The Old Faith and the Russian Land is a historical
ethnography that charts the ebbs and flows of ethical practice in a
small Russian town over three centuries. The town of Sepych was
settled in the late seventeenth century by religious dissenters who
fled to the forests of the Urals to escape a world they believed to
be in the clutches of the Antichrist. Factions of Old Believers, as
these dissenters later came to be known, have maintained a presence
in the town ever since. The townspeople of Sepych have also been
serfs, free peasants, collective farmers, and, now, shareholders in
a post-Soviet cooperative.
Douglas Rogers traces connections between the town and some of
the major transformations of Russian history, showing how
townspeople have responded to a long series of attempts to change
them and their communities: tsarist-era efforts to regulate family
life and stamp out Old Belief on the Stroganov estates, Soviet
collectivization drives and antireligious campaigns, and the
marketization, religious revival, and ongoing political
transformations of post-Soviet times. Drawing on long-term
ethnographic fieldwork and extensive archival and manuscript
sources, Rogers argues that religious, political, and economic
practice are overlapping arenas in which the people of Sepych have
striven to be ethical-in relation to labor and money, food and
drink, prayers and rituals, religious books and manuscripts, and
the surrounding material landscape.
He tracks the ways in which ethical sensibilities-about work and
prayer, hierarchy and inequality, gender and generation-have
shifted and recombined over time. Rogers concludes that certain
expectations about how to be an ethical person have continued to
orient townspeople in Sepych over the course of nearly three
centuries for specific, identifiable, and often unexpected reasons.
Throughout, he demonstrates what a historical and ethnographic
study of ethics might look like and uses this approach to ask new
questions of Russian, Soviet, and post-Soviet history.
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