- An Answer to My Critics, or the Confessions of an Unrepentant Interdisciplinarian
When I began to research Holy Fathers, Secular Sons: Clergy, Intelligen-tsia and the Modern Self in Revolutionary Russia, I always knew that my real audience was in Russia. There was never a question in my mind that I wanted my book translated into Russian, and that dream is now coming true: Novoe literaturnoe obozrenie will be publishing an expanded version in Russian. What I did not realize was that there would be not only greater interest in my book in Russia but also resistance – in some sectors – to its methodology and thesis. While Holy Fathers, Secular Sons has to date been reviewed in more than twenty academic journals in the United States, Canada, Great Britain, Scandinavia, France, and Germany, none of its previous reviewers devoted the amount of time and energy to it that the two reviewers for Ab Imperio have. I am grateful to these two reviewers for taking such an interest in my work; I am also grateful to the editors of Ab Imperio for allowing me to correct what I believe are several misconceptions, particularly in the review written by Rustam Matusevich.
One of the central arguments of the book is that popovichi – sons of Russian Orthodox parish clergymen who chose not to become clergymen – fundamentally changed the Russian intelligentsia. Matusevich objects to this thesis and disagrees with the very premise that popovichi were anything [End Page 488] more than a "statistical group," rejecting my argument about subjective commonality. 1 He does not seem to understand how they could simultaneously have objective features and subjective cohesiveness. He repeatedly describes my approach as reckless and dubious. While my methodology is somewhat original, unusual, and eclectic, it is at least as old as E. P. Thompson's classic work and has been employed by other scholars whom Matusevich appears to respect.
Popovichi's collective identity was based in part on objective criteria they shared as children growing up in the clerical estate. This estate was a juridical group, the type of group Matusevich finds so meaningful. Because the clergy was the most caste-like of Russian social estate groups (particularly before the 1860s, but regarding entrance into it, largely until 1917), it functioned almost as an ethnicity, and in chapter 1, I explore how popovichi were "othered" by members of other social estates. 2 Ninety percent of popovichi grew up in rural villages surrounded by peasant neighbors. All but 10 percent of popovichi in the second half of the nineteenth century also went to the bursa, entrance to which was almost exclusively restricted to clergymen's sons. After they left the clergy, popovichi also periodically formed a juridical group; their social origins were frequently listed on official tsarist forms, and specific laws were occasionally enacted against them as a distinct group. 3 Matusevich finds all these criteria suspect since each and every popovich did not share each criterion, and he argues that being a "statistical category administratively" did not confer any collective mindset because their lifestyles differed (I would disagree since I do not believe that people's attitudes are derived by their socioeconomic status, but instead are [End Page 489] shaped by culture and ideology). In fact, they are more, and at the same time less, than a statistical category, in that not each and every member subjectively affiliated himself with his fellow popovichi (for exceptions, see pages 112–116 of my book).
A major part of my argument is that popovichi constructed a subjective identity, in part based on traits derived from these objective criteria. From the parish clergy they inherited beliefs such as viewing themselves as Russia's moral leaders, anti-aristocratism, and the belief that their proximity to the people rendered them embodiments of Russianness. After they left the clergy, popovichi retained this clerical estate identity and incorporated it into a new constructed identity specific to those who left the clergy.
The core methodology...