Of Religion and Empire: Missions, Conversion, and Tolerance in Tsarist Russia

Of Religion and Empire: Missions, Conversion, and Tolerance in Tsarist Russia

Of Religion and Empire: Missions, Conversion, and Tolerance in Tsarist Russia

Of Religion and Empire: Missions, Conversion, and Tolerance in Tsarist Russia


Russia's ever-expanding imperial boundaries encompassed diverse peoples and religions. Yet Russian Orthodoxy remained inseparable from the identity of the Russian empire-state, which at different times launched conversion campaigns not only to "save the souls" of animists and bring deviant Orthodox groups into the mainstream, but also to convert the empire's numerous Muslims, Buddhists, Jews, Catholics, and Uniates.

This book is the first to investigate the role of religious conversion in the long history of Russian state building. How successful were the Church and the state in proselytizing among religious minorities? How were the concepts of Orthodoxy and Russian nationality shaped by the religious diversity of the empire? What was the impact of Orthodox missionary efforts on the non-Russian peoples, and how did these peoples react to religious pressure? In chapters that explore these and other questions, this book provides geographical coverage from Poland and European Russia to the Caucasus, Central Asia, Siberia, and Alaska.

The editors' introduction and conclusion place the twelve original essays in broad historical context and suggest patterns in Russian attitudes toward religion that range from attempts to forge a homogeneous identity to tolerance of complexity and diversity.

Contributors: Eugene Clay, Arizona State University; Robert P. Geraci, University of Virginia; Sergei Kan, Dartmouth College; Agnes Kefeli, Arizona State University; Shoshana Keller, Colgate University; Michael Khodarkovsky, Loyola University, Chicago; John D. Klier, University College, London; Georg Michels, University of California, Riverside; Firouzeh Mostashari, Regis College; Dittmar Schorkowitz, Free University, Berlin; Theodore Weeks, Southern Illinois University; Paul W. Werth, University of Nevada, Las Vegas


Between the sixteenth and twentieth centuries the Russian state dramatically expanded its territory and its power in both Europe and Asia. In the process, it acquired not only one-sixth of the earth's land mass, but a multitude of peoples adhering to an enormous variety of languages, ways of life, and belief systems. Like any other state, Russia had rational grounds for desiring some greater measure of homogeneity among its subject peoples: to bring them under firmer and more efficient control, to prevent disorder, and to secure the polity and society from external forces and influences.

The pursuit of greater uniformity was a matter of ideology as much as pragmatism, however. Over these four centuries, at least four major ideological trends served to justify imperial domination and to inspire specific policies toward populations in the borderlands. All four envisioned certain changes in the lives of subject peoples, and can therefore be thought of as doctrines of social and cultural transformation. First was Christian evangelism or messianism, which was particularly visible in Moscow's policies toward newly conquered non-Christian peoples in the early modern period. During the eighteenth century there emerged the notion of Russia's civilizing mission; in the nineteenth century, nationalism (first articulated in Nicholas I's principle of "Official Nationality"); and finally, in the twentieth century, Marxism-Leninism. These ideologies, of course, were not always mutually exclusive and did not replace one another in discrete succession, but were overlaid each upon the previous one, producing a many-layered complex of motivations and programs for social and cultural change.

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.