In Heretics and Colonizers, Nicholas B. Breyfogle
explores the dynamic intersection of Russian borderland
colonization and popular religious culture. He reconstructs the
story of the religious sectarians (Dukhobors, Molokans, and
Subbotniks) who settled, either voluntarily or by force, in the
newly conquered lands of Transcaucasia in the nineteenth century.
By ordering this migration in 1830, Nicholas I attempted at once to
cleanse Russian Orthodoxy of heresies and to populate the newly
annexed lands with ethnic Slavs who would shoulder the burden of
Breyfogle focuses throughout on the lives of the peasant
settlers, their interactions with the peoples and environment of
the South Caucasus, and their evolving relations with Russian state
power. He draws on a wide variety of archival sources, including a
large collection of previously unexamined letters, memoirs, and
other documents produced by the sectarians that allow him
unprecedented insight into the experiences of colonization and
religious life. Although the settlers suffered greatly in their
early years in hostile surroundings, they in time proved to be not
only model Russian colonists but also among the most prosperous of
the Empire's peasants. Banished to the empire's periphery, the
sectarians ironically came to play indispensable roles in the
tsarist imperial agenda.
The book culminates with the dramatic events of the Dukhobor
pacifist rebellion, a movement that shocked the tsarist government
and received international attention. In the early twentieth
century, as the Russian state sought to replace the sectarians with
Orthodox settlers, thousands of Molokans and Dukhobors immigrated
to North America, where their descendants remain to this day.
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