CFP: Digital Orthodoxy: Mediating Post-Secularity in Russia and Ukraine

Call for Submissions for a Special Issue of Digital Icons
Guest edited by Mikhail Suslov, Maria Engström and Gregory Simons (Uppsala University, Sweden)

Announcing the publication of a special issue of Digital Icons: Studies in Russian, Eurasian and Central European New Media (DI), which aims to explore the relationship between new media and religion, focusing on the Russian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarchy).

Orthodox Christianity has travelled a long way through the centuries, amassing the intellectual riches of many generations of theologians, and shaping the cultures and even histories of many countries, Russia included, before the arrival of the digital era. For many an Orthodox believer, the internet is purely instrumental – so to raise the problem 'Orthodoxy and the internet' is akin to asking, how do internal-combustion engines impact Orthodoxy? The answer would be not at all, whether a believer uses a motor-car or not is irrelevant to the spirit of Christ's teaching. This analogy, however, hardly works in relation to new media which have revolutionized communications and relations among people, ways of identity-making, and our understanding and use of power, among many other things. New media posit questions that, when answered, fundamentally change many aspects of religious practice and thinking, and challenge many fields of Orthodox theology. For example, an Orthodox believer may enter a virtual chapel, light a candle by drag and drop operations, send an online prayer request and worship virtual icons and relics. How is the Orthodox ecclesiology influenced in such digital environments? What is the role of clerics? How is the notion of 'sobornost' [collectivity] being transformed here? Could these actions be counted as authentic religious practices? How does the virtual religious life intersect with religious experience in the 'real' church?

In 1997 Patriarch Aleksii II blessed the world-wide web information technology as a new means of Orthodox missionary work. Today, the Yandex search engine returns 19 million hits for the query 'Orthodox website'; believers have Orthodox social networks, dating web-based services, and information agencies. One can follow Patriarch Kirill on Facebook, exchange tweets with priest Ivan Okhlobystin, or leave comments on the blog of Deacon Andrei Kuraev. In recent years, however, Church leaders and public figures have become increasingly skeptical about new media. The internet, some of them argue, breaches Russia's 'spiritual sovereignty' and 'implants values and ideas alien to the Russian culture'. The question is how the ROC, seeking to preserve a traditional ethos in the secularized world, can cope with individualism, social activism and inclusiveness nurtured by Web 2.0 technologies? Moreover, the internet creates a platform for all kinds of hybridizations and mixtures of different confessional practices and ideas, including monotheistic religions, pagan cults, esoteric doctrines and so on. In the end the ROC has but very little control on the meandering religious developments of its spiritual children. Besides, large sectors of the Runet voice anti-Orthodox criticism. Digital technologies provide powerful leverage for anti-clerical activists who effectively parody Orthodox tweeters, create demotivators and disseminate memes which ridicule the Orthodox Church. 'Digital Orthodoxy' finds itself in a world of 'web wars', and the ROC has to engage with them if it wishes to remain in that world.

This special issue of DI welcomes contributions from specialists in both new media and Russian Orthodoxy in order to map the overlapping terrain of these fields of cultural production, and to analyze cases of the most intensive interaction between them. This may include but is not limited to, the official take of the ROC on new media, political Orthodoxy on the web, virtual rituals in Orthodoxy, the internet and Orthodox communal subjectivity, the internet and Orthodox theology. This special issue aims to provide an in-depth study of new media and old beliefs, and seeks to build a new field of intellectual enquiry.

Contributions to the special issue may include research articles (8-10,000 words), essays (5-6,000 words), interviews, site reviews, artwork and so forth. For more information on the editorial process please visit DI's web site.

Please send a short bio (6-8 lines) stating your research interests and an abstract (up to 300 words) or description of your possible contribution to Dr Mikhail Suslov, by 1 March 2014. Contributors will be notified by 10 March 2014. Selected authors will be required to submit full drafts of their contributions by 1 June 2014. The peer review process will take place in the summer-autumn 2014. The anticipated publication date is winter 2014-15.

For more information please contact:
Dr. Mikhail Suslov
Tel.: +46-0728487258
Uppsala Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies, Uppsala University
Gamla torget 3, Box 514, SE 75120 Uppsala, Sweden

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