EASA2016: Anthropological legacies and human futures

(P128)
Alternative religiosities in the communist East-Central Europe and Russia: formations, resistances and manifestations
Location Room 28
Date and Start Time 20 July, 2016 at 14:30
Sessions 2

Convenors

  • Rasa Pranskevičiūtė (Lithuanian University of Health Sciences) email
  • Egle Aleknaite (Vytautas Magnus University) email

Mail All Convenors

Short Abstract

In the communist East-Central Europe and Russia, underground activities, including access to alternative spiritual and esoteric ideas and practices, mainly existed in parallel with the official culture and institutions and appeared as a form of resistance to the Soviet regime and communist ideology.

Long Abstract

The panel addresses alternative religiosities in the communist East-Central European region and Russia, which due to Soviet control, mostly existed underground and could remain only if they acted in secret. Beside the officially established Soviet culture, connected with the Communist Party's aim to control all aspects of the public sphere, there was an unofficial cultural field that was very accepting arrival, formation, spread and expressions of diverse alternative religiosities and spiritual ideas. The disappointment with the existing narrowness of the official communist ideology and the loss of the absolute allegiance to it led to the formation and rise of unofficial socio-cultural alternatives within the system. The underground activities, including access to alternative spiritual and esoteric ideas and practices, generally existed in parallel with, or even jointly with, the official culture and institutions. In the panel, we invite both empirical and theoretical anthropological as well as interdisciplinary papers including, but not limited to the following topics:

• Networks and inter-community connections

• Flows of ideas within the communist East-Central Europe and Russia and from the outside

• Centers and peripheries of alternative religiosity milieu in the communist East-Central European region and Russia

• Politics and actions of regime towards alternative religiosity

• Restrictions, repressions and survival strategies of practitioners of alternative religiosity

• Milieu of alternative religiosity as a space of resistance

• Relationships of communities of alternative religiosity with dominant religious traditions

• Theoretical frameworks and methodological problems in research on alternative religiosity of the communist East-Central European region and Russia

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.

Papers

The "Otherness" of the Russian "sects" and the Russian Revolution

Author: Agnieszka Zaganczyk-Neufeld (Ruhr-Universität Bochum)  email

Short Abstract

This paper reviews the importance of Russian religious dissent (especially Khlysts, Molokans, Skoptsy, Doukhobors, and Stundists) for the liberation from obsolete societal conditions during the huge social changes in the first years of existence of the Soviet Union.

Long Abstract

At the end of the nineteenth century, there were many communities of religious dissenters (especially Khlysts, Molokans, Skoptsy, Doukhobors, and Stundists). "Sects" were in conflict twofold with public order: they violated the dogma and claim to authority of the institutional Church. They did not build theological dogmas, primarily, but rather deviant forms of piety with very diverse codes of conduct. They developed elements of a utopian social teaching as well as notions of order legitimized by God. The social "otherness" of the sectarians became very attractive for Russian revolutionaries and old Bolsheviks, who tried to exploit the sectarians for their own political purposes, describing them as primitive communists. Recently, there has been renewed interest in the history of Russian Church, but there have been few investigations into the relationship between religious origins of the Russian Revolution and sectarianism as a space of resistance to tsarism and to communism as well. This paper reviews the importance of Russian religious dissent for the liberation from obsolete societal conditions during the huge social changes in the first years of existence of the Soviet Union.

The marginalization of Soviet Evangelical Christians and aftermath

Author: Igor Mikeshin (University of Helsinki)  email

Short Abstract

The paper deals with oppression and marginalization of Soviet Evangelical Christians that further shaped their unique dogmatics and ideology. I focus on the Soviet anti-religious policy towards Evangelicals, especially during Khrushchev's reign, and reflect on its aftermath.

Long Abstract

My paper focuses on Russian Evangelical Christians (mostly Baptists, Pentecostals, and Seventh-Day Adventists) during the Soviet rule and the impact the Soviet anti-religious politics has on their dogmatics and ideology nowadays. First Russian-speaking Evangelical communities appeared in the end of the 19th century and were at first persecuted for converting the Orthodox population. After the liberalization of religion act of 1905 and until the end of Lenin's reign, Evangelicals enjoyed a relative freedom, and even were shortly considered allies of the communists. Stalin's rule is associated with the harshest repressions towards all kinds of free-thinkers, thus a big number of Evangelical shared a common fate with their fellow citizens. However, during the last two years of the War, Stalin significantly liberated his policy towards religions.

