Place and Role of Interreligious Dialogue in the Formation of a Russian Centralized State

03 May 2023


Sadykova E.L., doctor of political sciences, member of the Group of Strategic Vision «Russia – Islamic World», executive director of the Foundation for Strategic Dialogue and Partnership, co-authored with Galimov T.R., candidate of historical sciences


New geopolitical challenges and threats to Russia’s security actualize the study of conceptual approaches to the issues of strong statehood capable of ensuring its sovereignty. When considering the aforementioned issues, civilizational paradigm of the genesis of Russian statehood is of particular importance.

The increasing role of Russia in global political processes is due to the past historical experience of uniting peoples of different nationalities and faiths. In the process of historical development there has been a synthesis of customs, spiritual values and cultures in the Eurasian space, which retain their significance in modern life of Russian society.

Historically cultural ties of Russian lands, preserved in ethnic memory, created only certain favorable preconditions for this, which had yet to materialize. Unification into one centralized state, however, was a difficult and contradictory process, connected with the inter-princely wars of the XII-XIII centuries, changes in the local way of life and change in population’s identity (1).

In scientific research on the foundations of civilizational identity of the Ancient Russian State formation, Byzantism occupies a special place. At the time of the formation of Slavic states, Byzantium was the most highly developed civilization in the world, incorporating the legacy of Ancient Greece and Rome, Middle East and Egypt. Byzantium created this universal civilizational phenomenon, to the formation of which the Slavs also contributed (2). On the other hand, one cannot ignore the role of the East, the Turkic world and Islam, one of the main monotheistic religions, which contributed to the formation of the system of spiritual and value coordinates of peoples of Russia. Throughout the millennia of Russian history, there were processes of unification of various ethnicities and cultures, which, regardless of internal and external factors, dissolving barriers and overcoming them, preserved their identity and brought their own values and traditions to the common cultural denominator.

Active information propaganda by Western ideologists, aimed at spreading distorted facts about the past of the peoples that made up Russia and destroying the unity of the Russian people and deforming historical memory.

The ideological and consolidating role of religion in the emergence of Russian statehood is confirmed by the historical experience of Vladimir, the baptizer of Rus’, creating an Orthodox state (3). Academician G. Vernadsky wrote, ‘According to the chronicler, in 986 Vladimir was visited by religious missions from different faiths and churches: Muslims – from Volga Bulgarians, Roman Catholics – from Germany, Khazars who preached Judaism, and, finally, a preacher of Greek Orthodox Church’. (4) In his opinion, ‘the adoption of one or another of these faiths was bound to become decisive for future cultural and political development of Russia’. (5)

The XI century completed a special stage in the development of Russian lands, when with the adoption of Christianity and the creation of their statehood comes a sense of their own self-sufficiency, in fact a new round of statehood, expressed in the period of feudal fragmentation. At the same time, the XI century was also the time when the foundations of the modern state of interethnic relations were being laid by peoples whose ancestors had lived in the neighborhood hundreds, thousands of years before. The year 2022, for instance, marked the 1100th anniversary of the adoption of Islam by Volga Bulgaria. The study of cultural ties between Rus’ and Volga Bulgaria is of interest for understanding the unique unity of the peoples of Russia bound by a common historical destiny. In Russian historical science, issues of the relationship between Ancient Russia and Volga Bulgaria were considered by such pre-revolutionary scholars as Karamzin V.N., Klyuchevsky V.O., Soloviev S.M., Tatishchev V.N., and others.

Volga Bulgaria in the period of its existence prior to the Mongol conquest had economic, political and cultural partnership with Ancient Rus’, despite military clashes between them. Scholars cite examples from chronicles about the existence of ‘numerous Russian colonies in Volga Bulgaria and Bulgars on the Russian territory’. (6) Similar processes of mutual settlements of the Russian peoples and Bulgars continued during the period of Mongol rule, which influenced the emergence of similarities in culture and way of live.

During the invasion of the hordes of Genghis Khan, Orthodoxy played an important unifying ideological and political role in the Russian lands.

It is necessary to stress that this period was rather difficult in terms of safety of the Russian lands. For instance, there are historical facts about the prohibition for Catholic states to trade with Russian cities announced by Roman Popes Honorius III and Gregory IX. The Livonian Order, aiming to advance into Rus’, posed a real threat politically practically at the borders of Novgorod. As a result, the Orthodox faith in Rus’; was really threatened by Western Catholicism.

The Mongol-Tatar invasion in the XIII century, as researchers note, despite the military devastation, was not accompanied by religious oppression. (7) The Church took full advantage as a powerful political and ideological institution during the period of the Horde rule, which enabled it to significantly strengthen its spiritual authority. (8) Researchers city documentary evidence of the tolerance of the Golden Horde khans, ‘The khans prohibited their subjects from robbing and disturbing monasteries under penalty of death’. (9) It is clear that the rhetoric of tolerance and actual political practice did not always coincide, but the axiology of Russian statehood was formed in the difficult conditions of struggle for existence and the period of the Golden Horde is a part of Russian history, which does not exclude both cultural interference and Christian-Muslim dialogue.

Many domestic scholars noted the strengthening of Orthodoxy in Rus’ during the period when the Golden Horde was in power. Well-known domestic scholar N.M. Karamzin noted the negative factors of the Golden Horde period, but at the same time he saw some positive aspects of the Golden Horde for Rus’, ‘One of the memorable consequences of Tatar rule over Russia was the rise of our clergy, reproduction of monks and church estates’, the historian noted. (10) Eurasian scholars G.V. Vernadsky, P.N. Savitsky and N.S. Trubetskoy adhered to the position that the Golden Horde had a significant influence on the formation and development of the Moscow state.

In the following XV century, when the Russian lands were being united around the Moscow principality, fortunes of Muslim rulers were intersected by service in the cavalry regiments of the Russian army, marriages, kinship and family relations.

During the establishment of the Russian centralized state (the second half of the XIV century – the first half of the XVI century), not only were the lands united, but also the state cultural and civilizational bases were formed, which absorbed the best achievements of Western and Eastern cultures.


(1)  Zadokhin A.G. ‘The National Idea of Russia in a Historical Aspect’.
(2)  Sadykova E.L. ‘Inter-civilizational Dialogue in Modern International Relations: Theoretical and Practical Aspects’, dissertation, doctor of political sciences: 23.00.04.
(3)  It is no surprising that these historical circumstances aroused a particular interest of Russian President Vladimir Putin, who noted the high role of Baptism of Rus’ in the creation of a centralized state and subsequent interreligious unity and harmony established for 1000 years. See: Speech of Russian President Vladimir Putin at a reception in the Kremlin marking the Baptism of Rus’ and the commemoration of the 1100th anniversary of the death of Grand Duke Vladimir.
(4)  Vernadsky G.V. ‘Russian History’, textbook – “Agraf”, 1997. P. 41.
(5)  The aforementioned source. P. 42.
(6)  Fakhrutdinov R.G. ‘Essays on the History of Volga Bulgaria’ – M.: Science, 1984. P. 91.
(7)  Frolov A.S. ‘Philosophical and Religious Foundations of Russian Culture’.
(8)  Sadykova E.L. ‘Inter-civilizational Dialogue in Modern International Relations: Theoretical and Practical Aspects’, dissertation, doctor of political sciences: 23.00.04.
(9)  Asadullin F.A. ‘Muslim Moscow’/Asadullin V.A. – M., 2004. P. 15.
(10) Karamzin N.M. ‘History of the Russian State’ – St. Petersburg, 1616-1829. P.309.