Social and semiotic specifics of the modern cult of Ivan the Terrible

Voroncov A.V.

Dr. Sci. (Philos.), Prof., Head of the Department of Sociology and Religious Studies, the Herzen State Pedagogical University of Russia, Saint-Petersburg, Russia

Golovushkin D.A.

Сand. Sci. (Hist.), Assoc. Prof., the Department of Sociology and Religious Studies, the Herzen State Pedagogical University of Russia, Saint-Petersburg, Russia

Priluckij A.M.

Dr. Sci. (Philos.), Prof., Department of Sociology and Religious Studies, the Herzen State Pedagogical University of Russia, Saint-Petersburg, Russia

ID of the Article: 6806

For citation:

Voroncov A.V., Golovushkin D.A., Priluckij A.M. Social and semiotic specifics of the modern cult of Ivan the Terrible. Sotsiologicheskie issledovaniya [Sociological Studies]. 2017. No 8. P. 12-19


The cult of Ivan the Terrible has been recently growing in popularity both with non-canonical Russian Orthodoxy and with the marginal circles of the Russian Orthodox Church. As a product of mythological culture it is able to form a special social and cultural area of discourse. Its special feature is the interaction of conspirological, nostalgic and heroic myths. The nostalgic myth idealizes the past of the Russian monarchy using the concepts of “symphony of powers” and forms a pseudo-historical image of pre-revolutionary Russia as a kingdom of prosperity. The heroic myth idealizes certain persons — first of all statesmen, religious leaders and military commanders as well as the people as a whole, ascribing high moral standards to them. The conspirological myth appeals to the mythic concepts of secret conspiracy of mighty enemies. In this complex, the conspirological myth has etiological function, explaining the reason why the ”golden age” has come to an end and the age of so called ”decline” has begun. The agents of decline are traditionally seen as anti- Christian forces connected to “the West”, the Jews, impersonal enemies etc. The conspirological myth also has an integrative function, unifying nostalgic and heroic mythologems into one mythological narrative. The cult of Ivan the Terrible demands special apologetic techniques, because the image of this tsar in history contradicts the canons of holiness. Thai is why the mythologem of “slandered saint” is used, opening an opportunity to explain the conflict between the “historical” and the hagiographic images of Ivan the Terrible from the conspirological perspective. This mythologem is connected to the mythologem of the ritual murder, which gives an opportunity to state that Ivan the Terrible was a martyr. The concept of the ritual murder is thus based on special sacralization of the power of the tsar, on the idea of the tsar as an icon of Christ the King. So any offense against the tsar is interpreted as an act of blasphemy, as ritual anti-conduct. These both mythologems are represented in the akathists and hymns dedicated to Ivan the Terrible. They have a clear performative character which gives the texts a special social relevance and importance. The social and political actualization of the texts is realized through complex metaphors and allegories, contrasting the holy East to the wicked demonic West, a sworn enemy. Struggle against it has a religious importance. In such a way it is proved that Ivan the Terrible, slandered by the sinful enemies, is a real saint. Slander is contrasted with glorification, just as sinners are contrasted with saints and the East is contrasted with the West. These contrasts can be viewed as examples of binary oppositions of the mythological thinking, analyzed by C. Levi-Strauss.

social history; religious situation; folk religion; Ivan the Terrible; mythology; hagiography; religious cults; conspiracy theories

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Content No 8, 2017