church in a free state”, in communion with Rome but nevertheless governed by church councils. For a brief period it appeared that a conciliar church free of state control would flourish in a post-revolutionary France, but it was not to last. Michael Shkarovskiy examines similar tensions between higher and lower clergy in pre-revolutionary Russia and the efforts ofrenovationistclergy from 1905 onward to reform the Orthodox Church in a more democratic direction. Although the starting point for their reform program in 1917 focused on the separation of church and state, their failure to achieve their reforms during the 1917–1918 Council led them to seek state support in 1922 as the only way to bring about their program. The Soviet leaders, however, had other plans, and only used the Renovationists as a means to divide and weaken the Church.

The final section of the book looks at the adaptation of religious patterns in the cause of secular revolution through the cult of revolutionary figures. Jean-Claude Bonnet argues that the pantheonization of Jean-Paul Marat tapped into religious fervor because the cult ofmartyrsof the revolution touched the common people more than the abstract Cult of Reason – although he does not account for the equal fervor with which the cult of Marat was thrown over in such a short time. According to Frithjof Benjamin Schenk, the cult of Lenin served to overthrow the old symbolic system and was used as a political symbol to lend the new regime legitimacy. He observes the parallels between the cult of Lenin and religious forms and practices. He also correctly suggests that the intentions were differentthe aim was not to fill the old structures with new content so much as to displace that content altogether; and that this aim was not entirely successful, but rather that thecultural systems of Bolshevism and Orthodoxy co-existed in Russia for a long time(p. 225).

It is to be hoped that this volume will inspire further research into religion and revolution, particularly in Russia, and the comparative perspective will provoke new questions and approaches.

Scott M. Kenworthy, Oxford, OH

Zitierweise: Scott M. Kenworthy über: Redefining the Sacred. Religion in the French and Russian Revolutions. Ed. by Daniel Schönpflug / Martin Schulze Wessel. Frankfurt a.M. [usw.]: Lang, 2012. 226 S. ISBN: 978-3-631-57218-4, http://www.dokumente.ios-regensburg.de/JGO/Rez/Kenworthy_Schoenpflug_Redefining_the_Sacred.html (Datum des Seitenbesuchs)

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