Russia doesn’t usually come to mind when you think of cosmopolitan or interfaith initiatives. But the country is in fact one of the most diverse in the world, with around 160 ethnic minorities and several of the world’s major religions, including Islam, Judaism, and Buddhism. In fact, the Russian Federation has the second largest number of immigrants in the world, after the United States (albeit most of them being from the former Soviet Union).
Sadly, despite this surprisingly multicultural make-up, there’s a nascent and widespread nationalist movement in Russia, which even includes Neo-Nazi elements. Racist attacks, including murders, are relatively common, including in cosmopolitan Moscow. The federal authorities have done little to appreciably reduce the incidence of this violent hate crimes.
Thankfully, many Russians are doing their part to push back against this unsettling development, and few have done so more uniquely than artist and philanthropist Ildar Khanov. His is by far the most creative project of it’s kind, as it is indeed the only one of it’s kind: an architectural wonder known as the Temple of All Religions, also called the Temple of the Universe. It’s a marvel of both artistic and humanitarian achievement, and though it’s still under construction, it looks spectacular:
This beautiful complex combines the religious motifs of Islam, Russian Orthodox Christianity, Judaism, and other religions, with plans to add a total of 16 distinct cupolas to represent the world’s major faiths. Appropriately, it’s being constructed in Kazan, the capital and largest city of the Republic of Tatarstan, a region in Russia known for it’s peaceful and centuries-long intermingling of many cultures and faiths (indeed, it bills itself as the 1,000 year-old crossroad between Asia and Europe).
Despite it’s appearances, the structure may not actually serve any religious functions (I’ve read mixed things), but is instead intended to double as both a cultural center and a residence of Khanov and his assistance. The Tatar Russian humanitarian is known for his efforts to combat drug addiction, alcohol, and a number of diseases, making the promotion of tolerance and understanding just the latest in a long line of humanist causes. Many of those he’s helped treat are contributing funds and labor to the Temple’s construction, though I’m not sure when it’s going to be finished (it’s been under construction since 1992).
Unfortunately, most of the information I could find online is in Russian, with the sole exception of an article in Columbia University’s School of Journalism:
For the past eight years, Khanov has been building the Church of All Faiths, a temple he hopes will house 16 different religions, an astronomical society, a puppet theater and a school of classical philosophy. Most of the worship halls are still under construction. Khanov, who financed the entire project himself, relies on donations of brick and glass from the people he heals, while patients he treats for drug addictions help with the construction. …
Khanov’s plan to include a Catholic cathedral equipped with a separate bedroom for the Pope, whom he says has already agreed to visit the temple, left some students skeptical.
“He really had me going until he started talking about a separate room for the Pope,” said student Dan Evans.
Others found Khanov’s regimen of two hours of sleep, three hours of meditation and one meal a day strange. His insistence that he sees UFOs and communicates with Jesus Christ was met with skepticism by still more members of the group. But some were impressed by Khanov’s dogged pursuit of his vision.
Kazan in general is a beautiful city, a gem at the heart of the massive Russian state:
It certainly defies the popular Western perception of dour and grimy Soviet-era infrastructure. Think of how many other wondrous places – just in Russia – that are similarly unknown.
Here are more images of the Temple: