06/15/2017, 08.57
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Theology returns to Russian universities

by Vladimir Rozanskij

From now on, theology will be a specific discipline in academic institutions, which can issue specialization and doctoral degrees. A great victory for the Russian Orthodox Church, and especially Patriarch Kirill, who championed the cause. Shaping the culture of the nation, overcoming a formal membership of the Church. The fears of secular academics.

Moscow (AsiaNews) - On June 14 the Russian Ministry of Justice issued a decree approving academic degrees in theological studies. The Minister of Education, Olga Vasileva, informed the First Pan-Russian Scientific Conference on "Theology in Humanitarian Education", as reported by the RBK correspondent.

The decree stipulates that theology is not only a branch of history or philosophy, but a specific discipline that can issue specializations ("candidate") and doctoral degrees. Vasileva considers this to be "a truly historical day," and accordingly there is a need to "make every effort to prepare specialists" in the theological field.

The minister also stressed the need to strengthen the theology faculties in the Russian educational and scientific fields. "In the field of education, theology develops in three directions: as an autonomous discipline (which includes a baccalaureate, masters and specialization), as a preparatory discipline in mixed learning plans, and as an optional discipline," which is taught in 51 higher schools Russians. At present, more than 4,500 people follow theology programs. "We are just at the beginning of the journey, and it is now important to clarify the stages of development and the quality of this branch of knowledge," she added.

In 2015, after a strong public intervention by Patriarch Kirill (Gundjaev), theology was recognized as a scientific discipline by the Superior Commission for Certifications at the Ministry of Education and Science Research. It was possible to present the first degree theses in this discipline from 2016, when expert councils and dissertation evaluation committees were formed.

On June 1st, the first official specialist ("kandidat nauk") in theology qualified, the orthodox priest Fr. Pavel Khondzinskij, dean of the Faculty of Theology of the Orthodox University of San Tikhon, who defended a thesis on the subject: "Solving Problems of Russian Theology in the Eighteenth Century, in the Synthesis of Saint Filaret, metropolitan of Moscow." Foreign dissidents and journalists were not allowed to attend the historic dissertation session.

It is a great victory for the Russian Orthodox Church, and in particular Patriarch Kirill, who more than anybody had insisted on achieving this. The participation of Christian culture in the public education process was one of the qualifying points of his Patriarchate, which was inaugurated in 2009. Kirill was a young rector of the Leningrad Orthodox Theological Academy in the Seventies and has always had great sensitivity for theological studies, also thanks to his historic friendship with the Jesuits of the Pontifical Oriental Institute in Rome.

In ancient times, theology was sacrificed in Russia because of the difficulty of distinguishing it from monastic ascension and avoiding the accusation of rationalism. In the 17th century, the Jesuit school theology arrived in Russia, with the formation of the Theological Academy of Petr Mogila in Kiev and the first Russian schools in Moscow and St. Petersburg, also influenced by Western theology (Latin was an academic language in Russia until the mid-nineteenth century). In the nineteenth century, the orthodox theological faculties of Moscow, St. Petersburg, Kiev, and Kazan were kept strictly separate from state universities, fearing they would contaminate the purity of orthodoxy. The first to attempt to overcome this barrier was the famous religious philosopher Vladimir Solovev, who studied on both sides, and was imitated by the great theologians before the revolution (Berdjaev, Bulgakov, Florenskij). Only today theological culture is officially part of the Russian academic world, in the midst of the disagreements of most secular professors, who see these reforms as an attempt by the Church to ideologically mould the country through formation. The hope of Patriarch Kirill and his deputy, the metropolitan Ilarion (Alfeev), is rather to use culture as a means of boosting the orthodox population's consciousness, often anchored to a purely formal vision of ecclesial belonging.

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