New Conference: "Religion and Social Justice" (10-11 Dec. 2021, Moscow)


Invitation and Call for Papers 



10–11 December 2021
Moscow, Russia 



The idea of social justice is present within any religion. Even though established religions have usually accepted existing social orders and structures with their numerous unjust and oppressive relations and practices, there have always been voices within religion (such as the OT prophets) raised against injustices not only at the individual but also at the social level. Later religious authorities often tried to reinterpret such voices in a more “spiritual” sense in order to avoid conflict with political authorities and to preserve the existing social order that was usually seen as divinely instituted. 

The idea of the divine institution of social structures, even of manifestly unjust and oppressive ones, is perhaps the main reason why Christianity has often been insensitive to the issue of social justice. The church’s activities in the social sphere were mainly at the individual level (e.g. care for the sick and poor). Any concern for systemic changes in unjust social structures was usually regarded as not being the church’s business because the church’s responsibility was deemed, on the contrary, to support existing “God-given” social institutions and practices. It is for this reason that religion, at least established religion, was often perceived as a reactionary force opposing any real social changes and concerned mainly with preserving its hierarchy’s power, property and privileges by silencing any voice of protest, i.e. as indeed “the opium of the people” helping to keep unchanged unjust social structures and oppressive political regimes. 

The situation began to change at the turn of the 19th century (an important step in this was Leo XIII’s encyclical Rerum novarum, 1891) but especially after World War II when the concern for social justice (as well as for racial and gender equality, etc.) became the starting point for any serious theological reflection. Liberation theology is perhaps the most influential current here, but related theological movements such as black theology and feminist theology also are deeply concerned with the issue of social justice. Despite the fact that these movements have often been opposed by religious authorities, their ideas and practices have had significant impact on the official position of many churches as well as on society at large. Thus, “the option for the poor”, the leading idea of liberation theology in Latin America and elsewhere, has been incorporated in Catholic social teaching. 

The situation, however, was different in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, where Christianity (as well as other religions) had to struggle for survival under atheist regimes and usually had no real voice in society. After the fall of communism the main concern of religious authorities in Russia and in other post-soviet countries became enlarging religion’s influence in society and regaining church property confiscated during the communist period. This was often achieved by means of establishing close links with the new state authorities seen as guarantors of the church’s well-being. The issue of social justice, however, was often overlooked or delegated to a “lower” level of individuals or groups within the church who worked with the homeless, disabled and terminally ill. The idea of social justice as the principle on which society should be built was actually forgotten or remained only verbal in religion’s official rhetoric (as, e.g., in Bases of the Social Concept of the Russian Orthodox Church, 2000). Having gained quite some “weight” in society in material or cultic terms, religion is now losing its moral authority because it rarely raises its voice to condemn abounding social injustices and is afraid to call for serious changes aimed at creating a just social state. This situation can be described not as “the option for the poor and the weak” but rather as “the option for the rich and the powerful” with whom the official religion often tends to identify itself. The issue of religion and social justice thus remains very hot in Russia as well as in other post-soviet countries. 

The forthcoming conference aims to discuss this problem from different angles, especially by way of theological reflection that makes concern for social justice its starting point and approaches the divine from a social perspective.  


Those who wish to present a paper should send a summary (400–500 words) by email to St. Andrew’s Institute by 15 November 2021. The Organizing Committee selects papers for the Conference and sends invitations to the speakers. The full texts of all selected papers will have to be submitted by 5 December 2021. The working languages of the conference will be Russian and English. 

Papers are scheduled for 20 minutes each. Some of the papers will be published in St. Andrew’s quarterly Pages: Theology, Culture, Education. The registration form can be found on St. Andrew’s website Registrations, summaries and papers should be sent to:

St. Andrew’s Biblical Theological Institute
Jerusalem St. 3, Moscow, 109316, Russia
Tel/Fax: +7 495 6702200 


The working days of the Conference are 10 and 11 December. The organizers can assist the speakers in finding suitable accommodation in Moscow. Some scholarships to cover part of the cost of participation in the conference might be available upon request.