“In our country of many denominations there is a lack of highly qualified specialists with a knowledge of various religious traditions.”
Guests: A married couple of young scholars: Larysa VLADYCHENKO, with a candidate’s degree in philosophical studies, president of the Youth Association of Religious Studies Experts (YARSE), main expert of Ukraine’s State Committee in Matters of Nationalities and Religions, senior lecturer of the Cultural Studies Department of Mykhailo Drahomanov State Pedagogical University, and Oleg KYSELYOV, with a candidate’s degree in philosophical studies, executive secretary of the Youth Association of Religious Studies Experts, academic secretary of the religious studies Department of the Institute of Philosophy of Hryhorii Skovoroda NAS of Ukraine, senior lecturer of the Culture Studies Department of Mykhailo Drahomanov State Pedagogical University.
RISU’s Ukrainian-language site held this web conference on 29 September 2008
The leading theme of the web-conference: Perspectives of the development of religious studies in Ukraine: Opinions of young scholars.
Questions from the editors of RISU
1. Today the Ukrainian mass media needs experts who can analyze religious processes in our country and in the world qualitatively and operationally. Is reporting on religion and analysis popular among young religious studies experts?
- Unfortunately, there are no such people who are interested in reporting on religion and analysis among young religious studies experts whom we know. We think this situation can be improved by introducing a journalism course into the curriculum of the religious studies specialty. We have been planning for a few years already to organize a summer school where it would be possible to train young people interested in religious studies on how to write reporting articles. You are welcome to collaborate :)
2. If it were proposed for you to create a religious studies web-portal, what would you like to place there? Which portal would you take as an example?
- We have already written that the example of a web-portal in Ukraine is RISU. If we are talking about Russian religious studies sites, we like the projects of Maryna Vorobyova (Upelsinka): “Upelsinka’s page” - www.upelsinka.com and the site of the Ethna Center of Religious Studies Research - ethna.upelsinka.com. Lexical-manual sections and libraries (works of researchers of religion and sacred texts) are important for religious studies experts. We hope that in future the site of YARSE will become similar to them regarding content :)
3. How do you see the development of religious studies in Ukraine from a strategical point of view? Which sectors are still unconsidered or come to notice very seldom? And vice versa, what is too much discussed in scholarship?
- Let’s start with the second question. The dominant theme of Ukrainian religious studies is studying the history of religions and the contemporary religious situation in Ukraine. It is clear: Who should study Ukrainian religion, if not Ukrainian scholars?! As an example of fundamental research we can name a 10-volume history of religions in Ukraine. To the category of fundament research we can ascribe the most famous and very popular among students of religious studies, the manual of academic religious studies, which was, by the way, republished on compact disc. The Department of Religious Studies IF NASU is also working on a Ukrainian religious studies encyclopedia.
«Тerra incognita» for Ukrainian religious studies remains the religions of China, Japan, and India – not many religious studies experts study them professionally. They are not spread in Ukraine and this is one of the reasons that explain this fact.
In our opinion, the following directions should become important for Ukrainian religious studies: 1) revision and reinterpretation of the Soviet Union’s inheritance – there was solid research of the religious traditions in the Soviet Union and they should not be rejected only because of the atheist positions of their authors and their constantly citing the classics of Marxism-Leninism; 2) investigation of Ukrainian religious studies thought – there are many figures in Ukrainian history whose research of religious phenomena hasn’t been touched by Western European research; 3) studying Western religious studies; although not all theories of Western scholars can be used for Ukraine, still, studying and analyzing their theoretical thought will help us work out our own concepts; 4) carrying out field research – using the methods of anthropology, ethnology, sociology and psychology and collecting our own empirical materials.
4. Is collaboration of the Youth Association of Religious Studies Experts (YARSE) with theological centers developing in Ukraine? How do you see this collaboration?
- Recently YARSE agreed on collaboration with the Institute of Religious Studies of St. Thomas Aquinas in Kyiv. On 23-24 October 2008 we will hold a joint conference “The horizon for communication in the humanities.” We are also open to collaboration with other theological institutions. As religious studies experts, we look at such collaboration, first of all, as a possibility to deepen our theoretical knowledge about the dogmas of different religious traditions.
Thank you very much for the conversation! We wish you creative and personal successes! We think that communication with religious visitors of the Internet will allow you to understand better the world-view of believers, which will be definitely helpful for you in your scholarly activity.
- Which themes are interesting for contemporary young religious studies experts?
- Oleg: Greetings, Iryna! Thank you for the question. Friends of mine are occupied with the following themes: esoteric, mysticism, euro-Islam, Jewish enlightenment, demonology, the problem of the correlation of love and death in religious traditions, the structure and functions of religion, the politicization of Orthodoxy, the life style of Orthodox believers, neo-pagan and archaic forms of religion, Protestant anthropology, religiosity and religious consciousness, Wahhabism, fundamentalism, secularization, Gnosticism, Buddhist art, Christology, eschatology, cosmology, etc.
