Russia is a great country—both in terms of size and its achievements. It is the largest country in the world and, perhaps, the richest one as well, if one counts all its natural resources combined. The Russian population is well educated and its sciences and technology are quite advanced. It is also a country with political, legal, and economic systems similar to those in Western Europe and North America. What then prevents it from joining the community of Western democratic societies? What makes it always slide back into the habitual mode of authoritarianism, nationalism, and permeating corruption even when formal democratic institutions and structures are installed? Why does it stubbornly resist any attempts to promote democracy and liberalism? Is it because some curse hangs over the country and it always ends up in the hands of a bad government? The author of this book is convinced that the Russian government is just a derivative of the entire population—the entire culture.
The book is thus devoted to Russian culture in comparison with Western cultures and the United States in particular. The author begins this juxtaposition at the dawn of Russian history—the Christianization of Russia in the late tenth century. Religion played a tremendous role in shaping Russian tradition from the tenth through the seventeenth centuries. Choosing Greek Orthodoxy Russia made the first and decisive step away from Western Christianity inheriting the Byzantine kind of authoritarianism and banning not only the religious doctrine but also all knowledge coming from the West including Latin. The author also demonstrates how serfdom and the agricultural commune, which lasted virtually into the twentieth century, fostered the culture of collectivism, nationalism, and legal nihilism. The book’s last part explores the psychology of Russian perceptions of the United States—a crucial factor in the relationships between the two countries. Russian culture, the author contends, persists due to inculcating children during the early childhood socialization, thus passing values and myths from generation to generation.
This book represents a truly interdisciplinary project employing ideas and research results from such disciplines as cultural and psychological anthropology, social psychology, psychology of child development, sociology, semiology, law, and history of Russia and Russian religion.
Konstantin V. Kustanovich is professor emeritus of Russian at Vanderbilt University.
Part I: Religion
Chapter 1: Spirituality and Education in Early Medieval Rus’
Chapter 2: Religious Culture in Muscovy: The Fifteenth through Seventeenth Centuries
Chapter 3: St. Petersburg: Development of Secular Culture
Chapter 4: Religion in Russia Today
Chapter 5: A Culture Oriented toward Expression: The Legacy
Part II: Russian Collectivism and the Work Ethic
Chapter 6: Historical Origins of the Russian Work Ethic
Chapter 7: Attitudes toward Work through the Eyes of Russian Literature
Part III: Legal Nihilism: The Tradition of Law and Morality in Russia
Chapter 8: A Case Study: Vitaly Kaloyev—A Murderer or a Hero?
Chapter 9: Concepts of Legal Nihilism in the Contemporary Russian Context
Chapter 10: Historical Roots of Russian Legal Nihilism
Chapter 11: Law in Contemporary Russia
Part IV: Perceptions and Reactions
Chapter 12: Russian Perceptions of America: Historical Perspective
Chapter 13: Individual Characteristics of Consciousness and Perception of a Foreign Culture
Chapter 14: Development of Individual Consciousness within National Culture
Chapter 15: Asymmetry in Russians’ Perception of America and Americans’ Perception of Russia