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

Article excerpt

Of Religion and Empire: Missions, Conversion, and Tolerance in Tsarist Russia. Edited by Robert P. Geraci and Michael Khodarkovsky. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell Univ. Press, 2001. Pp. vi, 356. $58.50; paperback $24.95.

The growth of missions and their concomitant religious conversions constituted a major element of Russia's imperial encounter with its non-Christian and non-Orthodox subjects. Yet until recently, research on the topic has tended either to restyle ecclesiastical conversion stories or to provide political analyses in which Orthodox missions are simply one dimension of Russia's colonial schemes.

A more multifaceted analysis of missions-"from several different angles at once" (p. 3)-is the explicit goal of editors Robert P. Geraci and Michael Khodarkovsky, both specialists in imperial and colonial Russian history. Placing the Orthodox missions of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries within their larger context, the book explores the political, cultural, economic, social, and gender implications of religious conversion.

The book sheds significant new light on how the building of Russia's colonial state impacted the Orthodox missionary enterprise. The authors challenge, for example, conventional notions regarding the symbiotic relationship between the Russian state and the church, demonstrating that the imperial government did not support the church's proselytizing efforts through systematic and consistent mechanisms. …

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