In this talk, Professor Nadieszda Kizenko will discuss her new book, Good for the Souls: A History of Confession in the Russian Empire, with Professor Anne Lounsbery. 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 imposed by state and religious authorities. Confession could also provide an opportunity for carefully crafted complaint. 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 onto 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 books, paintings, and iconostases. Russia, Ukraine, and Orthodox Christianity emerge both as part of the European, transatlantic religious continuum-and, in crucial ways, distinct from it.
Nadieszda Kizenko is Professor of History and Director of Religious Studies at the University at Albany (SUNY). She writes about how people in the Russian empire and its successor states have engaged with Orthodox Christianity, both in cultural production and in life. Her prize-winning first book, A Prodigal Saint: Father John of Kronstadt and the Russian People, explored the career of the first modern Russian religious celebrity. Her numerous articles have covered such topics as women’s religious life-writing and correspondence, post-communist religiosity and architectural reconstruction, and liturgies commissioned by the Tsars. Her second book, Good for the Souls: A History of Confession in the Russian Empire has just been released with Oxford University Press. She earned her BA in Russian History and Literature from Harvard and Radcliffe and her PhD in Russian History from Columbia University. Her research has been supported by the NEH, the Social Science Research Council, the National Council for Eurasian and East European Research, American Councils Research Scholar Program (Title VIII), and the Jordan Center, where she was a Writer in Residence.
This event will be virtually as a Zoom meeting.