UNESCO Chair on Comparative Studies of Spiritual Traditions, their Specific Cultures, and Interreligious Dialogue was initiated on March 14, 2001, in St.Petersburg, Russia, basing primarily on the facilities of the St.Petersburg Branch of the Russian Institute for Cultural Research, Ministry of Culture of the Russian Federation. Dr. Liubava Moreva served as its founding chairperson.
St.Petersburg was chosen as the location of the new chair, being a city with a long-ranging tradition of manifold cultural, scientific and religious diversity, characteristic of this historical, geographical and geopolitical meeting point of the East and the West of the Eurasian continent, their mutual accommodation, and fusion. At the same time, good practices and positive experiences, accumulated by UNESCO chairs for intercultural and/or interfaith studies, existing by that time in various countries (Troyes, France; Villejuif, France; Jerusalem, Israel; Bishkek, Kyrghyzstan; Bucarest, Romania; Birmingham, United Kingdom; Tashkent, Uzbekistan) were carefully regarded and taken into account.
Initially five prominent researchers were appointed as professors of the UNESCO chair in St.Petersburg (S.Khoruzhy, E.Ostrovskaya, D.Spivak, R.Svetlov, and E.Torchinov), representing respectively the following research realms: Russian Orthodox Christianity and its religious philosophy, Indian religions and religious philosophies, religious and transpersonal psychology, classical (Graeco-Roman) religious philosophy and literature, and the Chinese religions and religious philosophies.
This list was expanded in the course of the following years, to meet new prospects and challenges. Thus an affiliation of our chair was initiated in May 2003, under the guidance of professor D.Ivashintsov, to provide deeper insight into basic spiritual trends of the Russian-speaking world, both in Russia and abroad. Institute of foreign associate members was introduced in 2004, which was initially a pragmatic step, taken to support in organizational terms manifold activities of Ms. S.Burn (USA) and Ch.Mestiri (France)
In 2004, D.Spivak stepped into the position of chairperson.
Since 2006, the Chair has been part of a strategic UNESCO project, namely the UNESCO/UNITWIN network on Interreligious Dialogue for Intercultural Understanding. The Chair was the only UNESCO chair in the Russian Federation which had been invited to become a member of the newly founded network. On behalf of the Chair, D.Spivak signed the founding charter at the introductory meeting in Paris, in presence of Director-General of UNESCO.
Since May 2007, the Chair was expanded, to include the following professors: O. Astafieva, V/Dianova, S.Ikonnikova, S.Khoruzhy, L.Mosolova, N. Muskhelishvili, R.Piotrowski, K. Razlogov, E.Rezvan. A.Vasojevic, V.Zhidkov. A.Venkova served as Deputy Chair, E. V. Lunyaev as Scientific Secretary, N.Kochelyaeva and E. Endoltseva, as Associate Professors; E. Chudnovskaya and I.Sokolova, as Coordinators of the Chair.
Courses taught by the aforementioned professors comprised: 1. Theory and History of Local and World Culture; 2. History of Cultures and Civilizations; 3. History of Cultural Studies, and Methodology of Cultural Research; 4. Cultural Potentials: Actual State and Perspectives; 5. Personal Communicative Competences in Present-day World; 6. Culture as Self-organizing System; 7. Basic Issues in Contemporary Audiovisual Culture; 8. Visual Anthropology; 9. Fundamental Issues in Artistic Culture; 10. History of World Artistic Culture; 11. Cultural Politics in Times of Globalization; 12. Basic Issues in Political Psychology; 13. Management in Culture and Art; 14. Regional Studies; 15. Regional Cultures of Russia; 16. Modern Philosophies of Religion; 17. History of Ancient (Near East) Mentalities; 18. History of Classical (Graeco-Roman) Philosophy; 19. Psychology of religion; 20. Science and Religion; 21. History of Classical (Graeco-Roman) Religions; 22. The Qur’an and its Exegetics; 23. Russian Religious Philosophy; 24. Orthodox Christian Anthropology; 25. Synergetic Anthropology; 26. Psychological Issues in Synergetic Anthropology. Each of the aforementioned courses comprised from 12 to 16 standard two-hour lectures, presented as either obligatory, or, optional courses for graduate and/or, postgraduate students, leading to formal certification, in most cases in cultural or religious studies or, in philosophy. This lecturing activity encompassed the main high schools and universities of St.Petersburg and of Moscow, Russia, primarily: State University of St.Petersburg, Herzen Russian State Pedagogical University in St.Petersburg, Russian Orthodox Spiritual Academy in St.Petersburg, Russian Academy of Public Administration under the President of the Russian Federation in Moscow, Centre of Research of Religions of the Russian State University for Humanities in Moscow, Moscow Modern University for the Humanities, St. Thomas Institute of Philosophy, Theology and History in Moscow, and Moscow State Academy of Dance.
In 2007, the Chair initiated the 1st International Meeting of chairs of the aforementioned UNESCO UNITWIN network. The meeting occurred in Moscow, on September 15, 2007, at the Russian Academy of Public Administration, under the auspices of the President of the Russian Federation.
