The Secular in the Religious and the Religious in the Secular: Humanities School Education in Pre-Revolutionary Russia and Nowadays
The key research problem lies in the substantiation of the interdisciplinary method necessity in religion teaching in secular school as well as in religious higher education. The problem bases in the fact that the religion as a subject came back in secular educational system, and that causes a lot of questions because of the loss of tradition and leak of professional educated staff. These questions are of great importance in the general context of relationship between the state and the Orthodox Church of which intense formation we are evidenced right now. In this connection, we find it important to research the experience of religion teaching in the pre-revolutionary period in Russia and to compare it with modern experiences. As a purpose of this research, we consider the analysis of facts of the past of Russian school secular education and of the present of religious higher education nowadays directed to enunciate some recommendations for the modern school in the matter of religion teaching. The conclusions made are following. The interdisciplinary approach concerning humanities may show itself as very useful also in secular school education. Under the circumstances of coming back of religion component in the secular education, it seems to be reasonable to teach the essentials of orthodoxy on examples from Russian literature, which is very rich on this point. It can also be harmonized with the actual discussion on the school literature canon.
Nowadays we are witnessing examples of escalating interaction between the Russian Orthodox
Church and the state. Very distinctly, this interaction shows itself in the field of education. In
elementary school there is introduction of the subject “Bases of Orthodox Culture”, meanwhile it was
only in the 4th grade; but the proposal is actually discussed to make this subject obligatory up to the
final year of high school. Recently, the “Society of Russian language and literature” was founded in
Russia, the head which became the Patriarch. The society sees its purpose in the definition of the
concept of teaching the Humanities, especially Russian language and literature,in schools and
universities and formulates its objectives as follows: “Consolidation of efforts of scientists, teachers,
artists, the public for maintaining the leading role of the Russian language and literature in the
education of the younger generation, strengthening of identical cultural and educational space,
development of the best traditions of Russian education in the Humanities, cultural and educational
activities” (Obshchestvo, 2016).At the awarding ceremony of Patriarch literature price his Highness
underlined: “I am deeply convinced that the teaching of the Russian language and literature at modern
school today is an experiment”. He noted that “experiments replaced one another, and the hours
allocated to language and literature in the school course become less and less, and our children and
young people read less and less.” “And literature becomes less and less a factor of cultural influence on
the identity of our contemporaries, especially young people”, said the Patriarch (Kirill, 2016).
On the other hand, it is impossible to ignore a number of issues that arise in the educational
environment in connection with the return of the religious component in the curriculum. The main
problems we see are of two types: first, the loss of pedagogical traditions in this area and the lack of
qualified personnel to teach the new subject (“Bases of Orthodox culture”); secondly, the unwillingness
of most students to perceive such information in the absence of family traditions (even if formal
affiliation of their parents to the Orthodoxy).
In this regard it seemed to us expedient to study the experience of teaching the Religion (“Zakon
Bozhiy”) in Russian schools in pre-revolutionary period and the experience of teaching theological
disciplines in modern higher theological schools, in order to present some recommendations for the
modern school in the sphere of teaching religion.
1.1 Problem statement and research questions
The key research problem lies in the substantiation of the interdisciplinary method necessity in
religion teaching in secular school as well as in religious higher education. The problem bases in the
fact that the religion as a subject came back in secular educational system, and that causes a lot of
questions because of the loss of tradition and leak of professional educated staff. These questions are of
great importance in the general context of relationship between the state and the Orthodox Church in
which intense formation we are evidenced right now. In this connection, we find it important to
research the experience of religion teaching in the pre-revolutionary period in Russia and to compare it
with modern experiences.
1.2 Purpose of the study
As a purpose of this research we consider the analysis of facts of the past of Russian school secular
education and of the present of religious higher education nowadays directed to enunciate some
recommendations for the modern school in the matter of religion teaching. In reaching this proposed
purpose we rely on the definite source base, including educational programs and handbooks of the
beginning of the twentieth century, discussions on the subject in the contemporary mass media,
proceedings and journals of Church conferences as well as educational issue of nowadays reflected in
documents and discussions.
1.3 Research methods
The methodology of our research combines theoretical and practical means. On the one side, we use
historical, historiographical methods, methods of the retrospective analysis and analogy. On the other
side, we apply empirical methods of observation, conversation and debate. The comparison as an
analysis instrument let us reveal the similarity in educational paradigms of the present and the past
concerning the problem of religion teaching.
