Accepted Paper:

Komi protestants and local community initiatives  


Piret Koosa (Estonian National Museum)
Art Leete (University of Tartu)

Paper short abstract:

Evangelical Protestant missions are rather exceptional in providing grass-root level social programmes in the Russian North. We aim to discuss contradictory reception of protestant social programs in predominantly Orthodox social environment.

Paper long abstract:

Social initiatives are not widespread in rural communities of the Russian North. Evangelical Protestant missions provide an unexpected challenge to municipal administrators in this respect. By their social programmes, Evangelicals step in local social network between official institutions and individuals. Drawing on ethnological fieldwork in Komi Republic, Russia, we aim to explore consequences of Protestant civil endeavours on social as well as religious relationships.

While Orthodoxy is considered to be traditional among the Komis, communities of evangelical Christians have also grown remarkably in the Republic since early 1990s. However, evangelical missionaries have had surprisingly little success in rural areas. Strong, almost natural link perceived to be between religious, social, cultural and national belonging could be seen as one reason for this. Different concept of 'proper' worship practices is another main obstacle for the evangelical newcomers to be accepted among traditionally Orthodox villagers.

As part of their mission, Komi Protestants carry out a lot of social work. They construct playgrounds in kindergartens, renovate cultural houses for communities and help the elderly people, arrange treatment of alcoholism etc. Ironically, by organising all this, Protestants put the Russian Orthodox Church and local administration under pressure as people start to question ROC's efficiency and administrators' management ability. At the same time, through their social enterprises Evangelicals serve to God but also hope to acquire more positive reputation among common people, much needed in the generally sceptical village communities. We plan to discuss ambivalent outcomes of Evangelical public activism in rural areas of Komiland.

Panel P33
Locality and cultural processes