- How do you understand the concepts “a secular state” and “separation of state from church and church from state”?
- Larysa: Greetings, Lesya! Thank you for the question! First of all, the term “secularization” comes from a Latin word for temporal or worldly. Thus, for me, the phrase “a secular state” is identical to the phrase “a worldly state.” For its part, it means that the state norms of law have no religious basis and the religious canons or religious customs of any religious movements are not compulsory for all. This means that religious norms are not a source of law for the state, whose authority has a worldly character, unlike, for example, theocratic states.
“Separation of state from church and church from state” – this is a laconic formula in which the essence of the worldly state is fixed. An explanation of this formula can be illustrated by the example of freedom of conscience of Ukrainian law. In Ukraine all legal relations connected with freedom of conscience, including church-state relations, are regulated by the law in action, that is to say, they are juridically legalized in the Constitution of Ukraine, appropriate legislative acts, and other normative documents. The main document among them is the Law of Ukraine “On freedom of conscience and religious organizations” from 23April 1991. It is declared in art. 5 of the above-mentioned law that “the state does not interfere in internal church affairs,” that is to say, it can’t use compulsion in the sphere of the canonical-dogmatic standards of a church. For their part, religious organizations don’t accomplish state functions.
But this does not mean that state and religious organizations act in different legal planes. For its part, the state guarantees religious organizations certain rights and entrusts them with duties as other subjects of legal relations in the state.
— Could you tell me about existing religious studies periodicals and web-sites in Ukraine? Are there many of them? Which kinds of periodicals are lacking?
- Larysa and Oleg: Greetings, Andrii! Thank you for the question! Today there are not many religious studies periodicals and web-sites. For example, the magazine on religious studies: “Religious Panorama,” which you can subscribe to at the Ukrainian post-office. In the past the journal “Human Being and World” was published, which has, unfortunately, not been issued approximately for five years already. “Bulletin of Religious Information” has not been issued for a year or year and a half. Among the specialized journals on religious studies we should name “Ukrainian Religious Studies” and “Religious Freedom.” They are published by the Department of Religious Studies of the Institute of Philosophy of the H. Skovoroda National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine. Recently one more journal on religious studies, “Religion and Society,” started to be issued at the Chernivtsi National University. Also «Sacrum et profanum» is published in Crimea. Now we will not recall other specialized religious studies magazines, although there are around 100 philosophical editions more where religious studies experts publish the results of their research. For example, the scholarly magazine of the M. Drahomanov National Pedagogical University and the magazine «Knowledge. Religion. Society,» which is published in Donetsk. Articles on the theme of religious studies are also published in historical and Eastern studies magazines. By the way, the Youth Association of Religious Studies Experts has an idea to publish its own magazine, where young religious studies experts could test out their research. As for web-sites, RISU is indisputably the most famous site on religious and religious studies themes. By the way, RISU has quite a good web-catalogue, which covers most religious sites.
In addition, there are a few strictly religious studies sites which, to tell the truth, cannot compete with RISU as to thoroughness. Above all is the site of the Ukrainian Association of Religious Studies Experts “Religious studies in Ukraine”: religstudies.org.ua, the site of the Center of Religious Information and Freedom: www.cerif.com.ua and the site of our Youth Association of Religious Studies Experts: www.mar.in.ua. One year ago, thanks to the initiative of a senior research worker of the Department of Religious Studies of IF NASU, O. Nedavnyoi, a collective blog «Ukrainian Religious Studies» was opened: ukreligieznavst.uol.ua.
There is also a site of the Ukrainian Association of Religious Freedom: uars.org.ua. Unfortunately, now we cannot remember more religious studies web-sites.
— Can you tell me how popular atheistic views are among young religious studies experts? Does it influence their research?
- Oleg: Thank you Nykodym for an interesting question. Honestly speaking, I have difficulty answering it, since special research on this question has not been done and, as I have already written, questions about faith and lack of faith are not discussed in the environment of religious studies experts. With a certain degree of probability I think that the percentage of atheists among religious studies experts is approximately the same as among other specialties. Research which we carried out in 2005 among students of higher educational establishments of Kyiv showed that only 10% of young people answered negatively to the question «Are you a believer?».
Ideally, religiousness or the lack thereof should not influence research and its results. However, sometimes in diploma works we can detect both the atheistic and religious positions of student- religious studies experts.
Opus Dei, Lviv
— Dear Larysa and Oleg, don’t you think that present-day religious studies experts of the age of 45 and older have no authority to call themselves religious studies experts, because 18 years ago they denied the existence of God in the former USSR? What has influenced your choice to become young religious studies experts and do you identify yourselves with some denominations? Thank you. P.S. I would like to ask you both, Larysa and Oleg, to answer these two questions.
