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PD Dr. Sebastian Rimestad

Senior Research Fellow


Areas of Interest

  • Orthodox Christianity
  • East-Central Europe
  • Religion and Modernity
  • Religion and Politics
  • Religious Conversion

Russian Orthodox Concepts of Secularity

This project investigates the way Russian thinkers of the 18th and early 19th centuries conceptualised and evaluated the concept of ‘the secular’. The traditional view is that political actors saw secularisation as a desirable trait helping Russia to modernise, whereas church actors considered it the downfall of Christian civilisation. This simplistic view needs further elaboration, with more thorough consideration of the way religion was conceptualised in Russia in the pre-Petrine era. To this end, the project will analyse the work of three key players in Russian religious history: Petr Mohyla (Mogila, Movila, 1596-1647); Feofan Prokopovich (1681-1736); and Aleksei Khomiakov (1804-1860).

Interpretations of the roles played by these three individuals in Russian historiography are mixed. While they have been hailed as important figures in the development of the modern Russian Orthodox identity, they have also been criticised for the way in which they incorporated ideas into their thinking that were presumed to come from ‘the West’. Mohyla and Prokopovich were particularly criticised.

Mohyla is credited with updating Russian Orthodox theology by systematising it and standardising theological education. Prokopovich is the face of the Petrine reforms of the early 18th century that turned the Russian Orthodox Church into a modern state church. Khomiakov is the founder of Slavophilism, the most prominent development of Russian religious philosophy in the 19th century. These three actors can be said to embody the development of Russian Orthodox thinking on key notions that, in the West, had profoundly shaped the relationship between state, nation, and religion.

By looking in detail at key concepts and the works of the three authors, the project will illustrate the way the Western concept of ‘secularity’ was appropriated in the Russian Orthodox ecclesiastical context and attached to pre-existing concepts of the non-religious. In line with the Multiple Secularities approach, I will endeavour to expand knowledge of Slavic and Orthodox Christian understandings of the boundary between ‘the religious’ and ‘the secular’.


09/2021 - present

Research Associate (Heisenberg-Fellow), Institute for the Study of Religions, Leipzig University (Germany)

10/2020 - 03/2021

Senior Research Fellow, Humanities Centre for Advanced Studies (HCAS) “Multiple Secularities – Beyond the West, Beyond Modernities,” Leipzig University (Germany)


Habilitation, Department of Religious Studies, University of Erfurt (Germany)


Research Associate, University of Erfurt (Germany)


PhD (Dr. phil.), Religious Studies, University of Erfurt, Germany


M.A. Religious Studies, University of Erfurt (Germany)


MA(Hons), Politics and International Relations, University of Aberdeen (UK)

Relevant Publications

  • Rimestad, Sebastian and Vasilios Makrides (eds.). Coping with Change: Orthodox Christian Dynamics between Tradition, Innovation, and Realpolitik, Berlin: Peter Lang, 2020.
  • Rimestad, Sebastian. “International Law and the Transnational Dimension of the Russian Orthodox Church.” In Russian Discourses on International Law: Sociological and Philosophical Phenomenon. Edited by P. S. Morris, 158–73. Abingdon: Routledge, 2018.
  • Rimestad, Sebastian (ed.). “Reformation in Nordosteuropa.” Nordost-Archiv 25 (2016), special issue.
  • Rimestad, Sebastian. “The Russian Orthodox Church in Western Europe: One or Many?” Religion, State and Society 43, no. 3 (2015): 228–43.
  • Rimestad, Sebastian. “Die Bildung Orthodoxer Kirchen in nichtorthodoxen Ländern am Beispiel Skandinaviens.” In Religion/-en als gesellschaftliche Konflikt- und Integrationsfaktor/-en. Edited by Peter Antes, 107–20. Göttingen: VR-Unipress, 2013.
  • Rimestad, Sebastian. “Latvieši un Pareizticība.” In Reliģiozitāte Latvijā: Vēsture un Mūsdienu Situācija. Edited by Solveiga Krūmiņa-Koņkova, 161–76. Riga: FSI, 2012.
  • Rimestad, Sebastian. The Challenges of Modernity to the Orthodox Church in Estonia and Latvia (1917-1940). Frankfurt/Main: Peter Lang, 2012. 
  • Rimestad, Sebastian. “Die Russische Orthodoxe Kirche in den Ostseeprovinzen und in Litauen im Vergleich (1836-1905).” In Zwischen Glaube und Nation. Edited by Markus Krzoska, 71–85. München: Martin Meidenbauer, 2011. 
  • Rimestad, Sebastian and Lukasz Fajfer. “The Patriarchates of Constantinople and Moscow in a Global Age: A Comparison.” International Journal for the Study of the Christian Church 10, no. 2-3 (2011): 211–27.