New Project – Orthodoxy as Solidarity: An Examination of Popular and Conciliar Orthodoxy in Estonia and the Baltic Region

As a result of the 2021 PUT grant competition, the project “Orthodoxy as Solidarity” (PRG1599) has won financial support from the Estonian Research Council to examine the much-debated notion of Orthodox conciliarity (sobornost’). Building on the research conducted in 2021 as part of a one-year research grant, this new five-year project will be based in the School of Theology & Religious Studies at the University of Tartu and led by Associate Professor Irina Paert.


The project will examine the concept of conciliarity as it was applied and practiced in the Baltic region in the 19th and 20th centuries. Focusing on Orthodox church life from the 1890s to the 1930s and beyond, the project seeks to uncover the significance of religious identity, which crossed ethnic and social divides. In light of studies on ‘national indifference’, the project will point to a variety of forms of solidarity that existed prior the break-up of the Russian Empire and then experienced crisis and breakdown as a result of war, revolution, and the rise of nation states. The project will offer an innovative analysis of how Orthodox practices of conciliarity affected the activities of both religious and secular actors over a long-term period that saw significant political, social, and cultural change. The research will assess the impact of communal practices in shaping the national narrative after the collapse of the Russian Empire, the religious and societal influences of these practices in the context of the Orthodox Church, and how they were used as tools to resolve internal church crises.


The congress of the Orthodox clergy in Riga, 1905. Photo from the collection of Alexander Dormidontov.


The project employs a multinational team to conduct the research, with representatives from Estonia, Russia, Finland, and the United Kingdom. Using archival, printed, and interview materials, individual project members will conduct research on diverse topics, such as the practices and theologies of ecclesiastical self-government, Orthodox martyrdom in the context of Estonian historical memory, perceptions of national and religious identity in the Baltics, the role of tolerance in inter- and intra-confessional relationships, the politics of the Estonian Orthodox Church after Soviet annexation, and contemporary views on religious community.


Along with distributing the results of this research through traditional academic channels, the project intends to digitize rare and previously undocumented archival collections and deliver information to a broader public. Research fellow Dr James White has created an English-Estonian digital resource portal for religious history “Baltic Orthodoxy/Balti õigeusk”, which contains a rich collection of translated sources, images, and maps.


The project also organizes a lively series of monthly international seminars with leading experts on the topic of “Understanding Sobornost’”, which are available to watch on the Youtube channel of the School of Theology & Religious Studies. In spring 2022, it is possible to follow these seminars with guest lectures within the framework of the course “Special Seminar in Orthodox Church History” (HVUS.00.008) coordinated by Dr Catherine Gibson.


The project has got off to a lively start, with team members giving several public talks and writing news articles over the past weeks. As part of a series of lectures to mark the 100th anniversary of the birth of Father Alexander Shmemann, doctoral student Andrey Shishkov gave a talk to the Missionary Society of the Diocese of Tallinn on “Primacy in the Church: the view of Father Alexander Schmemann”. Dr Alison Kolosova gave a lecture for the Centre for World Christianity at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), London on the topic of “Mission, conciliarism and ecumenism in the early 20th century: the view from Russia”. As part of our collaboration with the Narva Museum, Dr James White gave a public talk on “How Ruhnu (Almost) Became Orthodox”. Meanwhile, Fr. Andrei Sõtšov has written about the Orthodox Church community during the Soviet period in a short article in Metropoolia and Dr Priit Rohtmets has published a summary of the project in Eesti Kirik.


Further information can be found on the project website and you can follow us for the latest news and updates on Twitter.

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