Friday, January 15, 2010

Window on Eurasia: Might an Orthodox Priest Write Russia’s Secular Ethics Textbook?

Paul Goble

Vienna, January 15 – Now that a St. Petersburg professor has refused to continue as the author of a school textbook for civil ethics, the course most Russian school children are choosing instead of religion, it appears possible that a leading Russian Orthodox churchman may end up being the author of this supposedly religiously neutral book.
If that happens, it will constitute not a victory for the Moscow Patriarchate, however its leadership may construe it, but a defeat both for the Church and for the Russian powers that be who have been pushing this project, which is slated to begin on a trial basis involving 15,500 teachers and 240,000 children in the classrooms of 19 federal subjects later this spring.
On Wednesday, reported that “scholars are refusing to write the textbook on the foundations of civic ethics for the Ministry of Education and Science,” one of the six courses students and their parents can choose from in this segment of the curriculum. (The other five are a course on one of the four traditional religions or on the history of world religions.)
The refusal of the scholars to prepare this text represents a real problem because in the major cities at least 60 percent of parents – and in some areas, far more, want their children to study the history of world religions and civic ethics rather than a more religiously-centered course.
But the scandal has deepened both because of what the scholars involved told and what Archpriest Andrey Kurayev has now said in an interview published in today’s “Izvestiya” ( and
Indeed, said, “work on the composition of the book put the leading ethics specialists of Russia before a moral choice: to do what the ministry and the religions wanted or to maintain the norms of professional ethics.” Despite much pressure from above, the news service said, the scholars have decided to maintain their professionalism.
Last week, Vadim Perov, head of the ethics chair of the philosophy faculty of St. Petersburg State University, described the history of this case and why he and his co-author had decided that they could not write the textbook that the ministry and the Russian Orthodox Church clearly want.
On December 8, he said, the ministry asked Perov and his colleagues to prepare a textbook in a week, an impossibly short period of time and a request that they “attempted to refuse,” arguing that in their judgment, courses in ethics should not be offered to students until they are older than the fourth and fifth classes for which the ministry has scheduled them.
“But the dean of the faculty” of his university was pressured by both the Prosveshcheniye and the ministry to go ahead, Perov said. As a result, “it was agreed that we would prepare drafts in a week and then continue to work on them through the end of January,” thus making the best of a bad job.
Perov said that he and his co-authors had completed the drafts in time, but then, he added, the problems really began. The editors told him that “it was necessary to take out of the text a totally banal statement that in the course of its history, humanity has developed various cultures … because then children would see that people have different ideas about morality.”
The reason the publishers gave was that religious figures would not like that idea to be propagated, Perov continued. But, he said, “the last drop” which prompted him to withdraw from the project was the appearance of his drafts on the blog of Orthodox Archpriest Andrey Kurayev.
“It is not important to me,” the St. Petersburg professor said, “how these materials turned up with Kurayev. Nor is it important what he wrote about me. Instead, I am infuriated by the notion that unpublished drafts should become the subject of public discussion” on the Internet without any permission from their author.
Moreover, Perov continued, it struck him as “strange” that Kurayev declared that “the worst the textbook on civic ethics would be written, the better,” presumably because that would lead students to change over to the courses on religion and especially on Russian Orthodoxy. Such a comment “is absolutely immoral and a violation of all ethical norms.”
As a result of Perov’s withdrawal, the education ministry is in a difficult position: it does not have one of the texts it needs. But there may be a way out: According to an article by Boris Klin in today’s “Izvestiya,” Kurayev himself is prepared to undertake the task if the ministry cannot find a serious children’s writer to prepare the book.
Given Kurayev’s own religious convictions and his views about the quality that a textbook on civil ethics should have, many Russian parents and their children may find themselves confronted with a book that will not only be anything but what its title suggests but not very good as well.

No comments: