The Russia Question is a book talk series devoted to all things Russia, hosted by Michael Ossorgin, professor and Russian program director at Fordham University’s Lincoln Center campus, with generous support from the Orthodox Christian Studies Center. Join us for a book talk with Nadieszda Kizenko to discuss her brilliant book, Good for the Souls: A History of Confession in the Russian Empire (June 2021).
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 complaints. 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 into 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.
About the Speakers
Nadieszda Kizenko is a history professor and director of religious studies at the University at Albany. She is the author of the prize-winning book A Prodigal Saint: Father John of Kronstadt and the Russian People, numerous articles on Orthodox Christianity including “The Feminization of Patriarchy? Women in Contemporary Russian Orthodoxy” (winner of Best Article, Association for the Study of Eastern Christianity), and several translations.
Michael Ossorgin, who earned a Ph.D. in Slavic languages and literature from Columbia University, teaches Russian and comparative literature, art, theology, and language courses at Fordham University’s Lincoln Center campus. He has published articles on Dostoevsky’s The Idiot and Notes From the Dead House. He is currently writing a book on the role of vision in Dostoevsky’s poetics. Ossorgin thanks the Orthodox Christian Studies Center for its support not only of The Russia Question, but also for grants to design and teach OCSC-credited courses, including, The Apocalypse: Russian and American Visions, The Russian Icon in Dialogue with the Arts, and the first of three summer courses in The Great Russian Minds Series on Mikhail Bakhtin. Ossorgin is the director of Fordham University’s Russian program.
This event is open to the public.