In 2008, the Chair joined the I-Dialogue web project of the UNESCO/UNITWIN Network. In May 2009, the chair participated in the Second International Meeting of the UNESCO/UNITWIN Network conducted at the Eugene University in Eugene, Oregon, USA. On this occasion, D. Spivak was elected as a member of the Executive Committee of UNESCO/UNITWIN network on Interreligious Dialogue for Intercultural Understanding. On another occasion, he was also elected member of the Executive committee of the Coordination Committee of UNESCO Chairs of the Russian Federation.
The Chair has served as instrumental and highly effective in co-organizing a number of meetings on different planes, namely at four National Congresses in Cultural Studies with international participation (St.Petersburg, Russia, from 2006 till 2013), the 3rdInternational Congress ‘Russia and Poland: Memories of Empires / Empires of Memory’ (St.Petersburg, Russia, 2012), International Conference ‘Culture of Mongolian-speaking Nations in the Globalized World’ (Elista, Kalmyk Republic, Russia, 2012), to name but a few.
In organizing these scientific events, presenting them on the web, publishing their proceedings and conducting satellite discussions, the Chair imbued them with the logic of its large-scale international research and educational project entitled ‘World Religions in Context of Contemporary Culture: New Perspectives of Dialogue and Mutual Understanding’. Experts from different countries (Armenia, Byelorussia, European Union, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kirghizstan, Lebanon, Moldova, Tadjikistan, USA, Uzbekistan) as well as the Russian Federation, were invited to take part in the project and contributed greatly to its success. Proceedings of the implementation of the project were published as a series of international collective monographs in English and Russian (cf. Christianity and Islam in the Context of Contemporary Culture: Perspectives of Interfaith Dialogue from Russia and the Middle East. – Ed. D. Spivak and N. Tabbara. – St.Petersburg / Beirut, 2009. – 287 p.; World Religions in the Context of the Contemporary Culture: New Perspectives of Dialogue and Mutual Understanding. Christianity and Islam in the Context of Contemporary Culture: New Prospects of Dialogue and Mutual Understanding in the Russian Federation and Eastern Europe, in Central Asia and the Caucasus / Eds. D. Spivak, S. Shankman. – St.Petersburg: St.Petersburg Branch of the Russian Institute for Cultural Research / Russian Baltic Information Center “Blitz”, 2011. – 208 p.).
Manifold forms of activity have been applied by the Chair, ranging from traditional lecturing, provided by the 11 professors of the Chair in dozens of academic topics to such novel forms as a day-long web conference, which has been organized by us yearly since 2013, in order to commemorate the World Day of Cultural Diversity, which had been introduced eleven years prior to that, by the decision of the General Assembly of the UN.
Special efforts were taken in order to hone the interests and perspectives of such target groups as young city dwellers, especially students, women, and migrant workers. Recurring to its numerous working connections with the leading universities of the Russian Federation, governmental bodies, NGOs and such international institutions as Network of UNITWIN/UNESCO Chairs in Interfaith Dialogue for Intercultural Understanding, the Chair has managed to provide high level of expertise and involvement, and to exert considerable impact upon cultural strategies implemented by various actors of the present-day world.
A special direction of our work comprised problems and prospects of new religious movements (NRMs) and the New Age spirituality in the postmodern world, which tend to form an integral part of present-day interfaith studies. To promote academic study of this realm, our UNESCO Chair served as co-founder of an annual conference entitled ‘Psychotechniques and Altered States of Consciousness in the History of Religions’, conducted basing on the facilities of the Russian Christian Humanitarian Academy since 2012. The plans of the Chair include further experimental studies of the intrinsic religiosity and its brain correlates, which would be conducted together with experts in psychological science and brain studies, primarily from the State University of St.Petersburg, and Human Brain Institute, Russian Academy of Sciences.
In 2014, the Chair inaugurated an affiliation in the Northern Caucasus, based at the premises of the State University of Daghestan in Derbent, Republic of Daghestan, Russian Federation. Dr. G.Seidova has been appointed its head. The affiliation comprises prominent experts in intercultural and interfaith dialogue from the leading universities of the Northern Caucasus. The main objective of this affiliation consists in conducting studies in the realm of rapprochement of cultures and interfaith dialogue in the Caucasus, primarily between Christianity, Shi’a and Suni Islam, and Judaism, as part of the large-scale international research and educational project entitled ‘World Religions in Context of Contemporary Culture: New Perspectives of Dialogue and Mutual Understanding’, initiated by the Chair.
Another perspective consists in promoting intercultural and interfaith dialogue with the Buddhist world, primarily its Lamaist part, starting primarily with such traditionally Lamaist nations of the Russian Federation as Kalmykia, Tyva, and Buryatia.
Regarding the initial period of our work as fairly prompt and effective, we feel it is timely to double our efforts, in order to meet challenges of the modern civilization, as well as to use possibilities created by its development. The former consist in the necessity to trace back, define and present to both academic and public attention conflicts and crises rooted in the spiritual and religious realms, especially at the background of struggle against global terrorism, and to elaborate intellectual, educational, and organizational means and strategies for their appeasement and harmonization – or, as we prefer to put it, for practicing the art of optimal behavior in extreme conditions. The latter consists primarily in widening the scope of our works, recurring to help of modern information technologies, as well as deepening them, mostly on the basis of transdisciplinary research and discourse. The International Decade for the Rapprochement of Cultures (2013-2022) serves as the most general reference frame for the manifold activities of the Chair.
Аrchived site of the chair.
Russian page of the chair.