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Conversion after Socialism

Conversion after Socialism: Disruptions, Modernisms and Technologies of Faith in the Former Soviet Union

Edited by Mathijs Pelkmans
Copyright Date: 2009
Edition: NED - New edition, 1
Published by: Berghahn Books
Pages: 216
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  • Book Info
    Conversion after Socialism
    Book Description:

    The large and sudden influx of missionaries into the former Soviet Union after seventy years of militant secularism has been controversial, and the widespread occurrence of conversion has led to anxiety about social and national disintegration. Although these concerns have been vigorously discussed in national arenas, social scientists have remained remarkably silent about the subject. This volume's focus on conversion offers a novel approach to the dislocations of the postsocialist experience. In eight well researched ethnographic accounts the authors analyze a range of missionary encounters as well as aspects of conversion and "anti-conversion" in different parts of the region, thus challenging the problematic idea that religious life after socialism involved a simple "revival" of repressed religious traditions. Instead, they unravel the unexpected twists and turns of religious dynamics, and the processes that have challenged popular ideas about religion and culture. The contributions show how conversion is rooted in the disruptive qualities of the new "capitalist experience" and document its unsettling effects on the individual and social level.

    eISBN: 978-1-84545-962-8
    Subjects: Anthropology, Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-viii)
    Mathijs Pelkmans
  4. Chapter 1 Introduction: Post-Soviet Space and the Unexpected Turns of Religious Life
    (pp. 1-16)
    Mathijs Pelkmans

    This book is about the unexpected twists and turns of religious life after seventy years of militant secularism in the former Soviet Union. Throughout this region, the new arrival and increased activity of foreign religious groups has caused a commotion. The Russian Orthodox Church, for example, has repeatedly made vilifying statements about the activities of new religious movements on Russian soil. The employed images – of ‘hordes of missionaries’ who belong to ‘totalitarian sects’ and ‘buy people with so-called humanitarian aid’¹ – highlight the fear these religious movements instil in representatives of what are locally termed ‘traditional religions’ (traditsionnye religii). These reactions...

  5. Chapter 2 Conversion to Religion? Negotiating Continuity and Discontinuity in Contemporary Altai
    (pp. 17-38)
    Ludek Broz

    This essay examines an apparent paradox in the religious lives of contemporary Altaians of the Altai Republic in south-west Siberia.¹ In contrast to the commonly held belief that all social groups uphold a religion or religions, this chapter begins with the observation that, while Altaians, especially during Soviet times, maintained that they never ‘had’ a religion, they are now working extremely hard towards achieving that goal, with the result that they have ended up with several religions and world-views at once. Ironically, through their search for ‘religion’, some are realizing that perhaps they always ‘had’ a religion. In this chapter,...

  6. Chapter 3 Redefining Chukchi Practices in Contexts of Conversion to Pentecostalism
    (pp. 39-58)
    Virginie Vaté

    Closed to foreigners during Soviet rule, Chukotka, in the north-easternmost part of Siberia, began to open up to outsiders – under strictly regimented conditions – from the beginning of the 1990s. This new accessibility benefitted the activities of Protestant missionaries such as Baptists and Pentecostalists. Surprisingly, although indigenous peoples did not show much interest in Russian Orthodoxy in the nineteenth century (Znamenski 1999a; 1999b: 30–31), and in certain places resisted Soviet anti-religious policies by preserving their rituals (Vaté 2003), an intensifying process of conversion to evangelical Christianity has unfolded since the 1990s. Even though it is difficult to quantify the success...

  7. Chapter 4 Christianization of Words and Selves: Nenets Reindeer Herders Joining the State through Conversion
    (pp. 59-84)
    Laur Vallikivi

    The Yamb-To Nenets, a small group of nomadic reindeer pastoralists, live in the eastern part of the Nenets Autonomous District (Okrug) of northern Russia. Unusually, during the Soviet period they were never collectivized but continued to live as private reindeer herders. This happened because, until the late Soviet period, the authorities did not – or, at least, pretended not to – know of their existence. As they were never registered with any Soviet institution, this small group of Nenets was able to live in the tundra on their own. Only a few Yamb-To Nenets have attended school and none have served in...

