Conversion after Socialism: Disruptions, Modernisms and Technologies of Faith in the Former Soviet Union. Edited by M. Pelkmans. New York and Oxford: Berghahn Books, 2009. np.
This book is an excellent contribution to two fields: the study of conversion and the study of post-socialist religion. The book contains eight ethnographic essays inserted between an introduction by the editor and a concluding essay by J. D. Y. Peel, who compares the post-Soviet material with respective processes in Africa. The particular chapters of the volume include a range of cases of religious conversions: among three northern ethnic groups in Russia (Altai, Chukchi, Nenets reindeer herders), in Estonia, Lithuania, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Ukraine. In most cases the authors deal with conversions from nominal traditional religions (or from no-religion) to Protestant, especially Pentecostal faith; an exception is the Estoman case (conversion of ethnic Estonians to Eastern Orthodoxy) and the case of Altai (conversion to either Pentecostalism or to local ethnic beliefs or Buddhism).
In his introduction, Pelkmans sets a thematic and theoretical frame for the volume, bringing together particular conclusions of case studies included. The purpose of the book, he writes, is to see "how conversion is rooted in the disruptive qualities of the new capitalist era," characterized by "social distress" (1,5); conversion brings "the message of hope and the sense of community" (2). He refers to Peter Berger's idea that people now are attracted to "passionate religions" concerned "less with tradition and ritual, and more with truth, morality and visions of the future" (2); the cases presented in the book partly confirm this idea- but not entirely (for some, reviving or creating rituals may also work to make a faith "passionate"). Pelkmans then formulates a very important idea about the "objectification" of religion due to the Soviet atheist legacy: religion becomes an object of choice, a "morally empowering source" for individual and collective identity in contrast to religion's old primordial, ethnoreligious content (5-8). I think it to be true for Protestant converts (with whom the volume mostly deals) but cannot be extended to those large groups of "post-socialist" people who perceive religion in "primordial" terms and prefer to be loosely "converted"- although without a deep, individual "passion"- to the tradition they believe to be "their own," to which they are born; and they do not feel they need to be "born again."
As for the phenomenon of conversion to new religions, Pelkmans and all other …