“God values intentions”: Abortion, expiation, and moments of sincerity in Russian Orthodox pilgrimage

Sonja Luehrmann


A broad understanding of sincerity includes the assumption that intentions matter for evaluating an action. Studies of Western Christianity often tell of an increasing focus on internal self-interrogation that led to an ideal of sincerity as a form of modern selfexpression. Based on research with Russian Orthodox women who expiate abortions, I argue that intention matters here too, but not always and not in the form of deep interiority. During confession and pilgrimage, there are external criteria for evaluating oneself and others, including the ability to carry out plans without distraction and bear hardships without complaint. Some standards originate in the Soviet period, but judging intentions based on observable actions has a long tradition in Orthodox Christianity, traceable to Louis Dumont’s idea of the outworldly individual and its modern adaptations. Dumont’s perspective opens the way to investigating the temporal and social contexts in which a focus on sincere intentions can emerge.


interiority, confession, pilgrimage, abortion, Russian Orthodox Christianity

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.14318/hau7.1.015