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Sacred Stories

Religion and Spirituality in Modern Russia

Edited by Mark D. Steinberg and Heather J. Coleman

Publication Year: 2007

Sacred Stories brings together the work of leading scholars writing on the history of religion and religiosity in late imperial Russia during the critical decades preceding the 1917 revolutions. Embodying new research and new methodologies, this book reshapes our understanding of the place of religion in modern Russian history. Topics examined include miraculous icons and healing, pilgrim narratives, confessions, women and Orthodox domesticity, marriage and divorce, conversion and tolerance, Jewish folk beliefs, mysticism in Russian art, and philosophical aspects of Orthodox religious thought. Sacred Stories demonstrates that belief, spirituality, and the sacred were powerful and complex cultural expressions central to Russian political, social, economic, and cultural life.

Contributors are Nicholas B. Breyfogle, Heather J. Coleman, Gregory L. Freeze, Nadieszda Kizenko, Alexei A. Kurbanovsky, Roy R. Robson, Bernice Glatzer Rosenthal, Gabriella Safran, Vera Shevzov, Sarah Abrevaya Stein, Mark Steinberg, Paul Valliere, William G. Wagner, Paul W. Werth, and Christine D. Worobec.

Published by: Indiana University Press

Series: Indiana-Michigan Series in Russian and East European Studies

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pp. vii

This book emerged out of a series of collaborations, beginning with a conference organized by the two editors and held at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) on February 21–23, 2002. The conference opened with keynote addresses by Thomas Kselman (University of Notre Dame) and Laura Engelstein (Yale University), whose arguments and comments, along...

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Introduction: Rethinking Religion in Modern Russian Culture

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pp. 1-21

These essays reflect the dramatic growth of new research and interpretation on the long neglected history of religious life in late imperial Russia. An elusive object of study, religion is understood here less as the story of institutions or fixed beliefs than as a vital terrain of social imagination and practice where everyday (and extraordinary) experience, ideas, beliefs, and emotions...

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1. Miraculous Healings

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pp. 22-43

An examination of religious literature published in the last decades of imperial Russia reveals the tangible hope of a cure that Russian Orthodoxy offered to the disabled and diseased, as well as to their relatives and, indeed, all believers who feared they might fall ill. Through their prayers for the intercession of the Mother of God, Christ, the saints, and other holy persons, and...

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2. Transforming Solovki: Pilgrim Narratives, Modernization, and Late Imperial Monastic Life

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pp. 44-60

Nestled in the White Sea, near the Arctic Circle and buffeted by storms or ice for nine months every year, Solovki (also known as Solovetskii) was an unlikely pilgrimage destination. The storied monastery had weathered political, military, and religious tempests since its founding in the 1420s. From the famed piety of its founders, Saints Zosima and Savvati, to its holding out...

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3. Scripting the Gaze: Liturgy, Homilies, and the Kazan Icon of the Mother of God in Late Imperial Russia

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pp. 61-92

At the beginning of the twentieth century, during a sermon on the feast of Russia’s well-known miracle-working Kazan icon of the Mother of God, a Russian Orthodox priest beckoned his listeners to “gaze upon the image of the Queen, gaze with ardent and fervent prayer.” Recent studies in religion and visual culture have shown that such seemingly simple exhortations are...

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4. Written Confessions and the Construction of Sacred Narrative

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pp. 93-118

Confession has probably captured the imagination of more people, and been interpreted more broadly, than any sacrament in Christianity. Whether it is Jean-Jacques Rousseau writing his “letter to the world” or Protestant polemicists publishing scandalized penny tracts about what goes on between a priest and a woman at the sickbed or in the darkened booth, confession has become...

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5. “Orthodox Domesticity”: Creating a Social Role for Women

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pp. 119-145

Petitioning the Council of the Russian Orthodox Church that met between August 1917 and September 1918 for the restoration of the office of deaconess, Liudmila Gerasimova, a journalist and self-professed specialist in agriculture, argued that “the Church, the state, and humanity” would benefit in important ways from this action. As deaconesses, she asserted, “women will engage...

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6. Profane Narratives about a Holy Sacrament: Marriage and Divorce in Late Imperial Russia

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pp. 146-178

Nineteenth-century Russia had exalted the family as the bedrock of stability, but that very institution underwent profound change in the final decades of the ancien régime. Apart from reports about “family division” (semeinyi razdel) and the “hooliganism” of rebellious youth, the most dramatic sign of family breakdown was the explosive increase in the number of divorces, which...