Although Stalin's government exterminated much more believers in numerical terms, it was Khrushchev and his anti-religious campaign that directly aimed towards certain groups, mostly outlawed congregations, refusing to register. His efforts caused a split in the Baptist and Pentecostal communities, still effective. Despite the general political trends of Thaw and Stagnation, oppression and marginalization of Evangelicals never decreased, up until the liberalization of Perestroika.

In the conclusion, I will reflect on the impact that oppression and marginalization has on the present-day Russian-speaking Evangelicals. Drawing from my ethnographic fieldwork in the Baptist rehabilitation ministry, I argue that decades of isolation and permanent legal and moral pressure forced the development of Evangelical dogma and ideology in a very specific theological, political and, especially, linguistic way.

Underground Greek Catholicism in socialist Romania: strategies of survival and integration

Author: Tünde Komáromi (University of Pécs)  email

Short Abstract

The paper analyses strategies of integration and survival of an underground Greek Catholic priest and his family members in the second half of the 20th century. The study is based on fieldwork in a multi-ethnic and multi-confessional Transylvanian community.

Long Abstract

After the abolition of the Greek Catholic Church in Romania (1948) believers and priests were forced to convert to Orthodoxy. Members of the clergy mostly resisted and suffered in prisons, or had to renounce their profession and accept any possible work. While some priests from his family were imprisoned, father Alexandru had a relatively better condition. He first worked in a nearby factory together with some Roma from his village. Later, as an educated and peaceful person, he was offered some bureaucratic work. He managed to celebrate liturgies at home and prayed as an underground priest in case of personal crisis for the Calvinist Hungarians and Roma. One of his Roman Catholic "colleagues" offered him part of his income and work (ordered prayers). This way his son had the possibility to graduate as an engineer. He later became the president of the collective farm in his village. While the son gained from the social esteem of the father, the father lost his attempt to reestablish a local Greek Catholic community after 1989 partly due to his son's reputation under socialist regime. Local Romanians claimed he was a communist, and the same Romanians were never eager assuming their Catholic origins. Some of them opposed the burial of father Alexandru in the yard of the former Greek Catholic, nowadays Orthodox parish church. The memory of local Greek Catholicism seems to be remembered only by family members and the grateful local Hungarians and Roma, but this is only part of the truth.

Certifying the sanctity: constructing Orthodox subjectivities in a Romanian along the affects for communism martyrs

Author: Eliza Lefter (University of Copenhagen)  email

Short Abstract

Affects towards Martyrs of communism's are to be understood in relation to the as a constant for the legitimization of sanctity in Orthodox Theology and spirituality. They are the outcast, the alternative that dose not subvert, but subscribe to a theology bafflement.

Long Abstract

Recently, more and more Orthodox Romanian believers developed affects towards Martyrs of Communism, considered as Saints regardless of not being recognized by the official Romanian Church. They are considered to be people with "har" (gift from the holy spirit). People with Har represent a constant within the legitimization of sanctity in Orthodox Theology and spirituality, making space for recent Neoplatonist anthropological understandings of mystic within Eastern Christianity religiosity. The paper will first review the narratives of the sanctity of Martyrs of Communism and its emphasis on mystical experiences as a key point to juxtapose to the socialist context and its defeat of political authority and religious regulations. Further on into the post-socialist, these narratives of martyrs of communism are used in developing specific religious subjectivities as a mean for certifying the sanctity of inter-subjective relation with the sacred.

Lacking an official recognition by the Romanian Church, affects towards Martyrs of Communism reflect how emic conceptualization of sacred infiltrates in multiple ways into religious dynamic, with influence on religious knowledge and religious involvement. As a result, even the concept of Church and alternative religiosities becomes in need to be more clearly defined, at a more micro-level.

Magic, the secular and socialist ethnographic film in Romania

Author: Alexandra Cotofana (Indiana University Bloomington)  email

Short Abstract

My paper focuses on Romanian socialist ethnographic film making to inquire on the effects that the socialist regime has had on how anthropology and its sister disciplines view themselves in terms of interacting with research topics dealing with spirituality.

