In Kolyma Tales, Varlam Shalamov describes the “destruction of the human being by the state” in the Soviet labor camps. Everyday brutality, grueling work, and starvation ground down the inmate’s individual “I” into usable “human material” for the gulag economy. The gulag’s scars are both physical and spiritual. And the experience certainly caused a spiritual crisis among some former “zeks”—How to comprehend God after the gulag? Yet, there isn’t a comparable reflection on “God and/in/after Gulag” in former Soviet states that we find in the West on the Holocaust. Why? And what are the implications for post-Soviet society? This interview with Katya Tolstaya, Professor of Theology at Vrije Universiteit, Amsterdam, discusses “God and/in/after the Gulag” and its implications today. Does the theology after Gulag help us to understand Russian society and the Russian invasion of Ukraine? Why is it important to interrogate the theological implications of mass violence in the past, present, and beyond?
Katya Tolstaya is Chair of ‘Theology and Religion in Post- Trauma Societies’ and Founding Director of the Institute for the Academic Study of Eastern-European Christianity (INaSEC) at Vrije Universiteit. Her research focuses on the new field of post-Soviet theology, post-traumatic, post-totalitarian and post-genocidal studies. Theology after Gulag, Bucha and Beyond is the first phase of this project.