  8. Chapter 5 Right Singing and Conversion to Orthodox Christianity in Estonia
    (pp. 85-106)
    Jeffers Engelhardt

    Conversion to Orthodox Christianity has been one of the most unexpected and therefore revealing phenomena of religious and social transformation in Estonia since the Singing Revolution of 1987 to 1991.¹ It differs in basic ways from more visible agents of religious and social change like renewal in the mainstream Estonian Evangelical Lutheran Church (which is predominantly ethnic Estonian) and the Estonian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate (which is predominantly ethnic Russian), the influx of foreign capital into Methodist, Baptist, Pentecostal and other Protestant congregations, the presence of evangelical missionaries from North America and Western Europe, and the reimagining of...

  9. Chapter 6 The Civility and Pragmatism of Charismatic Christianity in Lithuania
    (pp. 107-128)
    Gediminas Lankauskas

    Halfway through our long conversation, Pranas – a follower of a charismatic evangelical Church – heaved a deep sigh, looked me in the eye, and said: ‘This nation is morally chilled like never before… It’s worse than the Soviet times’. His statement echoes many similar pronouncements I heard during my recent fieldwork in postsocialist Lithuania. This ‘modernizing’ republic of the former Soviet Union, I was told repeatedly, was in a state of profound and unprecedented moral disarray.

    Invoked by Lithuania’s powerful independence movement of the late 1980s, in which the national Catholic Church played a pivotal role, the ideals of Western-style ‘modernity’...

  10. Chapter 7 Networks of Faith in Kazakhstan
    (pp. 129-142)
    William Clark

    In the fourteen years since independence in 1991, the evangelical community of Kazakhstan has experienced remarkable growth in general with a significant minority of that growth occurring among Muslim background Kazakhs and Uighurs. Protestant Christianity, which along with Islam and Orthodox Christianity was marginalized during the Soviet period, has become part of the social landscape of the country. The Protestant Forum of April 2001 was a watershed event in the history of the evangelical movement in Kazakhstan as it put on a public face before invited members of various government agencies and representatives of the other historic faiths of the...

  11. Chapter 8 Temporary Conversions: Encounters with Pentecostalism in Muslim Kyrgyzstan
    (pp. 143-162)
    Mathijs Pelkmans

    On a February Sunday morning in the provincial capital Jalal-Abad in southern Kyrgyzstan, approximately 150 members of the Pentecostal ‘Church of Jesus Christ’ gathered for a service in a rundown building recently purchased by the congregation.¹ The service started, as usual, with forty-five minutes of singing and music. Unfortunately, the microphones did not work because of a problem with the electricity supply, causing difficulties for the pastor in his attempt to create the optimum atmosphere. When the power supply was restored some fifteen minutes later, the pastor announced with delight that once again satanic forces had been defeated. Later on,...

  12. Chapter 9 Conversion and the Mobile Self: Evangelicalism as ‘Travelling Culture’
    (pp. 163-182)
    Catherine Wanner

    Many scholars studying political and cultural change in the final years of Soviet rule focused on the rise of nationalism, including religious nationalisms, and the practices of states engaged in nation building.¹ In Uraine, a commitment to religious pluralism was incorporated into the very idea of the Ukrainian nation, minimally to accommodate the cohabitation of the various Orthodox churches and the Ukrainian Greek-rite Catholic Church, all of whom claim to be national institutions. In addition, the state granted a variety of rights and privileges to minority religious communities. This created an entirely new role for religion and religious communities in...

  13. Chapter 10 Postsocialism, Postcolonialism, Pentecostalism
    (pp. 183-200)
    J.D.Y. Peel

    We live in a world of expanded limits and in an age that we are no longer certain how to categorize. Our use of terms like ‘postsocialism’ and ‘postcolonialism’ (like several other ‘posts’) indicates our reluctance to give a positive definition to the character of our age, and suggests that we may have finally thrown off a notion that has been basic to Western social theory since the Enlightenment, namely that the salient features of every age can be best made intelligible in terms of its place in an evolutionary sequence of stages leading to a determinate climax. Now at...

  14. Notes on Contributors
    (pp. 201-202)
  15. Index
    (pp. 203-208)