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"HIV is God's Blessing"

"HIV is God's Blessing": Rehabilitating Morality in Neoliberal Russia

Copyright Date: 2011
Edition: 1
Pages: 280
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  • Book Info
    "HIV is God's Blessing"
    Book Description:

    This provocative study examines the role of today’s Russian Orthodox Church in the treatment of HIV/AIDS. Russia has one of the fastest-growing rates of HIV infection in the world—80 percent from intravenous drug use—and the Church remains its only resource for fighting these diseases. Jarrett Zigon takes the reader into a Church-run treatment center where, along with self-transformational and religious approaches, he explores broader anthropological questions—of morality, ethics, what constitutes a “normal” life, and who defines it as such. Zigon argues that this rare Russian partnership between sacred and political power carries unintended consequences: even as the Church condemns the influence of globalization as the root of the problem it seeks to combat, its programs are cultivating citizen-subjects ready for self-governance and responsibility, and better attuned to a world the Church ultimately opposes.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-94832-7
    Subjects: Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-18)

    Andrei was found by his mother lying on his back in the corner of the bedroom, his mouth and throat filled with his own vomit. He had been dead since the previous evening. I first met Andrei in the recreation room of The Mill, the Russian Orthodox Church’s drug rehabilitation center near St. Petersburg, where he was using the exercise equipment one afternoon in November. He told me that he had started rehabilitation two weeks earlier to get off heroin and that he was doing so for his mother. “I am all she has, and I finally realized I was...


    • ONE HIV, Drug Use, and the Politics of Indifference
      (pp. 20-30)

      As a student in the late 1980s in a Leningrad (now St. Petersburg) medical university, Natalia Aleksandrovna was taken, along with her fellow students, to a hospital to see what they were told was the first person in the city diagnosed with AIDS. Whether or not this was in fact the first known person with AIDS in Leningrad is difficult to discern, as such information was tightly controlled by the Soviet government.¹ What is clear, however, is that this experience had a lasting effect on Natalia Aleksandrovna, for within a few short years she would be one of the cofounders...

    • TWO The Church’s Rehabilitation Program
      (pp. 31-53)

      It’s seven o’clock on a Tuesday morning in late September and I’m waiting near a bus stop along a large city highway at one of the northernmost metro stations in St. Petersburg. It is early fall in northern Russia, but the weather this morning seems unusually warm. Still the people bustling around me on their way to work, or to wherever they may be heading, are wearing light jackets, some carrying umbrellas in preparation for any change in the skies. As I stand there along the highway cars pass by at speeds that seem too high for city streets; buses...

    • THREE The Russian Orthodox Church, HIV, and Injecting Drug Use
      (pp. 54-61)

      When I first began research on HIV prevention and treatment programs in Russia I told several people who work for NGOs that focus on the epidemic that I was interested in the work the Russian Orthodox Church is doing with HIV. None of them knew of any work the Church was doing concerning HIV. They knew that the Church had some drug rehabilitation programs, but they did not consider this HIV prevention work per se. The fact is, however, that the Church has had various programs since 2001 that address the HIV epidemic. These programs include preventive programs aimed at...

    • FOUR Moral and Ethical Assemblages
      (pp. 62-72)

      Learning to live in this world in a particular way is the primary goal of The Mill and the Church-run program. As is clear from the sparse literature on drug rehabilitation programs, a vital part of this therapeutic process is the attempt to remake personhood.¹ Although this is true for drug rehabilitation programs in general, it is especially so for the Church-run program, which emphasizes the moral training aspect of rehabilitation. Indeed rehabilitation in the Church-run program is described in their public documents, and was often described to me, as a process ofrabota nad soboi,or “working on the...

      (pp. 73-93)

      As should be clear from the discussion of the Church’s institutional view of HIV/AIDS, the Russian Orthodox Church sees drug addiction as a sin and a problem of immorality. It is not uncommon for priests and laypersons writing on the topic of drug addiction to mirror this view in their public discourses. For example, in his paper titled “The Christian View of the Problems of Drug Dependence,” Father Maxim calls drug addiction a “social evil” and writes that no “disease is so connected to sin as drug addiction.”¹ Similarly an Orthodox psychiatrist writing about drug addiction claims that “using drugs...

    • SIX Working on the Self
      (pp. 94-112)

      One afternoon in October I went to the Aleksandr Nevsky Lavra to attend an orientation and introduction meeting offered by a psychologist for the various Church-run rehabilitation centers. The small room next to the Lavra café where the meeting was held is only a short walk from the metro, but on this walk it is possible to see so much of recent and not so recent Russian history. Sushi restaurants and a McDonald’s share a building with a Soviet-era hotel across the street from the Lavra; new BMWs, Fords, and Toyotas race past the giant statue of Aleksandr Nevsky, who...


    • SEVEN Enchurchment
      (pp. 114-147)

      In part I, I provided an overview of not only the general social context of the current drug use and HIV epidemics in Russia today, but also the various discourses addressing these epidemics. In part II, I will slow down a bit and closely analyze some of the specific ways persons ethically work on themselves in the Church-run program. In doing so rehabilitants try to make themselves into new moral persons, the even partial success of which constitutes them as responsible subjects and as such participants in the gradual remaking of a new moral Russia. Many of these techniques have...

    • EIGHT Cultivating a Normal Life
      (pp. 148-158)

      One afternoon in May I was walking with Sasha, a volunteer, through one of the fields back to the main building of The Mill. We had been looking at the three small houses being built by rehabilitants intended to house visitors who come to The Mill for occasional seminars and conferences held on drug rehabilitation and HIV/AIDS. As we walked, Sasha and I were talking about how good the houses looked considering none of the rehabilitants had ever built anything before, let alone a house. “That is what happens here [at The Mill], people get the chance to have a...

      (pp. 159-200)

      Phenomenological anthropology and its study of intersubjective experience are often misunderstood as focused on individuals. But as should be clear from the analysis so far, the anthropology of intersubjective experience is not a focus on individuals isolated and autonomous from one another. Neither does it focus on abstract, deterministic, and structuring structures that for a long time have been the focus of social scientific and anthropological research and analysis. Instead phenomenological anthropology is concerned with therelationshipsbetween persons, institutions, and discourses that mutually shape and reshape one another. A focus on intersubjective experience is a focus on sociality as...

    • TEN Disciplining Responsibility: LABOR AND GENDER
      (pp. 201-222)

      Prayer, confession,obshchenie,and managing one’s emotional world may all be vital to the process of making normal persons, but ultimately the Church-run program recognizes that a normal person must also, as Oleg once put it to me, “contribute to society.” Two aspects of the therapeutic process at The Mill closely related to the idea of a normal life as a contribution to society were expressed to me many times throughout the course of my research: a normal life in relation to work and a normal life in relation to family, particularly in terms of relations between genders. Both of...

  7. Some Closing Words
    (pp. 223-234)

    If from the Russian Orthodox Church’s perspective HIV can be considered God’s blessing, then this book has shed light on the unintended consequences of this blessing. The Church considers HIV a blessing because it believes the illness provides a motivation for persons to change themselves. The Church-run program provides a context in which this change can take place, and the hope, if not the expectation, is that this change will result in an enchurched person. But as we have seen, not only is this rarely the case, but the very ethical practices utilized in the program provide rehabilitants with the...

  8. Notes
    (pp. 235-246)
  9. References
    (pp. 247-258)
  10. Back Matter
    (pp. 259-260)