Religious Architecture and Sightseeing

Table of Contents

This issue of Genron presents the inaugural Genron Seminar, a new project to publish material of high academic value from seminar events held at Genron Café.

In this Seminar, architectural historian Akiko Honda and cultural historian Sanami Takahashi gave presentations on religious architecture and tourism from the Soviet period to the present day. Russian literary scholar and Genron manager Yoko Ueda served as the moderator.

Takahashi intertwined the history of Russian pilgrimage history with the question of how churches had become tourist spots supported by strong nationalism during the Soviet era when religion was politically considered taboo. The Solovetsky Monastery in northern Russia, best known for having been converted into a prison and depicted in Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s The Gulag Archipelago and other works, recovered its status as a monastery in 1988, and has now become a popular pilgrimage and tourist site. After the end of World War II, a reappraisal of Russian values occurred through the restoration of churches that had been destroyed during the war against Nazi Germany, and they became cultural heritage sites. Takahashi concluded that tourist locations based around these structures now mediate memories of religion and war, forming a new nationalist mythos.

Honda introduced Archstoyanie, an architectural arts festival held in a small village 200 kilometers from Moscow. Alexander Brodsky, who participated in the festival, is one of the leading figures of “paper architecture.” Brodsky is an architect but is strongly skeptical of the concept of “building.” He thinks that to build something is to destroy what previously existed. At Archstoyanie, Brodsky gathered materials brought from other lands to create works to show and embody the reproductive potential of architecture. Honda pointed out that Brodsky premises the creation of new landscape itself as a sort of fantasy.

The ensuing discussion focused on Brodsky and his philosophy that architecture is a forgetting of the past. Takahashi argued that it reminded her of churches endeavouring to erase the memory of the conversion of religious architecture into museums. Ueda mentioned that the secular transformation and adoption of the religious was widely observed in the Soviet era. The influence of religion paradoxically strengthened due to its annihilation by communism.