Religion in the Soviet Union: An Archival Reader

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Religion in the Soviet Union:An Archival Reader. By Felix Corley (NewYork: New York University Press. 1996. Pp. xiv, 402. $55.00.)

Felix Corley's Religion in the Soviet Union:An Archival Reader is a valuable guide to Soviet religious policy from 1917 to the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. The author has located many of the key documents that outline the Soviet government's policy on religion and then organized them chronologically to show the changing nature of that policy. Some of the documents were already published and translated from Russian into English, but many were not, and Corley found most of these in the newly opened Soviet archives. The author also connects the major chronological divisions of the documents with a running commentary, which puts the various documents into context and shows clearly the Communist government's antireligious policy that went from an initial effort to eradicate religion by any means to a policy in the late Brezhnev and Gorbachev eras to control and harness religion for various political goals, including political stability. In effect, the book is a description of the policy handbook of Soviet bureaucrats, who were charged with the implementation of Soviet religious policy.

The overriding impression of the compilation of documents is to underscore the Soviet government's hostility to religion. Of course, the book shows that Soviet animosity waxed and waned, depending upon circumstances, including foreign-policy pressures and the strength and willingness of specific religious leaders to make an accommodation with the Kremlin. Nonetheless, there remained an unrelenting opposition to religion, even in the last days of the Soviet empire. The author attributes this attitude to ideology and bureaucratic habit. He explains the persistence of religion as due in part to inconsistent persecution. Corley does make clear that the Soviet government's policy of persecution ebbed as it had less to fear from beleaguered believers, as foreign threats mushroomed, especially the Nazi threat in the 1940's, and as religious believers sought refuge from persecution in underground movements, which the state soon saw as more threatening than the toleration of above-ground religious groups, which at least it could control. …

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