Vol. 13 No. 8: Whose Presence, Whose Absences? Decolonising Russian National Culture and History: Observations through the Prism of Religious Contact

Guest Editors: Jesko Schmoller and Knut-Martin Stünkel

The still recent invasion of Ukraine by the Russian Armed Forces has generated a lively discussion about an imperial outlook prevalent in Russian society that for many years may not have been vocal and possibly therefore gone mostly unnoticed. The time has come, some scholars and activists argue, to critically question that outlook and attempt to decolonise Russia. This special issue is concerned with the formation of a new Russian national identity over the previous decades, where Slavic civilisation, Orthodox Christianity and imperial grandeur are combined in a narrative about the Russian nation. It directs attention to the absences produced by such a self-image: In a famously diverse and multi-ethnic country such as Russia, not everyone can identify with this image and some feel left out of the picture.

Although ethnic and religious belonging are closely entangled in Russia, the authors who contribute to this special issue focus mainly on the issue of religion as one aspect of identity on the national and regional level, for social groups and for individuals. In situations of religious contact, communities assimilate, converge or seek distance from one another and, when observed over a longer period of time, undergo metamorphosis. And where one religious denomination may be especially visible in the built environment, in the public space and in the media—the Russian Orthodox Church in the case of Russia—, this visibility can actually hide the presence of other denominations. In reaction to the question “whose presence, whose absences?”, the texts in this special issue critically engage with dominant representations of Russian culture and history, and several of them also shed a light on those inadequately represented communities with their own heritage, interpretations of history and perceptions.

Image credits: Photo by Jesko Schmoller (wall painting in the city centre of Ufa).