Special Theme Edition on the Current Ukrainian Crisis: Volume 22, No. 3 (Summer 2014)
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Private Christian Colleges and Universities
in the Former Soviet Union
Perry L. Glanzer and Konstantin I. Petrenko
Editor’s Note: The present work is an expanded and updated revision of the authors’ article: “The Recent Emergence of Private Christian Colleges and Universities in Russia: Historical Reasons and Contemporary Developments,” Christian Higher Education 4 (2005):81-92.
Despite the long history of Christianity in Russia and its neighboring territories dating back over a thousand years, many readers may be surprised to know that private, liberal arts Christian education has existed in the area for less than two decades. The collapse of the Soviet Union created unique conditions that allowed for the emergence of private Christian higher education within former Soviet states. The vast majority of these institutions still are no more than what is typically thought of as Bible colleges or seminaries in the United States, meaning that their education is focused on practical areas of Christian ministry such as pastoral training, religious education, Youth ministry, and other practical religious degrees. (See the East-Asian Accrediting Association of Evangelical Schools list at www.e-aaa.org/d/e/homeE.html.) Christian institutes and universities able to offer a variety of undergraduate degrees have been much fewer and have developed much more slowly. Still, for the first time in former Soviet states, there are now at least eight Christian institutions of higher education offering or planning to Offer liberal arts degrees outside of theology or Bible.
The origins of these colleges come from two different sources. Half of the colleges started as intentional efforts to create Christian “liberal arts” universities. (The application of the term “liberal arts” to these universities pertains more to the attempt to combine theological studies with a particular disciplinary major, for example, business or social work. Many of the schools do not offer wide variety of liberal arts majors since in the current Russian context professional majors are more in demand.) The other four colleges changed or are in the process of changing from Bible colleges or theological institutes to broader institutions. We will outline the former first.
The Founding of Christian Liberal Arts Universities
Russian-American Christian University (Moscow, Russia)
The most serious attempt to develop an ecumenical Christian liberal arts college has been undertaken by the Russian-American Christian University (RACU).Established in 1996 in Moscow, RACU became the first private Christian liberal arts institution of higher education in Russia to appeal to students from all Christian confessions. The idea for RACU originated after several high-ranking officials from the Russian Ministry of Education visited a number of North American Christian colleges and invited the leadership of the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities (CCCU) to establish similar school in Russia. RACU came into being through collaborative effort of American and Russian educators and is affiliated with the CCCU.
RACU describes itself as a “comprehensive faith-based university” with a mission to “equip . . . Russian students for leadership in their local communities, in the marketplace, in their churches, and in their nation” (Russian-American Christian University, 2004). Since its establishment, RACU has offered undergraduate programs in business and economics and social work. In the fall of2001, an English program was added as well. In November, 2003, RACU received state accreditation. As astute-accredited university, RACU can now issue accredited diplomas and offer deferments from military service, as well as a variety of other benefits limited only to students of those institutions that are able to secure accreditation by the Russian Ministry of Education. Currently, it enrolls around 160 students. (For more information see http://www.racu.org/.) Russian Christian Academy for the Humanities (St. Petersburg, Russia) Established in 1989, the Russian Christian Academy for the Humanities is one of the oldest private higher education institutions in post-communist Russia and the first faith-based school to receive the prestigious academy status because of its extensive research initiatives and academic offerings. The academy was founded as a result of collaboration between the St. Petersburg Orthodox Theological Academy, the Institute of Russian Literature, and the Russian Academy of Sciences. The school’s enrollment is currently 600 students, with majors covering such diverse liberal arts and professional fields as philosophy, Russian history and culture, ancient and medieval studies, art criticism, psychology, management, oriental studies, and Finnish and English languages. The academy is unique among Russian faith-based educational institutions because of its heavy emphasis on research and publication, its commitment to the humanities, and its open admission policy. Admission to the Russian Christian Academy for the Humanities is open to any person, and faculty members are not required to adhere to Christian doctrines or to practice any faith at all. (For more information see www.rchgi.spb.ru/Engl/entrant.html.)
St. John Orthodox University (Moscow, Russia)St. John Orthodox University, one of the first Orthodox universities founded in the East, began in 1992 as a joint initiative sponsored by Father Ioann Ekonomtsev, head of the Department of Religious Education and Catechization of the Moscow Patriarch, and a group of Russian professors. From the start, the founders understood St. John’s academic mission as combining secular humanities with historic Orthodox tradition and theological education. “Our purpose,” Father Ekonomtsev told the New YorkTimes, “was to bring about a synthesis between scholarship and faith, and religion and morality, because scholarship without morality at its core is dangerous. My goal is to prepare the intellectual and spiritual elite of Russia. We are preparing students for a regenerated Russia, for a cultural, highly moral Russia of great intellectual and scientific potential” (Marina Lakhman, “Russia’s Church-Run Campus Has a Secular Goal,” New York Times, 4 January1988, Section 1, p.3).
St. John University draws upon the model of the “confessional orthodox university” similar to Catholic universities in Western Europe and the United States. The university offers eight undergraduate degrees in such fields as philosophy, history, philology, ecology, economics, law, psychology, and theology. All prospective students are required to present a recommendation from a personal confessor and go through an interview, testing their knowledge of church history and “God’s Law,” a subject primarily focused on explaining the fundamentals of Orthodox faith and practice (St. John Orthodox University,2004). Currently, it enrolls over one thousand students.
Lithuania Christian College (Klaipeda,Lithuania)
Established in 1991 at the request of Lithuania’s Ministry of Education, Lithuania Christian College (LCC) became one of the first faith-based higher education institutions in the former Soviet Union. The college is located in Klaipeda, an important Lithuanian port on the Baltic Sea, which serves both Russian and European Businesses and industries. Since LCC considers itself an international higher educational institution, classroom instruction takes place in the English language. This allows the college to attract students and faculty from a variety ofbackgrounds. Although the majority of LCC’s 600 students represent East European nations, some students travel from North America, Western Europe, Africa, and Asia as fulltime students or as participants in study-abroad programs.
The teaching staff also includes Lithuanian faculty as well as instructors from North America and Western Europe. Most students and faculty come from a variety of evangelical churches and denominations. Canadian and U.S. Mennonites have been particularly active as supporters and teachers for LCC. The college’s vision is focused on developing leaders who possess the ability to think critically, promote democracy, and help build civil society in Eastern Europe based on Christian ideals. As part of this vision, LCC offers core curriculum, consisting of liberal arts, social sciences, biblical studies, and effective methods of written and verbal communication. Undergraduate majors at LCC include business administration, English language and literature, and theology. Students may also choose from a variety of minors such as business, English, Lithuanian studies, psychology, and theology. LCC is an international affiliate of the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities.
(For more information see http://www.lccbc.org.)