Is it Enough?

Pope Leo XIII concludes his writing by stating that the employer and the worker need each other; they have a dependent relationship. This may seem obvious, but the simplicity of the situation did not occur to me until I read Rerum Novarum where Pope Leo related the struggle of the worker to human nature. Pope Leo was an intelligent, adaptable, decently educated young boy who caught the eye of members in the Church. He eventually worked up the line on rank due to his enthusiastic energy and self-control. Pope Leo XIII offered a new pursepective during the time of nation wide suffering. He earned his popularity through his acceptance of the changing world around him and his willingness to prove to the public that the church was willing to adapt to these changes.


In his piece Rerum Novarum meaning “of new things”, written in 1891, the pope acknowledges the struggle many members of the working class were facing during that time as a result of the Industrial Revolution. He explains the reasons why he sees this struggle, stating that since the guilds were abolished, there was no one to protect the working class man. One can tell from this reading, that he is not a fan of the State, although he believe that its existence is necessary when resolving familial issues etc. he believes that man is in charge of his own life and therefore does not need to rely on the state. He brings up God when discussing the idea of private property (which he is in favor of) stating that He did not create land for people to own all for themselves as a symbol of power, rather He created it as a resource so man could satisfy his needs. He also critiques socialism, a proposed solution to the power struggle capitalism created, by saying that it would only hinder the working class man and cause more chaos. He ends his piece by analyzing the relationship between the landowner and the laborer, stating that they need each other in order to survive and progress.


Pope Leo XIII analyzes and proposes an abundance of ideas in this piece, some I am still trying to wrap my head around. Do you think that the working class accepted his theory about the relationship between the landowner and laborer? Do you think because it was coming from the Pope, people would be more or less likely to accept this idea? What I am getting at is, do you think religion was enough for people to settle and accept their situation and Pope Leo XIII says they should?

Religion and Pop Culture in Post-Kievan Rus’

Religion had a very prominent role in pop culture in Post-Kievan Rus’, influencing the social structure, everyday life,  and art as well.  Churchmen and high officials were easily threatened of the toppling of the social structure throughout Rus’ and were highly cautious of the entertaining minstrels. The Rus’ minstrels were looked down upon by the church because their performances “caricatured the world around them,” ((Kaiser and Marker 128)) no doubt making fun of the church at times.  But because the church was a part of the elite society, they were able to “[prevent] the minstrels from bequeathing these performances to subsequent generations,” ((Kaiser and Marker 128)) thus displaying the church’s power to the people of Rus’.

Religion was also important in everyday life for the people of Rus’ as displayed by The Last Will and Testament of Patrikei Stroev.  Stroev introduces himself as a “slave of God” ((Kaiser and Marker 130)) and mentions the Holy Trinity throughout his will.  Interesting to note is how the first sentence of the document is as if he were saying the sign of the cross, and beginning to pray “In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost” ((Kaiser and Marker 130)).

Beyond influencing social structure and everyday life, religion also heavily impacted the art in Rus’, especially the artwork of Andrei Rublev.  Rublev painted to decorate the churches because his “faith overflowed from him, and inspired him in his creative achievement” ((Kaiser and Marker 142)).  Because the themes in his paintings were heavily religious, they were able to “silently [take] part in Orthodox liturgy” ((Kaiser and Marker 142)).  Rublev’s work provides evidence of a cultural awakening in the fourteenth century, after the destruction of the Mongols.

Question to consider:

Why does Stroev begin his will as if he were about to pray by using the sign of the cross?

Works Cited

Kaiser, Daniel H. and Gary Marker. Reinterpreting Russian History: Readings, 860-1860s. New York: Oxford University Press, 1994.



Cultural Changes due to Mongol Invasion

It is clear that the Mongol’s conquest of Russia was the cause of huge amounts of destruction in Russia as they are consistently described as “cruel and evil infidels” ((Kaiser and Marker 105)).  However, Halperin’s view on the Mongolian influence was particularly interesting as he does not focus on the negative contributions from the Mongols but the positive  influences the Rus people borrowed from them in order to better their society.  In order to fully understand the influence of the Mongol’s in Rus’ society, It is important to recognize the different perspectives taken when analyzing this historical event.