2.1. Situation in the educational system in pre-revolutionary Russia
Studying the history of secondary education in pre-revolutionary Russia, every researcher is faced
with a considerable number of negative evaluations, including excessive overload of training programs,
combined with their extreme boredom and low levels of teaching methods. Often as an example in this
regard the discipline “Religion” is provided (“Zakon Bozhiy”), a mandatory element of curricula of
secondary schools in pre-revolutionary Russia. In the teaching practice, it was sometimes reduced to
reading boring and obscure lectures, totally incomprehensible for students, and to requirements to
memorize large pieces of texts by heart. One of consequences of this style of religion teaching is the
decline of interest in the subject by the students, which, coupled with a number of other socio-cultural
factors characteristic of post-reform Russia, have led in the last decades of the 19th – early 20th
centuries to the spread of negative attitudes towards the subject by students, parents, secular teachers,
intellectuals (Mustafina & Yermoshin, 2015).
At the same time in the specified period, motivated and engaged teachers undertook gradually
attempts to rectify the situation, to diversify the teaching of Religion, to make it more interesting for
children under the motto: “If you want to raise in children a living religious feeling, don’t retell them
abstract dogmas of faith – clothe the truths of religion in the live images. Do not neglect, moreover, as
often as possible appeal to poetry of faith and love” (Rozhdestvin, 1900).
One of the congresses of Religion teachers was held by order of the Holy Synod in 1913 in Kazan.
In the reports and the decisions of this congress there are very interesting, even innovative for the early
XXth century ideas. Among them is the necessity of use of literature, visual and musical arts in the
teaching of Religion in gymnasiums and other secondary schools.
Of these learning tools, the paintings were, of course, the first ones that appeared on the lessons of
the Religion. They were educational illustrations for lessons in the Sacred History of the Old and New
Testaments, Church history and Liturgy. But, being only the works of “academic” painting particularly
illustrative in their nature, they did not have any considerable influence on the aesthetic sense of
students. The Congress also made a suggestion to use as illustrative material the masterpieces of
outstanding Russian and Western painters and sculptors – that of religious subjects: Raphael, Leonardo
da Vinci, Kramskoy, Makovskiy, Vasnetsov, Nesterov, and others. It was considered as very valuable
“to acquaint students through a projection lantern with the great artistic creations and with the images
of archeology, for example, the catacombs, excavations, and to add also with the paintings of great
artists, concerning the Church's great events” (Protokoly, 1913: 16-17). Moreover, the acquaintance
with them was intended not only for the sake of illustration of educational material, but also to discuss
the moral-psychological component of the story and its characters. “Works of art offer healthy foods
for various ages: they are interesting in very early youth, and the old age may think about them, and
these works, religious in nature, can affect the person with the best hand”, so they should be considered
as “strong supporting educational means” (Protokoly, 1913: 51).
As another important aesthetic tool for religious training and education fiction was defined. Thus,
according to one of the priests and religion teachers, “for children, it would be very useful to find in a
good book live examples of the performance of the Christian ideal,” but, he urged, “choose such books,
that purity of their content would combine artistry of presentation” (Protokoly, 1913: 16).
One of the speakers of the mentioned Kazan congress of religion teachers confirmed the validity and
justification of this idea with concrete examples: Some high schools in Kazan held in the period from
1908 till 1913 literature and musical soirees of religious character. According to him, “the program for
these evenings consisted of poems of famous secular writers on moral and religious subjects: Pushkin,
Lermontov, Nikitin, Al. Tolstoy, Baratynskiy, Khomyakov, Maykov, Pleshcheyev, Rosenheim,
Apukhtin, K. R. (Grand Duke Konstantin Romanov), Polonskiy, Nadson, May, Zhukovskiy, Koltsov,
Kozlov, Yazykov and others”. The speaker noted that such events were always successful. They made
a deep impression on schoolboys and schoolgirls, not in the least because “when from the lips of these
writers, “familiar” for profane people, they hear preaching of faith in God and love for man, it gives a
strong impression, enhanced by the artistry of the sermon. “In our rich literature really there are also
such things, and how it is that we haven’t yet noticed it?” – those are some confessions after such
evenings.” (Protokoly, 1913, 21).
Another important component of these educational tools was the music, in the case of teaching the
Religion, which also insisted one of the members of the mentioned congress of 1913. In the course of
these literature and musical soirees “student choirs and individual students performed religious musical
works by Tchaikovsky, Gounod, Grechaninov, Turchaninov, Bortnianskiy, Smolenskiy, Chesnokov
and others” (Protokoly, 1913, 22).
So we see not only a very deep awareness of the crisis of religious education in secular high school
to the early twentieth century, but also attempts to overcome it. The involvement of various aesthetic
tools in the teaching of the Religion was intended to strengthen the interest of students in receiving
religious knowledge, and through enhancing their general cultural horizon to promote the deepening of
their religiosity and raising of their moral level.
