NOVEMBER 28, 2016
This is Part 3 of a three-part series based on exclusive interviews with noted scholars of religion, politics, and sociology, as well as experts in Soviet and post-Soviet studies.
ST. PETERSBURG, Russia—Jehovah’s Witnesses and their literature have been subject to court-appointed analysis by the Center for Sociocultural Expert Studies in Moscow. One study was completed in August 2015 and was used as the basis for an ongoing case against the Witnesses’ New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures, while another study is pending.
Highly regarded experts inside and outside of Russia debunk these studies. One such scholar, Dr. Mark R. Elliott, founding editor of the East-West Church and Ministry Report, observes: “State-approved ‘expert’ witnesses on religious questions, including those who disapproved Jehovah’s Witnesses’ scriptures, typically lack expertise and credibility as they issue ill-founded ‘opinions’ on matters of faith.”
Specifically addressing the Center for Sociocultural Expert Studies, Dr. Roman Lunkin, head of the Center for Religion and Society at the Institute of Europe, Russian Academy of Sciences in Moscow, notes that “not one of the experts has a degree in religious studies and they are not even familiar with the writings of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Their analysis included quotes that were taken from information provided by the Irenaeus of Lyon Centre, a radical Orthodox anti-cult organization known for opposing Jehovah’s Witnesses, as well as many other religions and denominations.”
“Unfortunately, I would have to agree with Dr. Lunkin,” states Dr. Ekaterina Elbakyan, professor of sociology and management of social processes at the Moscow Academy of Labor and Social Relations. “It is true that in Russia today religious expert studies are often performed by people who are not specialists, and are made-to-order, so to speak, where an expert is not free to state his true findings.”
Dr. Elbakyan, who participated in two trials in Taganrog and was present as a specialist-expert in the appellate court in Rostov-on-Don, further explains: “I saw with my own eyes the video material on the basis of which Jehovah’s Witnesses were charged with extremism. Twice I gave a detailed commentary in court explaining that this was a typical Christian religious service and had nothing to do with extremism, but the court did not take the expert opinion into consideration. It is impossible not to see this as a clear and systematic trend toward religious discrimination. As long as this trend continues, there are, of course, no guarantees that believers will cease to be classified as ‘extremists’ because of their beliefs.”
International: David A. Semonian, Office of Public Information, 1-718-560-5000
Russia: Yaroslav Sivulskiy, 7-812-702-2691