Victoria Fomina (PhD candidate at Department of Sociology and Social Anthropology Central European University)


Thursday 22 November, 4-5.15pm, Buchanen Building, Room 216


This talk will explore how Christian Orthodox conceptions of economy come together with neoliberal visions of the market and social virtue in post-Soviet Russia. It analyzes Orthodox intellectuals’ recent attempts to break away from the ascetic legacy of Orthodox tradition and positively rethink the ethicality of wealth accumulation. In particular, it focuses on the case of the Union of Orthodox Entrepreneurs (UOE) – a Saint-Petersburg-based organization established in 2012 with the goal of creating a culture of entrepreneurship based on Orthodox values. Drawing on fieldwork with the UOE, the paper will analyze how contemporary Orthodox entrepreneurs think about the relationship between religiosity and business and how they imagine the spiritual significance of entrepreneurial work. It argues that the Union members’ nostalgia for the honor code of imperial Russian merchants and their longing for a business community united by faith reflects the insecurities produced by the lack of effective mechanisms of contract enforcement in the post- Soviet market. Despite the UOE’s ambition of creating a shared “ethical culture,” most of its members still hold highly idiosyncratic views on the morality of commonplace legal and illegal business practices and are reluctant to subscribe to a unified code of ethical behavior. The paper will suggest that the entrepreneurs’ resistance to the idea of a code is associated both with the constraints of a market that limits their ability to act on their proclaimed values and with the distinct model of ethical formation inherent to Orthodox tradition, which resists reduction to a narrow ethical code and offers believers multiple individualized ways of pursuing spirituality.