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Old Believers in a Changing World

Polish Narratives of World War ll

Robert O. Crummey

Publication Year: 2011

This important collection of essays by a pioneer in the field focuses on the history and culture of a conservative religious tradition whose adherents have fought to preserve their beliefs and practices from the 17th century through today. Old Belief had its origins in a protest against liturgical reforms in the Russian Orthodox Church in the mid-1600s and quickly grew into a complex torrent of opposition to the Russian state, the official church, and the social hierarchy. For Old Believers, periods of full religious freedom have been very brief—from 1905 to 1917 and since the fall of the Soviet Union. Crummey examines the ways in which Old Believers defend their core beliefs and practices and adjust their polemical strategies and way of life in response to the changing world. Opening chapters survey the historiography of Old Belief, examine the methodological problems in studying the movement as a Russian example of “popular religion,” and outline the first decades of the history. Particular themes of Old Believer history are the focus of the rest of the book, beginning with two sets of case studies of spirituality, culture, and intellectual life. Subsequent chapters analyze the diverse structures of Old Believer communities and their fate in times of persecution. A final essay examines publications of contemporary scholars in Novosibirsk whose work provides glimpses of the life of traditional believers in the Soviet period. Old Believers in a Changing World will appeal to scholars and students of Russian history, to those interested in Eastern Orthodoxy, and to those with an interest in the comparative history of religious movements.

Published by: Northern Illinois University Press

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. 1-4


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pp. v-vi

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pp. vii-xiv

Old Belief is a conservative offshoot of the Russian Orthodox Church. It began in the mid-seventeenth century in opposition to Patriarch Nikon’s reforms of the liturgy and, over the following centuries, grew into a complex movement with many branches or accords, with widely differing forms of worship and conduct. ...

Historiography and Theory

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pp. 3-4

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One—Past and Current Interpretations of the Old Belief

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pp. 5-16

In the last few years, bibliographies of new books and articles and the agendas of scholarly conferences bear witness to an unprecedented surge of interest, in Russia and elsewhere, in the history and culture of the Old Believers. Not since the 1860s and 1870s and the interrevolutionary years, 1905–1917, has Old Belief attracted such wide interest among scholars and the general public. ...

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Two—Old Belief as Popular Religion: New Approaches

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pp. 17-29

In recent decades, the rediscovery of historical ethnography in Western historiography has produced an extensive literature on “popular Christianity” in many European societies.1 Until recently, however, this historiographical current has exercised very limited influence on historical study in the former Soviet Union. ...

Seventeenth-century Origins

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pp. 29-30

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Three—Ecclesiastical Elites and Popular Belief and Practice in Seventeenth-Century Russia

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pp. 31-51

The Russian church schism of the seventeenth century is the focal point of this brief examination of popular belief and practice and the struggles of ecclesiastical elites to shape control and change them. In the chapter I will review and reflect on the most important phases of the interaction between the leaders of Russian Orthodoxy and ordinary parishioners ...

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Four—Religious Radicalism in Seventeenth-Century Russia: Reexamining the Kapiton Movement

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pp. 52-67

In recent years, historians of Western Europe and the New World have made the worldview and religious convictions of ordinary men and women in past centuries the subject of many meticulous and subtle works of scholarship. The impact of their research has spread far beyond the graduate seminar to best-seller lists and movie houses. ...

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Five—The Origins of the Old Believer Cultural Systems: The Works of Avraamii

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pp. 68-84

The purpose of this chapter is to examine the formation of the Old Believer “cultural system” in the 1660s and early 1670s. The concept of “cultural system” has received its most extensive analysis in the work of Clifford Geertz. In his essay “Religion as a Cultural System,” Geertz defines culture as “an historically transmitted pattern of meanings ...

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Six—The Miracle of Martyrdom: Reflections on Early Old Believer Hagiography

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pp. 85-96

Hagiography forms an integral part of the cultural life of Old Belief. Like other Christians in the East and the West, the Old Believers have treasured the stories of the lives and the martyrdom of defenders of the faith. When they rejected the reforms of Patriarch Nikon and began their struggle to preserve rigorous and authentic Russian Orthodoxy as they understood it, ...

Eighteenth- and Nineteenth-century Communities

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pp. 97-98

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Seven—Old Believer Communities: Ideals and Structures

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pp. 99-118

The following analysis and arguments rest on the fundamental assumption that the Old Believers, both priestly and priestless, are best understood as Eastern Orthodox Christians. As they built their communities they saw themselves primarily as the guardians of a more authentic variant of Russian Orthodoxy than that of the official church. ...

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Eight—The Spirituality of the Vyg Fathers

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pp. 119-128

The Old Believers—those Russian Orthodox Christians who rejected the liturgical reforms of Patriarch Nikon and the authority of the government, which supported and enforced them—have constituted a significant and often undervalued current within Russian religious life since the mid-seventeenth century. ...

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Nine—The Historical Framework of the Vyg Fathers

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pp. 129-135

Any community that lives within the Judeo-Christian tradition must have a historical understanding of human experience. Christians and Jews share the conviction that God has acted and acts through the ongoing events of human life. Moreover, the traditional Christian understanding of history ultimately positions all significant events on a continuum ...

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Ten—The Cultural Worlds of Andrei Borisov

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pp. 136-156

In recent years, scholars have increasingly questioned the stereotypical view that Old Believer cultures were and are self-sustaining islands of traditionalism, isolated from the changing intellectual and cultural currents of Russian educated society.1 Like most truisms, the perception that the cultural world of the Old Believers has resisted change ...

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Eleven—Interpreting the Fate of Old Believer Communities in the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries

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pp. 157-164

Interpreting the history of Old Belief presents many challenges. Apart from the inherent complexity of the movement (if we can use so neat a label), historians must wrestle with the ideological assumptions and loyalties of earlier generations of scholars and publicists, ...

Old Believer Life and Scholarship in the Late Twentieth Century

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pp. 165-166

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Twelve—The Novosibirsk School of Old Believer Studies

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pp. 167-189

The aim of this chapter is to explore the innovative research agendas and publications of the Novosibirsk school— Nikolai Nikolaevich Pokrovskii and his colleagues and students—on the history of popular religious movements, in particular the Old Belief. This undertaking forces us to examine many interrelated issues. ...

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pp. 190-194

When I began to study the Old Believers in the early 1960s, I had no inkling that the decades of my life as a working historian would coincide with the remarkable revival of scholarly study of the movement. Looking back, of course, I can see how fortunate I was to have received the advice and encouragement of such leaders in the rebirth of Old Believer studies ...


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pp. 195-240

Selected Bibliography

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pp. 241-258


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pp. 259-264

Chronological History of the Chapters

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pp. 265-267

E-ISBN-13: 9781609090210
Print-ISBN-13: 9780875806501

Page Count: 270
Publication Year: 2011