Long Abstract

My paper analyzes the way national politics and ideology influenced ethnographic fieldwork during the socialist era in Romania. I contextualize the topic in the larger political context of the time to explicate how doing research on magic was possible during the late 1960s and not before (or after), as well as what doing research meant for ethnographers throughout the world in the context of the Cold War. I end with the case study of one ethnographer who did research on magic practices during the late 1960s. The paper will be divided into five sections: 1) Introduction, where most of the general hypothesis will be presented, 2) Historical and socio-political context 1960s-1970s, where I will consider the national and international ideological factors around research and the making of ethnographic film in the late 1960s and early 1970s, 3) Ethnography, film, research and religion, where I will discuss details on Sahia Film Studio, the only state-accepted film studio in Romania during the socialist regime - and also expand more on the intersections of religiosity and ideology, 4) Radu Răutu, a chapter where I briefly discuss my interviews from the summer of 2014 and 2015, focusing on one ethnographer who made the only documentary film to encompass a full magic ritual that came out of Eastern Europe in the late 1960s and early 1970s and 5) Conclusion, where I will sum up the main point of my paper.

Occult communism: Lyudmila Zhivkova's alternative religiosity as state policy

Author: Veneta Ivanova (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign)  email

Short Abstract

This paper reveals how in the 1970s Minister of Culture Lyudmila Zhivkova injected the "occult" into Bulgarian cultural policy, science, education, and even political philosophy. It demonstrates that alternative religiosities not only survived, but actually flourished in the late socialist period.

Long Abstract

This paper explores the unlikely infusion of state-sponsored religiosity into the materialist ideology of Bulgarian late communism. In the 1970s and 1980s, Minister of Culture and daughter of party leader Lyudmila Zhivkova initiated grandiose state programs to inject the "occult" into Bulgaria's national culture, art, science, education and even political philosophy. Inspired by her Eastern religious beliefs, she sought to 'breed' a nation of "all-round and harmoniously developed individuals," devoted to spiritual self-perfection, who would ultimately "work, live and create according to the laws of beauty." Spirituality (dukhovnost), which she conceived as the "spiritual development of the individual" and the "renewal of the spiritual powers of the nation," was the cornerstone of her vigorous domestic and international cultural politics. This article traces the occult-mystical influences on Zhivkova's ideas and policies, arguing that her Weltanschauung was translated into a large-scale religio-aesthetic utopia, which posited art, culture, spirituality and aesthetics not only as a core state priority in Bulgarian politics, but also as a way to revamp the entire communist project. I contend that as quixotic as Zhivkova's vision was, her policies contributed to the liberalization of art and culture in a period that has long been associated exclusively with stagnation and decay. Ultimately, this paper illustrates that religiosity and spirituality not only survived, but actually flourished in the late socialist period.

Tolstoyism in the milieu of the countercultural youth in the Soviet Union in the 1970-1980s

Author: Irina Gordeeva (Russian State University for the Humanities)  email

Short Abstract

The paper focuses the phenomenon of revival of the Tolstoyism in the milieu of the “Soviet” hippies in the mid 1970s-1980s. It explores some case studies in order to represent this choice as a form of the resistance against the Soviet ideology.

Long Abstract

Religious and ethical views of Leo Tolstoy had become a basis for a movement that was both religious and socio-political in its nature. It appeared in the late XIX century in Russia. In religious terms Tolstoyism represented a rare for Russia rational variant of "religion of love and conscience", and its members even called themselves as persons of "free-religious ideology".

In the 1930s, the movement was violently interrupted in Soviet Russia, and religious and ethical teachings of Tolstoy were banned. After the World War II there were only a few former ("old") Tolstoyans who completely stopped the spread of religious and ethical ideas of Tolstoy, they mainly served as underground keepers of Tolstoy's archives. In such a situation the appearance appear young Tolstoyans in mid 1970s became rather unexpected phenomenon. Most of them originated from the "Soviet" hippies. Therefore, the young generation intercepted religious traditions of the Tolstoyans, making their choice practically without any influence from the "old" Tolstoyans.

In the mid-1970s-1980s, the Soviet counter-culture milieu was characterized by religious search. The young generation in their search for new identities very often opted for the religious views (rarely - ideological), and the Tolstoyism became one of these options. The paper focuses on the specificity of the religious searches of the countercultural youth during the late socialism and provides some case studies in order to represent the phenomenon as one of the forms of the resistance against the Soviet ideology.

