Last year CT published an interview with theologian Thomas Oden in which he discussed his shift from modernity to orthodoxy (CT, Sept. 24, 1990). In this report, he describes what the collapse of modernity in the Soviet Union means for students of religion there.
Oden defines modernity in terms of four fundamental values that were dominant from the French Revolution until recently: moral relativism (right is dictated by culture, social location, and situation), autonomous individualism (moral authority comes from within a person), narcissistic hedonism (the focus on egocentric personal pleasure), and reductive naturalism (what can be reliably known is what one can see, hear, and empirically investigate).
Because these values are collapsing in the USSR, just as they are in North America, Oden recently received an unusual invitation.
My invitation to lecture came from the very professors once charged with the intellectual defense of official Soviet atheism. The unexpected request came through the former Department of Atheism of Moscow State University. Since glasnost, its new name is the Department of Scientific and Historical Study of Religion and Freethinking.
The name change is more than cosmetic. It represents a fundamental reassignment of resources in the philosophy section of the humanities division of this immense university. The university study of religion in the Soviet Union is no longer a compliant agent of atheistic ideology but is now appearing to be much more like what we would call the comparative study of religion. Once the pampered proxy of official atheistic ideology, now this department must survive on its own merits in the precarious intellectual competition of the university. I have never before found myself ...1
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