"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, March 28, 2016

Church Slavonic Making a Come Back?

Though it's long been a staple of Eastern self-presentation, and sometimes of Eastern polemics against "the Latins," the notion of Eastern Christian liturgy always being in the "vernacular" is of course rather problematic when one considers the widespread usage of Church Slavonic in Russia especially. Whose "vernacular" is that, exactly, in 2016? What does the continued usage of Slavonic entail not just liturgically but also ritually, psychologically, and politically? Treating these questions is a book published this month for the first time in paperback by Brian P. Bennett, Religion and Language in Post-Soviet Russia (Routledge, 2016), 214pp.

Having first appeared in 2011, this book is summed up thus by the publisher:
Church Slavonic, one of the world's historic sacred languages, has experienced a revival in post-Soviet Russia. Blending religious studies and sociolinguistics, this is the first book devoted to Church Slavonic in the contemporary period. It is not a narrow study in linguistics, but uses Slavonic as a passkey into various wider topics, including the renewal and factionalism of the Orthodox Church; the transformation of the Russian language; and the debates about protecting the nation from Western cults and culture. It considers both official and popular forms of Orthodox Christianity, as well as Russia's esoteric and neo-pagan traditions. Ranging over such diverse areas as liturgy, pedagogy, typography, mythology, and conspiracy theory, the book illuminates the complex interrelationship between language and faith in post-communist society, and shows how Slavonic has performed important symbolic work during a momentous chapter in Russian history. It is of great interest to scholars of sociolinguistics and of religion, as well as to Russian studies specialists.
We are also given the table of contents:
1. Introduction 2. Religion, language, religious language 3. Az, buki, vedi: the ABC’s of religious literacy 4. Translator, traitor? the debate over liturgical language 5. Logos: Slavonic letterforms and the graphic environment 6. From Marx and Lenin to Cyril and Methodius 7. Scripting Russian history: alphabet mysticism and conspiracy theory

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