Accepted Paper:

Far Eastern Old Believers: how to study a transpacific ethical ecumene  


Dominic Martin (University of Cambridge)

Paper short abstract:

This paper introduces an Anglo-Japanese collaborative project to study the transpacific encounters of Russian Old Believer emigres and their post-Soviet emulators. We ask to what extent one scene of transnational collaborative encounter (academic) might render another (Russian religious) knowable.

Paper long abstract:

Old Belief is a tradition of Orthodox Christianity that since the 17th century has rejected the authority of the state-aligned Russian Orthodox Church. Old Believers' dissenter status led them to occupy the peripheries of the Russian Empire: at the end of the 19th Century they were among the first groups of Russian colonizers to populate the Far Eastern territory. One revolution (Russian) followed by another (Chinese) provoked their flight from Eurasia to the most distant corners of the Pacific Ocean: Alaska and Australia. The end of socialism in Russia has given these communities the chance to return to their spiritual homeland in the Russian Far East, where, meanwhile, an Old Believer religious revival has been started by young Russians who seek an authentically Russian spiritual life, which they see embodied in these emigre Old Believer communities.

This paper outlines a collaborative project to study the encounter between the Old Believer emigration and its post-Soviet revival. The mapping of this multi-dimensional interaction depends on an analogous encounter in the realm of knowledge production: between an anthropologist who has researched extensively the history and development of the Old Believer emigration, and one who has conducted fieldwork amongst the post-Soviet revival. Far Eastern Old Belief is an transnational anthropological object/location that cannot be studied within a narrow area-based or single disciplinary paradigm. Instead in this paper we will enquire whether and how a collaborative encounter across academic borders might replicate more faithfully the disjunctive synthesis of this post-Cold War, pan-Pacific religious assemblage.

Panel P124
Bounded fieldsites, mobile concepts, flexible anthropologists