Both documents clearly state that the Mongol’s were the cause of serious destruction in Rus and they can even be blamed for our present lack of knowledge of early Rus societies due to the mass burnings of hundreds of written texts.  But both documents also claim that the Mongols had a prominent impact on multiple aspects of the Rus culture.  Sakharov states that the art in Rus suffered greatly as this job “rested upon manual tools and involved many years of practice,” and he continues to blame the Mongols and their mass slaughter for the decline of Rus art and architecture ((Kaiser and Marker 137)).  Halperin argues another view point, provoking the thought that “Mongols influenced Russia, but the Russians did not influence the Tatars,” essentially saying that Russia did not have anything to offer the Mongols to better their society ((Kaiser and Marker 105)).  This same thought is carried on throughout Halperin’s piece as he stresses the point that the Russian’s were the ones borrowing military, political, and administrative ideas from the Mongols.  Interesting to note is the fact that religion, a key aspect to culture, is one of the only things that remains untouched by the Mongols.

Why did the Mongols believe it was so important to keep Russian Orthodoxy prominent in Rus?

How big of an impact do the Mongols have in affecting our knowledge of early Rus today?  Would we have more knowledge of the culture had the Mongols not invaded?


Works Cited

Kaiser, Daniel H. and Gary Marker. Reinterpreting Russian History: Readings, 860-1860s. New York: Oxford University Press, 1994

The Mongols and their Relationship with the Orthodox Church

By most accounts, the Mongol invasion was a bloody time for the people of Russian territories in the thirteenth century. Arriving from southeastern Russia in 1223, they had superior military tactics to overthrow the Russian Princes and keep that power for the next 150 years to 250 years with the help of their proficient administration skills that Russian officials lacked. The wide-spread massacre and destruction ruined towns and deprived the population at large from farming land in the steppe and from critical trade routes. Although some scholars focus more on the positive Mongol influences to Russian culture (some administrative language and military knowledge), it is clear that the Mongols left the society devastated. ((Riasanovsky and Steinberg 63-70))

The people of the Russian Orthodox faith saw this display of cruelty and killing as “the Christian God [employing] the Tartars (Mongols) to punish Rus for the folly of its princes who, rather than abiding by the wise advice of Grand Prince Iaroslav … instead fought against one another, and had failed to honor one another.” ((Kaiser and Marker 100)) But despite the Mongols’ hostile behavior, they eventually chose to respect the Russian Orthodox Church and any of its clergy and members and let them practice their religion in peace. In the Mongol Immunity Charter to Metropolitan Peter, we see that the church is given official recognition as an “independent institution” and the Mongol population is forbidden to “interfere in church affairs or in the metropolitan’s business, for they are God’s business.” ((Kaiser and Marker 102)) They make it very clear that the Church is not be bothered and no one is to be offended by any acts of the Mongol’s or else the “wrath of God will be on him.” ((Kaiser and Marker 102))

Given their attitudes to the Orthodox faith, what does that tell us about the importance of religion to the Mongols?

How did this affect the Russian culture and lifestyle moving forward in the future?

Are there any lasting effects from the Mongol invasion that we can see in today’s Russian society?

Works Cited

Kaiser, Daniel H. and Gary Marker. Reinterpreting Russian History: Readings, 860-1860s. New York: Oxford University Press, 1994.

Riasanovsky, Nicholas V. and Mark D. Steinberg. A History of Russia to 1855. 7th ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 2005

Freud’s Weltanschauung

Sigmund Freud, known to college students everywhere for his ability to trace all human activity back to sex, published “Civilization and Die Weltanschauung” in 1918, near the end of World War I. While Freud never explicitly mentioned WWI in the excerpt discussed here, he did state that man’s natural inclination to aggression is one of the greatest impediments to civilization. The struggle between a number of contrasting factors, including the struggle between the instinct for life and the instinct for destruction (aggression) forms the evolution of human civilization, according to Freud.

Considering the time in which Freud wrote, and his references to Marxism, it seems impossible that Freud could have written on the topic of aggression without WWI influencing his thinking and writing to some extent. WWI provided a perfect example of the instinct for aggression (an unnecessary war and unnecessary loss of life) alongside an instinct for life (soldiers fighting to preserve their own lives and those of their countrymen and women). Freud also stated that the superiority of reason and intellect over other cultural forces, especially religion, provided the best hope for the future of civilization. He compared religion to neuroticism of the mind and saw it as an irrational, dangerous force. Whereas religion is divisive, in Freud’s mind, reason is unifying.

The early twentieth century was a time of great change, crisis, and rivalry in Europe. Religion and reason, life and aggression–these dichotomies explained die Weltanschauung of the time for Sigmund Freud.

Religious Symbolism as Rebellion in Akhmatova’s ‘Requiem’

In the Catholic Church, a requiem is a mass dedicated to the souls of the departed. Therefore, it serves as a fitting title for Anna Akhmatova’s poem written for those who suffered in the prisons and were executed under Stalin’s regime. Akhmatova wrote ‘Requiem’ in stages between 1935 and 1940, a time of unrest in the Soviet Union. After the prelude and dedication, the poem details the pain and anguish the people of the Soviet Union experienced during this time through the viewpoint of a widow who lost her husband to injustice and whose son is imprisoned. The point of view then changes briefly to the son then to third person when Akhmatova describes what she labels the crucifixion. Finally, it ends with an epilogue in the voice of Akhmatova, who seeks to remember the dead.

