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Communities of the Converted

Communities of the Converted: Ukrainians and Global Evangelism

Copyright Date: 2007
Edition: 1
Published by: Cornell University Press
Pages: 320
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  • Book Info
    Communities of the Converted
    Book Description:

    After decades of official atheism, a religious renaissance swept through much of the former Soviet Union beginning in the late 1980s. The Calvinist-like austerity and fundamentalist ethos that had evolved among sequestered and frequently persecuted Soviet evangelicals gave way to a charismatic embrace of ecstatic experience, replete with a belief in faith healing. Catherine Wanner's historically informed ethnography, the first book on evangelism in the former Soviet Union, shows how once-marginal Ukrainian evangelical communities are now thriving and growing in social and political prominence. Many Soviet evangelicals relocated to the United States after the fall of the Soviet Union, expanding the spectrum of evangelicalism in the United States and altering religious life in Ukraine. Migration has created new transnational evangelical communities that are now asserting a new public role for religion in the resolution of numerous social problems.

    Hundreds of American evangelical missionaries have engaged in "church planting" in Ukraine, which is today home to some of the most active and robust evangelical communities in all of Europe. Thanks to massive assistance from the West, Ukraine has become a hub for clerical and missionary training in Eurasia. Many Ukrainians travel as missionaries to Russia and throughout the former Soviet Union. In revealing the phenomenal transformation of religious life in a land once thought to be militantly godless, Wanner shows how formerly socialist countries experience evangelical revival. Communities of the Converted engages issues of migration, morality, secularization, and global evangelism, while highlighting how they have been shaped by socialism.

    eISBN: 978-0-8014-6190-3
    Subjects: Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Note on Transliteration
    (pp. ix-xii)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-18)

    Ukraine was called the Bible Belt of the Soviet Union.¹ It was home to over half of the 1.5 million registered Baptists in the USSR, making Soviet Ukrainians the largest Baptist community in Europe, and one of the largest in the world outside of the United States. As early as 1954, however, Soviet Baptists estimated their ranks to be nearly three million, reflecting the significant number of unregistered believers and children who participated as well as numerous underground communities.² If the growth of evangelical communities during the Soviet period was steady, since the collapse of the USSR it has skyrocketed....

  6. Part One: Soviet Evangelicals

    • Chapter One Spiritual Seekers in a Secularizing State, 1905–1941
      (pp. 21-54)

      On Easter Sunday, 17 April 1905, Tsar Nicholas II signed the Edict of Religious Toleration. This edict expanded religious pluralism in the vast multinational empire by affirming the right to be and to become a member of a minority faith. Remarkably, the decree allowed for the free practice of religion by granting the right to build prayer houses, reopening religious buildings closed by judicial and administrative actions, and permitting services to be held in private homes. This represented a significant shift in religious policy that was to have enormous consequences for the growth of evangelical communities in the Russian Empire....

    • Chapter Two Enlightening the Faithful, 1941–1988
      (pp. 55-94)

      Two factors played a key role in sustaining evangelical communities until the Soviet system collapsed in 1991. First, wartime conditions prompted a policy shift away from a broad assault on organized religion to an attempt to coopt the power it held and the allegiance it could inspire by reinstitutionalizing the infrastructure supporting religious life in the Soviet Union. In an ironic twist of fate, then, after a decade of repression which saw a severe decline in overt religiosity in the 1930s, the German attack on the Soviet Union in 1941 in a sense actually saved Soviet evangelical communities by allowing...

  7. Part Two: Missionizing and Movement

    • Chapter Three The Rewards of Suffering: The Last Soviet Refugees
      (pp. 97-129)

      As the Soviet Union prepared for the millennial commemoration of Christianity in Kyivan Rus′, Mikhail Gorbachev in 1987 took the bold step of announcing that all victims of religious persecution could apply to emigrate as part of his greater campaign of glasnost. Soon thereafter, the U.S. Congress passed the Lautenberg Amendment in 1989, which made religion the cornerstone of Soviet refugee policy and extended the benefits Soviet Jews had already received to Evangelical Christian, Ukrainian Catholic, and Ukrainian Orthodox believers. Those people affiliated with any of these denominations who could demonstrate “well established histories of persecution” under the Soviet regime...

    • Chapter Four Missionizing, Converting, and Remaking the Moral Self
      (pp. 130-170)

      At exactly the same time that U.S. immigration policies changed to allow the recognition of persecuted evangelical believers as refugees, prompting the mass exodus of longstanding believers and their relatives, very significant changes concerning religious policy also occurred in the Soviet Union. The millennium commemorations in 1988 of the thousand-year anniversary of Christianity in Kyivan Rus′ and the vast popular interest it generated in religion prompted a sea change in religious policy.¹ In October 1990 one of the primary goals of Soviet ideology, to establish a scientific atheistic worldview, was abandoned when the Supreme Soviet adopted legislation that guaranteed freedom...

  8. Part Three: A World without End

    • Chapter Five God Is Love: New Bonds, New Communities
      (pp. 173-209)

      There is a wide spectrum of potential religious communities to join in Ukraine today, and it continues to expand. Here I illustrate aspects of that spectrum by profiling two pairs of partnered congregations, two Baptist and two Pentecostal. All are located in Kharkiv. In both cases, the Sovietera central Baptist and Pentecostal congregations experienced such rapid growth that both spun off “daughter congregations.” (Such gendered language is commonly used.) Both “daughters” are slated to replace the “mother” as the new central church for each denomination in Kharkiv. In both instances, Western missionaries played a prominent role in “planting” the new...

    • Chapter Six Ambassadors of God
      (pp. 210-248)

      The largest evangelical church in Europe today started in Kyiv. In many ways it illustrates a number of growing trends in global Christianity and emerging religious sensibilities in post-Soviet society. Known as the Embassy of the Blessed Kingdom of God for all Nations, or “Embassy of God” to its nearly twenty-five thousand members, the church was created quite recently, in 1994. It draws on a Pentecostal-charismatic tradition of expressive worship. As of 2006, the Embassy of God had opened over three hundred daughter congregations, most of them in major Ukrainian cities, such as Kharkiv. At least thirty of them are...

    • Epilogue: Religion as Portal to the World
      (pp. 249-256)

      In considering the encounter between Western and Soviet believers at the close of the twentieth century, I am reminded of Marshall Sahlins’s critique of the anthropological propensity to see the arrival of Western capitalism with its accompanying moralities and mentalities as the beginning of indigenous history, one that inevitably progresses toward a ruinous end for indigenous cultures. Using the Eskimo as an example, he argues against this inherited tradition by claiming that in spite of the steady arrival of new forms of technology, exchange, and governance over the course of the twentieth century, “the Eskimo are still there—and they...

  9. Notes
    (pp. 257-282)
  10. References
    (pp. 283-296)
  11. Index
    (pp. 297-306)