Neoshamanism in Soviet Lithuania in the 1980s: distribution and development of ideas and practices

Author: Egle Aleknaite (Vytautas Magnus University)  email

Short Abstract

The paper analyses Neoshamanic communities active in Soviet Lithuania in the 1980s. In addition to the examination of their practices and local particularities, the circulation of Neoshamanic ideas in the Soviet cultural space and across borders of the Soviet Union and Western Europe is considered.

Long Abstract

The paper analyses Neoshamanic communities active in Soviet Lithuania in the 1980s, mostly following C. Castaneda's teachings and experimenting with psychotropic substances induced trance experiences. In addition to the examination of their practices and local particularities, the circulation of Neoshamanic ideas in the Soviet cultural space and across borders of the Soviet Union and Western Europe is considered.

The examination of published materials and interviews with participants of the analysed practices reveal that Neoshamanic communities in Soviet Lithuania in the 1980s were closely related to youth artist subcultures and broader networks of alternative religiosity / spirituality seekers interested in intensive religious / spiritual and consciousness shifting experiences. In the beginning Lithuanians got acquainted with Neoshamanic ideas in major Soviet cultural centres (Moscow, Leningrad), later some ideas reached the Lithuanian communities from Western Europe through books or direct contacts. Although most practices and concepts of the Neoshamanic communities were seen as an expression of universal human nature and human experience, some elements were localized through fusion with themes of Lithuanian mythology and historical symbolism. In this way, the Neoshamanism in Soviet Lithuania is a perfect case that can reveal changing of relevant cultural space and adaptation of content of religious imagery in the alternative religious field of the late Soviet era.

Acting in the underground: life as a Hare Krishna devotee in Soviet Lithuania

Author: Rasa Pranskevičiūtė (Lithuanian University of Health Sciences)  email

Short Abstract

The situation of ISKCON in Lithuania under the Soviet regime is revealed, focusing on the life as a Krishna devotee under the threat of KGB. Using a historical narrative method, the formation of ISKCON is retraced as well as how the movement came to Lithuania from Russia through Estonia and Latvia.

Long Abstract

The paper focuses on the origins and early development of the Hare Krishna community in Lithuania until 1989, when the collapse of the Soviet Union began. The aim of the paper is to reveal the situation of ISKCON in Lithuania under the Soviet regime until its official registration in 1989, focusing on the life as a Krishna devotee under the threat of KGB. Using a historical narrative method, the formation of ISKCON is retraced as well as how the movement came to Lithuania from Moscow, Russia through Tallinn, Estonia and Riga, Latvia.

The community developed within the underground under the threat of the KGB repressions where it existed until the beginning of the Sąjūdis (the Reform Movement of Lithuania), when public community activities became possible, such as public programs, book distributing and founding of official temples. The ideas and practices of ISKCON were a form of resistance to the Soviet regime and the communist ideology. It did not emerge as an open opposition towards the communist ideology, but its actions appeared more as an attempt to exist in a suppressive sociocultural environment. The Lithuanian ISKCON community played a significant role in the development of ISKCON throughout the Soviet Union, because after the imprisonment of Armenian activists, Lithuanian members organized secret printing and distribution of the ISKCON literature throughout the Soviet region. The presentation depicts a very different ISKCON that, compared with today, lacked an organizational structure and functioned without the guidance by senior foreign ISKCON members.

Early spread of Dzogchen teachings in East: Central European countries

Author: Ieva Rute (Vilnius University)  email

Short Abstract

The article is exploring the circumstances that inspired the spread of Dzogchen teachings in ex-communist countries. Why and how did it happen, that local communities were open to invite the masters of a tradition, that comes from such a distant culture.

Long Abstract

The article is exploring the background circumstances that inspired the spread of Dzogchen teachings in ex-communist countries during the transition period. Right after the collapse of communist rule a lot of Buddhist communities popped out in different post-soviet countries. Dzogchen teaching was one of the most esoteric teachings in Tibetan religious world, but suddenly it was brought to the open lectures for the audience of post-soviet societies. Why and how did it happen, that Tibetan masters decided to come, and local communities were open to invite the masters of a tradition, that comes from such a distant culture. What exactly in the soviet and post-soviet religious context, inspired the rise of the first Dzogchen communities in post-soviet countries of East and Central Europe. What was the reaction of traditional religions in countries, where Christianity was so strong even in the soviet times? Research is based on interviews and available resources on establishment of Dzogchen communities and spread of Dzogchen teachings in Poland, Lithuania, Russia and other East and Central European countries.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.