Throughout the poem, Akhmatova weaves Catholic religious references and symbolism into her condemnation of the events of 1935-1940. The title alone carries Catholic connotations, as previously mentioned. The first reference occurs when the widow describes the day her son was taken away. The line reads, “A candle flared, illuminating the Mother of God…/ The cold of an icon was on your lips, a death-cold sweat…”[1] Given that the Communists outlawed the Russian Orthodox Church in the Soviet Union, the presence of icons in a person’s household is illegal and dangerous. A second instance of an allusion to Catholic symbols is, “And, upon your cross, the talk/ Is again of death.”[2] However, the section entitled “Crucifixion” contains the most obvious religious implications.  Quoting directly from the Bible, two lines read, “To his father he said, ‘Why hast thou forsaken me!’/ But to his mother, ‘Weep not for me. . .’”[3] These lines appear to be attributed to the imprisoned son, which would provide a connection between the Soviet prisoners and Jesus, a martyr and savior.

It is apparent that Akhmatova condemns the policies of Stalin and his government, especially their treatment of prisoners. Her use of Catholic imagery only highlights this and serves as an additional form of rebellion against the regime. She calls for the prisoners, or martyrs as she sees them, to be remembered even though she fears she and the rest of the world will forget.

[1] Anna Akhmatova, Requiem,, accessed March 14, 2015.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

Heads Would Roll, But That Wasn’t Enough

Just as Louis XIV  created symbols of his power as the absolute ruler of France, such as the palace of Versailles and even himself (he was the “Sun King” and claimed that he was the state/the state was him), so did the leaders of the French Revolution create their own symbols and culture in order to aid their overthrow of the monarchy and subsequent attempts to create a whole  new society.

In a pamphlet entitled What is the Third Estate?, Emmanuel Joseph Sieyès wrote that the Third Estate was “everything.” He argued that because the Third Estate made up the vast majority of France’s people (about 96%), and because it was the only segment of the Estates-General that contributed to the maintenance and betterment of the state, that it therefore was the state. Here, Sieyès made the opposite claim as Louis XIV, but he makes his claim for the same reason: to show where the power of France should lay. Instead of making the king the symbol of France, Sieyès made the common people the symbol of the nation. This trend continued in some of the artwork of the revolutionary period, as common people were shown dressed in fine clothing and in improved health but also performing tasks that would be useful to both themselves and the greater good of the state.

When Maximilien Robespierre wrote about the Supreme Being, he did so not out of religious fervor (although that could have played a role) but because the revolutionaries needed another way to unite the diverse peoples of France. Robespierre asserted that the French Revolution would be supported by the Supreme Being, as He created man to seek liberty and punish tyrants. Robespierre cleverly wrote about the Supreme Being in a Deist manner that would allow both Catholics and people of a more agnostic/atheist persuasion to relate to Robespierre’s argument, and his version of the Supreme Being also enabled him to maintain the Enlightenment ideal of Reason without completely trampling religion into the dirt.

Fashion during the revolutionary period also took on an Enlightenment spin, as dressing in clothes inspired by ancient Greece became a trend. The French thought of the people of ancient Greece as great thinkers and writers, so they sought to emulate this society that placed a value on reason that they saw as being like France’s. Additionally, the first known democracy occurred in ancient Greece, and while France by no means became the paragon of democracy at that point, people of a revolutionary mindset wanted to invoke the Greeks as an example of a nation that placed a high value on liberty, equality, and fraternity.

Chopping off some elaborately coiffed heads could not transform France alone; alongside the political actions and ramifications of the revolution, revolutionary leaders changed the symbols and culture of France in order to unite the Third Estate in rejection of the old order.

Questions for your consideration:

How does Robespierre’s treatment of religion compare to or differ from that of other revolutionary leaders (such as those in the American Revolution or the Communist revolution in Russia)?

In what other ways did the revolutionaries of France use symbols to their advantage? What kinds of symbols do we and/or our leaders use in the U.S. today?

Do you agree that the political revolution in France would not have been possible had it not been accompanied by a cultural one as well?




The Cult of the Supreme Being

One of the main factors contributing to the French Revolution was an intensifying contempt for the relationship between the Catholic church and the State. Robespierre alludes to this dissatisfaction in his writing saying, “He did not create priests to harness us … to the chariots of kings”. Robespierre was one of the most influential figures in the French Revolution, but rather than lead a charge against the Church and religion like some of his revolutionary peers, he is able to rally a cause for revolution fueled by new, but fervent religious grounds. The Cult of the Supreme Being calls asserts the existence of benevolent and divine being, “who, from the beginning of time, decreed for all the ages and for all peoples liberty, good faith, and justice.” It is He who provides the revolutionists with the strength and purpose for their cause Robespierre asserts. Robespierre’s call to action is one based on religious service and natural rights: “Our blood flows for the cause of humanity. Behold our prayer. Behold our sacrifices. Behold the worship we offer Thee.”

Again, this call to sacred action appears in La Marseillaise, which claims a “Sacred love of the fatherland” will guide the revolution to victory over the “impure blood” of their enemies.

From these two readings, it becomes visible just how much the French Revolution is changing perceptions of religion and the people’s place in the State.

A Look into Peasant Life in Tsarist Russia

After reading Village Life in Tsarist Russia by Olga Semyonova Tian-Shanskaia and edited by David L. Ransel, one has gains new insight into what the world of a peasant in tsarist times looked like.  For instance, as they lived in the countryside and were not a part of urban society, their views on religion were much different than citizens living in cities.  While in the city, people were practiced Russian Orthodoxy quite strictly; however, in the countryside, peasants did not receive formal education when it came to religion, and this led to an odd mixture of paganism and Orthodoxy.  Semyanova recounts that children would learn eventually that the icon in the corner of their huts was God, and would imitate family members in crossing themselves, learning especially to do so upon hearing thunder so “Elijah Thunderbolt” would not strike them dead.  Additionally, as was the norm in peasant society, much of a child’s education was from oral tradition.  They would simultaneously learn about Elijah the prophet and “changelings, witches, house-spirits [known in Russian as domovoi], and wood-goblins.”

Something else that was fascinating in Semyanova’s findings was the medicinal practices of the Russian peasantry.  For instance, because Russian women were almost immediately called back into the fields for hard labor after childbirth, uteral prolapse was quite common.  Midwives in the villages had a few remedies for uteral prolapse, but perhaps the most bizarre remedy for “fixing the stomach,” as it was called, a midwife would soap her hands, manually push the uterus in place, “then [push] a peeled potato into the vagina and [bind] the lower abdomen tightly with a kerchief.”  While some medical advances had made their way to Russia even in the times of Catherine the Great, it seems as though much like other aspects of society, advances in the field of medicine were not reaching the peasants, making quality of life in the villages extremely challenging.  This speaks volumes about the resilience of peasants who survived such harsh conditions.


One thing that struck me in the reading was the language the peasants used to talk about themselves.  They always compared themselves (and especially women) to animals.  Why was that so?  Was it a matter of the peasants not understanding the concept of humanism, or was it that they held such little value to their own lives?

Studying Peasant Life in the Late 19th Century

Shanskaia’s Village Life in Late Tsarist Russia, an ethnographic study of peasant life in the late 19th century. Yesterday, we discussed some of the book’s major themes, namely, gender, marriage, and childhood.

Here, I want to focus on religion. Semyonova writes, “Among the mass of peasants, there is nothing mystical about their relationship to the tsar or to God, just as there is nothing mystical about their idea of an afterlife. They simply give no thought to an afterlife, just as they give no thought to the coming year. It is amazing how essentially irreligious they are! …Can they really be considered Russian Orthodox? Not at all” (136). This observation does, it certain respects, derive from Semyonova’s observations of peasants. She writes that they do not worry about the future, and nor do they think about God. Moreover, peasant religious rituals vary greatly from the nobility and clergy ones to which Semyonova is likely accustomed.

However, I think that Semyonova’s claim that peasants are “irreligious” and not Russian Orthodox is too simplistic. Earlier in the book, she explains how all baby girls and boys are baptized, a process which is grossly expensive for families which have virtually no income. Baptisms must have been important. Although one could argue that all children are baptized simply because of tradition, I think it’s impossible to claim that those baptisms had absolutely no faith backing them up. Rather, peasants simply regarded religion and God different from the nobles. Their lives were much harder; therefore, they could not devote as much time to daily rituals or even just “faithful thoughts.” Possibly, Semyonova did not recognize their religiousness because it differed so much from the precise rituals which she witnessed among the nobility. She writes that “heaven and hell are understood purely in material terms”; however, those “material terms” do not make the understanding of heaven and hell irreligious. The peasants understood these concepts based on the world which they saw every day. Semyonova over-simplifies peasant life when she claims that they cannot be considered Russian Orthodox.