Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



First Advisor

Dr. Vyacheslav Karpov

Second Advisor

Dr. David Hartmann

Third Advisor

Dr. Elena Lisovskaya

Fourth Advisor

Dr. Jerry Pankhurst


Desecularization, religion, Culture Wars, desecularization, Russia social drama


This study makes an original contribution to theorizing desecularization, which Karpov (2010) defines as “a process of counter-secularization, through which religion reasserts its societal influence in reaction to previous and/or co-occurring, secularizing processes.” Existing theory states that desecularization is agency driven, involves social actors and activists with specific interests, ideologies and strategies. However, the theory does not explain the dynamics whereby desecularization takes place and a particular desecularizing regime—in structural and normative form and symbolic and discursive content—develops through social action and achieves hegemonic status. This dissertation fills this important gap by asking: How and why, in the anomic post-Soviet conditions, did the current desecularizing regime in Russia form? And more specifically, what role did the cultural clashes over artistic and intellectual representations of religion play in its formation? While focusing on the sociology of religion and the Russian case, these questions pertain to the core sociological debate on agency and structure.

In pursuing these questions, I revise and apply Turner’s (1974; 1980) “social drama” approach as an analytical tool uniquely situated for studying the interplay between structure and agency in a comparative-historical case study of two waves of cultural clashes over artistic representations of religion. The study employs archival research and combines “thick description,” discourse and visual analysis to a multitude of Russian-language documents. The first wave of cases (1995-2000) took place under the Yeltsin regime and led to either mild punishment of those who challenged the emerging religious hegemony or to unresolved social dramas while “setting the stage” for the second wave (2003-2012), which took place under the Putin regime and included the “Beware, Religion!” (2003) and “Forbidden Art—2006” (2007) exhibitions, and the Pussy Riot “punk prayer” at Christ the Savior Cathedral (2012). This comparative study demonstrates how in the course of intensifying clashes between desecularizing activists and their opponents the paradigm of radical desecularization gradually crystallized into an increasingly punitive normative regime. I then analyze survey and public opinion data to assess popular support for the new regime. To interpret the findings, I develop an original theoretical framework that synthesizes theories of secularization, desecularization, an elaboration on culture wars analysis, the Durkheimian dialectic of norm and deviance, the work of Agamben and Foucault on disciplinary modalities of power, and social identity theory. Ultimately, I argue that the severe punishment of the perceived “enemies of the Church” and the public support for it reflect the crystallization of a new cultural-normative system brought about by the Russian desecularizing regime characterized by a symbiosis of the Orthodox Church and the Russian state. This dissertation thus makes an original theoretical contribution by showing how desecularization’s social actors redefine social norms by defining secularist, anti-clerical orientations as deviant and by criminalizing them.

Access Setting

Dissertation-Open Access