At the Margins of Orthodoxy: Mission, Governance, and Confessional Politics in Russia's Volga-Kama Region, 1827-1905

At the Margins of Orthodoxy: Mission, Governance, and Confessional Politics in Russia's Volga-Kama Region, 1827-1905

At the Margins of Orthodoxy: Mission, Governance, and Confessional Politics in Russia's Volga-Kama Region, 1827-1905

At the Margins of Orthodoxy: Mission, Governance, and Confessional Politics in Russia's Volga-Kama Region, 1827-1905

Synopsis

In a period of dramatic social change, when Orthodoxy and nationalism were the twin pillars of the Russian state, how did the tsarist bureaucracy govern an expansive realm inhabited by the peoples of many nations and ethnicities professing various faiths? Did the nature of tsarist rule change over time, and did it vary from region to region? Paul W. Werth considers these large questions in his survey of imperial Russian rule in the vast Volga-Kama region. First conquered in the sixteenth century, the Volga-Kama lands were by the nineteenth century both part of the Russian heartland and resolutely "other"-the home of a mix of Slavic, Finnic, and Turkic peoples where the urge to assimilate was always counterbalanced by determined efforts to preserve cultural and religious differences. The Volga-Kama thus poses the dilemmas of empire in especially complex and telling ways. Drawing on a wide range of printed and archival sources, Werth untangles and reconstructs this complicated history, focusing on the ways in which the tsarist state and Orthodox missions used conversion in their ongoing (and regularly frustrated) efforts to transform the region's Muslim and animist populations into imperial, Orthodox citizens. He shows that the regime became less concerned with religion and more concerned with secular attributes as the marker of cultural differences, an emphasis that would change dramatically in the early years of Soviet rule.

Excerpt

Beginning in 1830, imperial authorities sought in an organized and concerted fashion to “reinforce” novokreshchenye in Orthodoxy and to combat “pagan deviations” and apostasy. But the standards by which they judged converts and the ways in which they marked non-Russians as distinct from Russians were undergoing considerable change in these decades. Even as confessional status remained central to both the administration of the empire and to the taxonomies by which imperial authorities classified the empire's diverse population, officials and, increasingly, publicists began also to employ a newer taxonomy rooted in language and ultimately ethnic origins. This shift can be traced in changing terminological usage, more specifically in the expansion of the term inorodtsy (“aliens, ” literally “those of other origin”) from its initial referents in Siberia to the non-Russians of the Volga-Kama region, who had so far been collectively classified principally in religious terms. Related to this shift were more frequent references to obrusenie (Russification), which suggest that many officials had now begun to envision a more thorough cultural assimilation that went considerably beyond Christianization. Accordingly, missionaries offered novel arguments about the ways in which non-Russians' internalization of Christian values would facilitate the process of Russification and instill in them a sense of civic-mindedness (grazhdanstvennost') that many secular officials saw as crucial to their meaningful participation in the new order. “Faith, ” in this scenario, became less a matter of fulfilling religious obligations, accepting legal ascription, and recognizing the church's authority than one of belief and religious conviction.

These new orientations were part of a larger transformation in Russia known as the Great Reforms of the 1860s. Serf emancipation, judicial reform, the introduction of new forms of local self-government (zemstvos), and the elimination of numerous particularistic social categories placed many . . .

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