Call for paper for a special issue on "Sacral Spaces of Memory: Orthodox Art and Memorial Practices in Contemporary Russia"

Guest editors of the special issue:

Olga Rusinova and Tatiana Voronina

In the current academic literature, religious practices are approached either from the perspective of memory studies or as part of theological discourse. Authors who have studied modern religious ways of dealing with the past have written about forms of commemoration, church rituals, their meaning, and events that leave their mark on church calendars and memorial practices; or have considered the Russian Orthodox Church as an agent of memory.

We propose to broaden the scope of the discussion. It is not just necessary to consider, as memory studies scholars do, commemoration as a politics of memory and the activities of individual actors capable of formulating their own projects around the past and competing for dominance. We can approach this topic as a project closely related to the reproduction of the canon and the reintegration into modernity of the church’s cultural heritage in the form of church architecture, iconography, and rituals of commemoration of the dead. Trajectory of orthodox art is determined, among other things, by a high degree of dependence on the traditions and canon of church art, and not only by political agendas. In other words, we propose to look at two forms of addressing memory and the past—secular commemoration and ecclesiastical tradition—and their interaction.

The prevailing view among memory researchers is that church art, in its focus on the reproduction of tradition, is extremely slow and reluctant to respond to the demands of modernity. This sets a certain temporality to the “Orthodox project,” with its own calendar and rituals understandable to a narrow circle of believers. At the same time, the ongoing demand of the Russian authorities for the Russian Orthodox Church to produce political meanings (from the project of the Russian new martyrs as a way of explaining mass repressions to the justification of military conflicts and the sacralization of power) makes contemporary church commemoration projects very dynamic and in acute demand. As a result, the Orthodox Church has to react quickly, adapting old and creating new forms of representation of its ideas and concepts.

What are the challenges faced by authors, artists, and architects working within Orthodox art? What are the approaches to analyzing the changes taking place in the church canon? How and by whom are contemporary forms of commemoration shaped, and what is their relationship with the basic concepts of contemporary Orthodoxy? How does the mostly secular Russian audience influence the language of church commemoration? How exactly does the transformation of secular images into religious symbols and vice versa take place? How does belonging to branches of the Orthodox Church—in Russia and abroad—affect the nature of the images created?

Focusing on different projects of the contemporary Orthodox Church and projects that appeal to Orthodox concepts, we can show how contemporary Orthodoxy and the state create a new historical heritage that refers both to traditional forms and genres of Orthodox art and to the reproduction of contemporary political discourses characteristic of the present and the future.

Researchers in the field of memory studies, the Orthodox Church, art historians, and art critics are invited to submit articles to this special issue.

The deadline for submissions is August 15, 2024. Manuscripts are accepted in Russian or English; they should not exceed 9,000 words including footnotes but excluding references.

To inquire about participation, please contact the special issue’s editors: Tatiana Voronina ( and Olga Rusinova (