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7. Arbiters of the Free Conscience: State, Religion, and the Problem of Confessional Transfer after 1905

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pp. 179-199

Among the many prerogatives the Russian autocracy arrogated for itself was the right to ascribe confessional affiliation to its subjects. For the most part, of course, the government accepted its subjects’ own declarations concerning their religious allegiances and, although establishing incentives for conversion to Orthodoxy, generally considered that believers would naturally remain in the...

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8. Tales of Violence against Religious Dissidents in the Orthodox Village

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pp. 200-221

In early January 1911 the Cossack village of Batalpashinskaia came to blows over the burial of a Baptist. In a telegram to the Kuban district authorities, a local Baptist preacher wrote that the trouble began when the Baptists started to dig a grave for their deceased leader, Afanasii K. Iurchenko. A crowd gathered and refused to allow the burial. For two days the body was moved from place to...

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9. Prayer and the Politics of Place: Molokan Church Building, Tsarist Law, and the Quest for a Public Sphere in Late Imperial Russia

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pp. 222-252

On January 30, 1892, the Baku police entered a building belonging to I. F. Kolesnikov with orders forcibly to seal it and evict those on the premises. The authorities believed that Kolesnikov had built and was operating a Molokan prayer house without the necessary state authorization, and they wanted to put a stop to this “crime.” It was neither the first nor last time in the late...

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10. Divining the Secular in the Yiddish Popular Press

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pp. 253-275

Scholars of Russian Jewry are accustomed to dividing modern Yiddish print culture and, arguably, Jewish culture more generally, into two distinct camps: the religious and the secular. According to this formulation, tekhines literature (prayers and weekly Torah readings in Yiddish designed, at least in part, for female readers) and vernacular rabbinical commentary are understood...

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11. Revolutionary Rabbis: Hasidic Legend and the Hero of Words

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pp. 276-303

When young Jewish men and women from the Pale of Settlement joined the Russian radical movements at the beginning of the twentieth century, they tended to imagine themselves as rejecting the conservatism, deep piety, and inwardly focused worldview associated with traditional Judaism and especially with the popular mystical movement of Hasidism. But when the Russian Jewish...

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12. “A Path of Thorns”: The Spiritual Wounds and Wandering of Worker-Poets

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pp. 304-329

Two paradoxical stories connect in this essay: manual workers who wrote poetry and a religious language that was not necessarily the language of religion. Both are stories about suffering and searching, and their interpretation in a sacred key, marked by emotional pathos and a sense of transcendent meaning, by faith but also by doubt. These are stories about language—its...

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13. A New Spirituality: The Confluence of Nietzsche and Orthodoxy in Russian Religious Thought

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pp. 330-357

Friedrich Nietzsche’s writings, of enormous influence in late-nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century Russian thought and culture, seemed to speak directly to the crisis of values induced by modernization, especially for intellectuals dissatisfied with the prevailing ideologies and seeking new ideals and values by which to live. Nietzsche’s challenge to rationalism, positivism, and...

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14. Malevich’s Mystic Signs: From Iconoclasm to New Theology

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pp. 358-376

Kazimir Severinovich Malevich (1878–1935) was an innovator as well as a prophet, as profound in his theoretical insights as he was radical in reforming conventional painterly language. His work, as artist and cultural theorist, was deeply engaged with the crisis and searching in spiritual life of his time. In a brochure printed to coincide with “0.10: The Last Futurist Painting...

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15. The Theology of Culture in Late Imperial Russia

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pp. 377-395

The emergence of a highly original tradition of religious philosophy operating along the boundary between philosophy and theology, and to some extent contesting that boundary, was one of the most distinctive developments in Russian culture in the late imperial period. Suppressed at home by the Soviets and eclipsed in the postrevolutionary Russian diaspora by the neotraditionalist...

Further Reading

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pp. 397-401

List of Contributors

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pp. 403-404


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pp. 405-420

E-ISBN-13: 9780253116703
E-ISBN-10: 0253116708
Print-ISBN-13: 9780253347473

Page Count: 432
Illustrations: 10 b&w photos
Publication Year: 2007

Series Title: Indiana-Michigan Series in Russian and East European Studies