Orthodoxy as Solidarity

Orthodoxy as solidarity: an examination of popular and conciliar Orthodoxy in Estonia during the ‘long 20th century’

Project Description

This project offers a case study of Orthodox solidarity in the Baltic with the focus on Estonia, which was expressed in councils, assemblies, charitable associations, brotherhoods, monasticism, and youth movements that crossed ethnic, geographical and social divides. We study this through the concept of conciliarity (sobornost), looking at specific practices in which conciliarity was expressed.

The congress of the Orthodox clergy in Riga, 1905. Foto from the collection of Alexander Dormidontov. 

The project will point to a variety of “conciliar practices” that formed outside and alongside ethnic forms of solidarity, their crises, and their breakdowns as a result of war, nationalism and political oppression. Applying a network approach, we would like to offer an innovative analysis of how Orthodox concepts of authority and practices of conciliarity affected the activities of both religious and secular actors in the period that followed the collapse of the Russian Empire, how these practices were instrumentalized to promote nation-building and how they affected ecclesiological crises.

The main objectives 

The study will focus on the ideas, forms and practices of Orthodox conciliarity (brotherhoods and charitable associations, councils, assemblies, youth movements and monasteries). These institutions had all or some of the following features: a considerable degree of self-government; the principle of election; collaborative decision-making; associational status; and involvement of the laity, including women. These associations often were transnational. These diverse practices will be analyzed synchronically and diachronically; their activity will be assessed vis-à-vis institutional church authority through the network method. The project will focus on four main periods: late imperial (1880s-1919), Estonian independence (1919-40/44), the Soviet (1940/1944-1993), and the post-Soviet (to the present).

  1.  to contribute to novel studies that re-evaluate existing narratives of the history of imperial and post-imperial spaces with a focus on religion in Estonia through high-quality academic publications and presentations.
  2. to re-evaluate conciliarity, the key concept in Orthodox religious thought, applying the method of conceptual history (Begriffgeschichte) in order to demonstrate its contested character, historical development and the dangers of essentialization.
  3. to bring Orthodoxy into the focus of historians, international Orthodox experts and ecumenical observers as a case study that sheds light on some problems that contemporary churches experience today.
  4. to promote knowledge of Orthodoxy in Estonia among scholars, students, school teachers and the general public through the creation of a permanent dataset of historical materials and images (Digiorthodoxy), as well as teaching materials.
Several members of the project standing in front of the Orthodox Church of the Protection of the Mother of God in the village of Nina at our ‘Orthodoxy as Solidarity Project Bootcamp’, 18-20 July 2021.


The project  is hosted at the School of Theology and Religious Studies. It has received funding from Estonian Research Foundation (ETAG) PRG 1274.


The Plural FORUM for Interdisciplinary Studies, Moldova
Scholarly collaboration with NGO in the Republic of Moldova
Narva museum
Public collaboration to organise a series of online talks for the general public in autumn 2021