Daniel, Wallace L. The Orthodox Church and Civil Society in Russia. College Station, TX: Texas A&M
Press, 2006. Reviewed by Erich Lippman.Upon first confronting a book called The Orthodox Church and Civil Society in Russia, one might easily assume that this is yet another political analysis positing Orthodoxy as the antithesis of civil institutions and liberal values.
However, Wallace Daniel’s study suggests reversal of this trend. Rather than focusing on the anti-liberal forces at work in the Russian Church, he hypothesizes that Orthodoxy will “play a key role” in the development of functioning civil society in Russia (192).However, this should not be read as an endorsement of all current trends within the Church. Rather, Daniel divides the Church’s disparate voices into a rather simplistic dichotomy of “reformists” and “conservatives, “and when discussing civil society, “one’s sympathies lie with the ‘reformers’” (31).This work is easily divisible into two parts. The introduction, first two chapters, and conclusion discuss the development of civil society and Daniel’s reformist/conservative dichotomy. The first two chapters provide a sometimes questionable narrative of church state relations in Russian history. Daniel paints the pre-Petrine period in almost Slavophil tones, extolling the virtues of the church-state“symphonia.” That symphonic balance was fundamentally destroyed by the reforms of Peter the Great, who turned the institutional Church into a department of state. This narrative poses interesting questions for Daniel’s subsequent discussion of the helpfulness of Western models for revitalization. After all, Peter’s Church reforms were based on Protestant models.
The second part of the book includes personal stories in chapters three through five. These fascinating and rich accounts unfortunately seem to lead Daniel astray from his main points. The conflict between reformists and conservatives is clear in the first chapter, in which Daniel very sympathetically recounts the story of Fr. Georgii Kochetkov. However, the central chapter, which deals with Mother Seraphima of the Novodevichy Convent, seems far afield from any theorizing about the pillars of civil society. The story itself is engaging and worth telling, but Daniel does little to connect it to his core idea. His last clerical story involves Fr. Maksim Kozlov—a traditionalist priest in charge of a parish attached to Moscow State University. Although Daniel’s tone relating to Fr. Maksim is sympathetic, it coolsby comparison to his discussion of MotherSeraphima or Fr. Georgii. He characterizes Fr.
Maksim’s approach as generally inclined to look inward “at Orthodoxy’s own traditions and heritage” (165). This inward gaze is one of the negative characteristics of traditionalists throughout the book. He also characterizes the growth of the university parish as “solid” and “steady,” but it has not taken a “geometrical progression,” compared to Fr. Georgii’s for example (164). Although Daniel includes Fr. Maksim among those helping to build a civil society, he does not clarify how such traditionalist could fit into the new structure after placing so much emphasis on the reformist/traditionalist dichotomy.
Overall, Daniel’s work is warmly written and accessible. Its academic contribution is philosophically liberal defense of the Russian Church, and the personal stories are inspiring and likely to arouse considerable sympathy in the reader. However, Daniel falls short of connecting the personal to the theoretical in a satisfactory manner, and his reformist/conservative dichotomy fails to take into account the complex spectrum of thought pertaining to the Church and society in Russian history. In his introduction, Daniel points out, “I have taken a selective and somewhat personal approach to a very large subject” (7). This claim effectively sums up the book’s strengths and weaknesses. It is warm enough to be an enjoyable read, but too personal and selective to make a strong academic argument. F
Erich Lippman is assistant professor of history, Bethany College, Bethany, West