New trends in eHumanities- Katja Tolstaja

Katja Tolstaja, VU University Amsterdam


November 26, 2015. 15.00-17.00 hrs. At the eHumanities group.

Mapping the Dynamics of Sacred Space in post-Soviet Russia and Ukraine

After 74 years of the Soviet oppression, the Orthodox Churches have experienced a broad revival, and sacred places are considered an important part of the national cultural heritage. In particular, over the last two decades pilgrimage has become increasingly popular, and hundreds of monasteries, churches and shrines have been restored. For example, Russia has ca. 1,000 monasteries, Ukraine some 250. However, the degree to which this visible and implicit transformation represents continuity with pre-revolutionary Orthodox tradition and testifies to a spiritual revival, remains deeply contested. Moreover, the current revival of Orthodoxy is often exploited for political, financial and other means. At the same time, information about sacred places and pilgrimage routes is very scarce and inaccessible, not systematic, and above all incomplete. Given the current geopolitical situation the information is often framed in nationalistic or xenophobic terms and used by diverse ideologies (e.g. pro-Russian or pro-Ukrainian). In my talk I will focus on socio-political, academic and technical aspects and problems of a project which aims to map ‘sacred places’ by developing a digital, interactive map/database of pilgrimage routes and ‘sacred places’ in Russia and Ukraine, and which will provide believers / monastery visitors and pilgrims as well as scientists with practical and reliable information.


Katja Tolstaja is a theologian who specializes in the revival of the Russian Orthodox Church and the impact of the Soviet legacy on Russian Orthodoxy. She is founder and director of INaSEC (Institute for the Academic Study of Eastern Christianity, and Associate Professor at VU University Amsterdam, Faculty of Theology. As NWO-Veni laureate (2009-2012) she studied the transformation and (re-)invention of Orthodox theology and practice in Russia and Ukraine. For this research she traveled app. 40.000 km and visited more than 300 monasteries and shrines.