"Let books be your dining table, / And you shall be full of delights. / Let them be your
And you shall sleep restful nights" (St. Ephraim the Syrian).

Monday, January 18, 2021

A History of Confession in Russia

In the late 1990s I worked as research assistant to a professor, David Perrin, who was writing an historical and philosophical analysis of the sacrament of confession. It was a fascinating summer spent researching one sacrament whose practice has changed so dramatically across time and place. 

Some of those differences will be on display mid-year in a forthcoming book. This is very advanced notice for a book I definitely want to get my hands on when it comes out, as much for the topic as the author, whom I've met once or twice at conferences over the years and who has always impressed me with the caliber of her exacting scholarship: Nadieszda Kizenko, Good for the Souls: A History of Confession in the Russian Empire (Oxford University Press, June 2021), 336pp. 

About this book the publisher tells us this:

From the moment that Tsars as well as hierarchs realized that having their subjects go to confession could make them better citizens as well as better Christians, the sacrament of penance in the Russian empire became a political tool, a devotional exercise, a means of education, and a literary genre. It defined who was Orthodox, and who was 'other.' First encouraging Russian subjects to participate in confession to improve them and to integrate them into a reforming Church and State, authorities then turned to confession to integrate converts of other nationalities. But the sacrament was not only something that state and religious authorities sought to impose on an unwilling populace. Confession could provide an opportunity for carefully crafted complaint. What state and church authorities initially imagined as a way of controlling an unruly population could be used by the same population as a way of telling their own story, or simply getting time off to attend to their inner lives.

Good for the Souls brings Russia into the rich scholarly and popular literature on confession, penance, discipline, and gender in the modern world, and in doing so opens a key window onto church, state, and society. It draws on state laws, Synodal decrees, archives, manuscript repositories, clerical guides, sermons, saints' lives, works of literature, and visual depictions of the sacrament in those books and on church iconostases. Russia, Ukraine, and Orthodox Christianity emerge both as part of the European, transatlantic religious continuum-and, in crucial ways, distinct from it.

If I can, I'll arrange an interview on here with Dr Kizenko.

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