However, for these conversations not so much time was left because soon the revolutionary
upheavals put an end to religious education in high school, and many of the aforementioned ideas did
not have time to produce tangible fruit. But they undoubtedly amounted to an important stage in the
development of Russian pedagogical thought of the early twentieth century, the essence of which is to
try to approach spiritual training and education with the general Humanities educational paradigm.
2.2 Situation in the theological education nowadays
The tradition of this approach was continued and mostly revived in theological education in our day.
The curricula of higher theological educational institutions (theological academies and seminaries, etc.)
include not only special subjects, but also courses in art history and history of Russian and world
literature. In addition, students study a wide range of historical and philological disciplines, which,
being in its content the “secular sciences”, serve in this case the reception of inherently theological
knowledge not in isolation but in the general humanitarian discourse. Training of Church personnel,
capable of cultural communication in today's society, is one of the priority tasks of spiritual education
and upbringing nowadays.
2.3 Proposals concerning secular school education
Interdisciplinary approach in the Humanities can be applied in the secular school education,
especially under the circumstances of a definite crisis in teaching the Humanities based in rapid
changes in social life and relations. There is also a number of particular problems concerning definite
disciplines of secondary school curricula.
For instance, Russian classical literature, unfortunately, is not properly read, from the point of view
that we are inevitably withdrawing from that historical and cultural context in which it was created. It
recently noted in his interview the specialist in Russian literature and writer Evgeniy Vodolazkin.
Responding to a reporter's question, if the difference in thinking influence our perception of classical
writers of the 19th century, Vodolazkin said: “I am afraid that we will not ever be able to understand all
of these authors thoroughly. More precisely, we could, but only with great amount of effort required
study the many books of the epoch. Because in order to perceive Pushkin, I must read not only him, but
also Zhukovskiy, Dmitriev, literature of the 18th century and Old Russian literature. That is, to
understand the context. But how many people do want to do this?” (Vodolazkin, 2016).
But if it will be read at least in the context of Orthodoxy, which at the time prevailed in the lives and
minds of people more than today, and determined the views of many writers, much of it will become
clearer. In this respect, the interdisciplinary connections between the course of Russian literature and
the Religion lessons at school are also urgently needed, so much as between Russian literature and, for
example, the discipline “Ethical Theology” at the Seminary. The lessons in “Bases of Orthodox
culture” should certainly contribute to the aesthetic education of students, since it is impossible to deny
the fact that the Sacred Scripture is the key to the history of European painting, without which it is
impossible to understand it and to accept. Psychology of school age demands that it is important to
understand what is written, shown, etc. If the object is not clear, the interest in it is lost. Thus, in the
power of the teacher of the Religion is to acquaint the student to the world art heritage, or to leave him
indifferent to it.
Relevant experience in the effective use of interdisciplinary connections can be gleaned from the
practice of teaching in religious educational institutions. Thus, it would be useful to arrange joint
conferences on exchange of experiences, including teaching.
So, despite the numerous of loss that accompanied the history of Russian education for the past
century, surprisingly, paradigm of interdisciplinary connections between the disciplines of secular and
religious nature has survived in spiritual education and remains sufficiently effective, it can be applied
in a secular school education, of course, with a different arrangement of accents within these paradigms
to achieve the most neutral presentation of the material, which is very important in a multi-religious
environment of modern Russian society.
As the result of our investigation we can ascertain not only a very deep awareness of the crisis of
religious education in secular school to the beginning of the twentieth century, but also attempts to
overcome it. The involvement of the different aesthetic means of religion teaching was intended to
strengthen the interest of students in their receiving of religious knowledge, and through enhancing
their general cultural horizon to promote the deepening of religiosity and raising their moral level. The
same methodology seems to be successful in the modern religious higher education: obtaining the
specialized knowledge is accompanied by learning of the history of arts and literature, what is fixed in
educational standards of the Russian Orthodox Church. Thus, the conclusions made are: The
interdisciplinary approach concerning Humanities may show itself as very useful also in secular school
education. Under the circumstances of coming back of religion component in the secular education, it
seems to be reasonable to teach the essentials of Orthodoxy on examples from Russian literature which
is very rich on this point. It can be also harmonized with the actual discussion on the school literature
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Protokolys’ezdao.o. zakon o uchiteley srednikh uchebnykh zavedeniy Kazanskoy eparkhii (1913). Kazan. Rozhdestvin, A. (1900). V vidure formy sredney shkoly. Kazan.
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Yermoshin, A. V., & Nikolaeva, N. G. (2016). The Secular in the Religious and the Religious in the Secular: Humanities School Education in Pre-Revolutionary Russia and Nowadays. In & R. Valeeva (Ed.), Teacher Education - IFTE 2016, vol 12. European Proceedings of Social and Behavioural Sciences (pp. 197-202). Future Academy. https://doi.org/10.15405/epsbs.2016.07.32