Author:Art Leete (University of Tartu)
Paper short abstract:
For centuries, folk orthodox practices have co-existed with animist conduct in a Komi village. During the post-Soviet period, charismatic Protestant groups moved into the Komi rural areas. People join these new groups on various reasons and religious identities become obscure in this process.
Paper long abstract:
The Komi people were converted into Christianity at the end of the 14th century, being thus the first indigenous group to adopt Russian Orthodoxy in the eastern areas of the Russian North. Over time, the Eastern Christian faith became deeply integrated part of Komi culture and people predominantly consider it normal to be an Orthodox believer. After the Soviet period, the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC) infrastructure and professional religious specialists were basically absent in the Republic of Komi. Religious practice was kept alive by religious grannies who conducted needed minimum of religious ritual services (baptising children, arranging funerals). Although the ROC restores its positions in the region intensively, certain tensions between folk orthodox traditions and the official line of ROC remain.
Charismatic Protestant missions have spread over the Komi lands to fill "the spiritual vacuum". People with folk orthodox religious identity join these missions easily but they do not give up their actual religious feelings. The choice of Protestantism is often a matter of opportunity for them (it may be that a Protestant church is the only one they have a realistic possibility to visit as ROC is still not effective enough in reaching people). An important source of misunderstanding between the Protestant missionaries and local people lays in differences of basic narrative strategies. While the missionaries aim to reveal the truth about the faith directly, folk orthodox-animist rules of speaking (adopted in rural communities) prescribe much more hazy dialogue. Thus, the people are slightly suspicious about the Protestant agenda.