On 15 June at 12:15 Irina Sadovina will defend her doctoral thesis "In Search of Vedic Wisdom: Forms of Alternative Spirituality in Contemporary Russia".
Professor Ülo Valk
Dr Kaarina Aitamurto, University of Helsinki
The social climate in contemporary Russia is not particularly indulgent towards alternative spirituality. Viewed by the law as secondary to the country’s “historical religions,” such movements often appear at the center of controversies and are vilified in the media. Nevertheless, alternative spirituality in today’s Russia has not only survived but flourished. For example, the teachings of Vedic Wisdom have made successful inroads into popular psychology. How can we explain the resilience of this concept, and the alternative spirituality milieu in general, given the hostile environment?
Current scholarship on Russian alternative spirituality tends to approach these questions either by tracing the large-scale changes in the country’s religious landscape, or by focusing on the dynamics of single movements. I argue, however, that the picture of alternative spirituality in Russia is incomplete without a third perspective, which can capture the mutual entanglement of the milieu. In this project, I develop such a perspective by focusing on Vedic Wisdom.
Based on traditional and virtual ethnographic research in Russia (2012-2019), this project shows that Vedic Wisdom is not a single teaching, but a discursive cluster that forms a distinct vernacular belief tradition within the Russian alternative spirituality milieu. In the thesis, I describe
three of its most influential iterations: neo-Hindu teachings, Slavic-inspired spirituality and popular psychology. In the case studies that make up this project, I show how different actors – from spiritual seekers to feminist activists – engage in negotiation, legitimation, contestation and other discursive practices that make and unmake the Vedic Wisdom tradition. To explain the paradoxical resilience of Vedic Wisdom, I show that it is implicated in broader national and global cultural phenomena: notably, the turn towards traditional values and the popularization of neoliberal practices of the self.