Methodology matters! Methodology matters even more in studying religion after decades of state atheism. Why?
Because understanding the religious diversity in post-Soviet countries requires a comprehensive, interdisciplinary research effort. On one hand this effort calls for a common ground and language in approaching the phenomena, case-studies, concepts and ideas. And on the other hand, this effort should engage in the dialogue between theology and humanities.
INaSEC is developing a new kaleidoscopic approach to trace the dynamics of living religious tradition in the changed and changing post-communist space.
As Soviet ideology collapsed, religion, especially Eastern Orthodox Christianity, entered a difficult period of spiritual and institutional reconstruction. The current religious revival resembles a ‘kaleidoscope’ of theological, social, (geo-)political, financial and other aspects that constitute Orthodox life. Academic study of this Orthodox kaleidoscope faces various challenges that call for a solid method:
- The difficulties in post-Soviet space for coming to terms with the Soviet past. Institutional and societal reflection on the past is largely avoided or ideologized by ‘rewriting’ history.
- The conflation of religion and ideology resulting from these difficulties complicates reflection.
- The need to modify Western academic paradigms to the unique context of post-Soviet lived religion.
- No return to either straightforward theism or atheism is tenable due to the Marxist-Leninist legacy.
These factors call for a new methodology to approach the kaleidoscopic dynamics of the present-day religious revival in post-Soviet societies.
INaSEC about Kaleidoscope
The image of a turning kaleidoscope represents a reflection on the dynamic interrelationship of religion, politics, ethics, ideology, and other factors involved in post-Soviet religious revival, and on the different
ways to approach these diverse factors. The coherence between the coloured glass fragments in a turning kaleidoscope cannot be fixed; if one stops its movement, one sees a static pattern. One may describe or analyse this pattern, but the original coherence is in the concurrent movement of all glass fragments. To isolate one glass fragment is to disrupt the coherence; and often it is impossible to perceive all the glass fragments of a kaleidoscope simultaneously.
This kaleidoscopic principle urges us to acknowledge the dynamics of the many factors that shape each case-study. We relate these factors to one another in the awareness of their perpetual movement within each individual case-study and draw connections between the projects and case-studies we host and conduct.
The kaleidoscopic principle also requires a methodological rethinking of the position of the researcher towards her research object (the ‘other’), and inspires our view of the human person. The image of the kaleidoscope in motion serves to emphasise that the existential dimension of any living person cannot be fixed in a static image. This applies to a spectrum of issues ranging from suppressed Gulag memory to the current war in Ukraine to the Pussy Riot case, all of which are fraught with ideologies, images and myths. Recognising this elusiveness of the 'other' is part of our methodology, and prevents us from perceiving the individuals involved as mere images – even if they present themselves as such. The kaleidoscopic principle functions as an imperative directing our own discourse on the ‘other’. It also informs our scrutiny of controversial terms like ‘Orthodox’, ‘insider’, ‘experience’, ‘normativity’, and ‘identity’.
INaSEC's Interdisciplinary Approach
The kaleidoscopic approach lends itself to be applied across the humanities. It may serve to discuss differing views on the same (Christian) heritage on a methodological basis, but also to analyse the way images and myths function in politics, literature, science, and media, the invention and transformation of religious tradition, interreligious and intercultural dialogue, the science-religion debate, and other topics that shape and influence public discourse.