— Oleg: Thank you for the question! I have already written that there is no direct connection between belief in God and an occupation in religious studies. Therefore I would not take away the right to be called religious studies experts from people older then 45 (why exactly 45 years?). It should be pointed out that religious studies was actually a structural component of scientific atheism in the Soviet Union. In order to criticize this or that religion, to lead anti-religious propaganda, etc., it was necessary to know religious traditions well and from different sides. It is not possible to take away knowledge, but you can change a methodological approach, which our senior colleagues did. To talk frankly, my formation of self-identification as a religious studies expert happened when I was in the third year of studies (while religious studies was my specialty from the first year).
In the third year we had a course in the sociology of religion, the discipline which is the most interesting for me, even now. The academic advisor of my diploma and dissertation, Halyna Sereda, taught this course. In addition, Oleksandr Sarapin, a man of an encyclopedic knowledge, has enormous influence on all religious studies students of Taras Shevchenko National University in Kyiv and the National University of Petro Mohyla. It will be enough to say that the students chose him as the best teacher of the Philosophy Faculty for a few years in a row. At this time I became acquainted with the most famous Ukrainian religious studies experts, Liudmyla Fylypovych and Anatolii Kolodnyi.
- Larysa: Thank you for the question! After Oleh’s answer, I think, I will not say anything new about this topic, as I agree with the answer of Oleh. I do not want to be repetitious, but you asked both of us to answer these questions, and that is why I will continue the theme. So, in my opinion, for the modern religious studies expert it is important to keep the principles of objectivity, worldview pluralism, tolerance and denominational neutrality in the process of presenting information, whether it is at a lecture or in a report, or in an article, etc. According to art.1 of the basic law (the Constitution of Ukraine) Ukraine is a sovereign, independent, democratic, social, and legal state. Freedom of thought, conscience and religion is one of basic principles of a democratic society, which is called to secure the self-determination of the person in his/her attitude toward denominational allegiance and also the right to hold atheistic views, which is a right of the person’s choice, as well as the right to religious convictions. Therefore, today a person who has atheistic convictions easily and legitimately can be a religious studies expert, as well as a person with religious convictions. Here you can ask the reverse question: How can a person with clearly acknowledged religious allegiance maintain the previously-mentioned principles of religious studies? In fact, religious studies study and investigate different religions, where views on these or those facts and processes can diametrically differ. It is important here to offer impartial knowledge and to show variety in approaches. E.Torchinov can serve us as a striking example. He was a believer, but this did not stop him from being a brilliant religious studies expert in Buddhism. I consider that in religious studies, as well as in other specialties, an approach with professionalism and competence is necessary.
Concerning the question: What influenced my choice to become a religious studies expert? Here it is possible to point out a few factors: internal factors – my personal interest in certain religious studies problems, the feeling that I would succeed (therefore, my professional activity is always related to religious studies); external factors – surroundings (most friends and acquaintances are religious studies experts or are interested in questions of the study of religions).
Please say something about the activity of your association.
- Larysa: Greetings, Oles! Thank you for the question! The Youth Association of Religious Studies Experts was founded in spring 2004 by a group of young scholars-religious studies experts who as students and graduate students entered the Philosophy Faculty of the Religious Studies Department of Taras Shevchenko National University in Kyiv, the Department of Religious Studies of the H. Skovoroda Institute of Philosophy, the National University Kyiv-Mohyla Academy, and the Department of Religious Studies of M. Drahomanov National Pedagogical University.
Our activity is directed at helping strengthen the principles of tolerance, pluralism, and freedom of conscience and religion in all spheres of public life. However, to step back from the official language of the constituent documents, the activities of YARSE, first of all, are directed at the comprehensive development of Ukrainian religious studies and the consolidation of young religious studies experts and their research. YARSE organizes and assists with seminars, round tables, and conferences on religious studies theme, scholarly research on democratic transformations in the country in the sphere of freedom of conscience and religion; strengthening religious tolerance and preventing conflicts on religious grounds. (Note: this answer was shortened by the translator/editor).
To Oleg Kyselyov. Must a religious studies expert believe in God?
- Greetings, Dmytro. The answer to your question is no. True, this does not mean that a religious studies expert must not believe in God. To believe or not to believe in God is the choice of every single religious studies expert (as well as any person). Religious studies unlike theology is not the study of God but religions. The problem of God’s existence is not resolved in religious studies, although within the borders of philosophy of religion the arguments in favour of His existence and their criticism are examined. I think it is no secret that it is impossible to prove or disprove rationally the existence of God.
In addition, the question about belief or disbelief in God and denominational allegiance among religious studies experts is considered unethical.
Respectfully yours, Oleg