Koosa, “Negotiating Faith and Identity”

Koosa, Piret. 2017. Negotiating Faith and Identity in a Komi Village: Protestant Christians in a pro-Orthodox sociocultural environment. Doctoral Dissertation, Institute for Cultural Research and Fine Arts. Tartu: University of Tartu.

Excerpt: This study explores the dynamics of post-Soviet religious life in the Komi Republic, in Northern Russia. After the demise of communism and the Soviet Union, the question of identity has been a central concern in Russia as well as in the Komi Republic. Consequently, religion has acquired an important social role as it is a means of creating and sustaining identity and culture. Religions which are perceived as “new” or “foreign”, however, have gained more and more negative attention since the mid 1990’s. Following the religious freedom law in 1990, numerous (locally) “new” religious groups began appearing. These faiths were introduced and promoted by foreign missionaries. One Russian peculiarity is that some of these religious groups, which are quite mainstream in other parts of the world, are termed “new”, despite their often actually having had a considerable history within Russia as well. Protestant Christianity and especially its evangelical offshoots are probably most notable examples of religions holding this peculiar position and being surrounded by popular controversies.

Mikeshin, “I’m Not like Most of You Here, I’m Just an Alcoholic”

Mikeshin, Igor. 2016. “‘I’m Not like Most of You Here, I’m Just an Alcoholic’: A Russian Baptist Theory of Addiction.” Journal of Ethnology and Folkloristics 10 (2): 19–32

Abstract: In my paper I discuss alcoholics in the Russian Baptist rehabilitation ministry by comparing them to drug addicts. In the outside world, as well as in the early stages of the rehabilitation program, alcoholics and illicit drug abusers are perceived as different cultural groups. However, during the program, rehabilitants learn Russian Baptist dogma and theology, and soon afterwards the distinction becomes obsolete for them. I address narratives of distinction and the Russian Baptist response to them. Then I reconstruct the Russian Baptist theory of addiction to demonstrate why alcoholism and substance dependence are not regarded as a problem, but rather as consequences of the real problem, which is a life in sin.

Penttilä, “Creating an Evangelical Self”

Penttilä, Maija.  2016.  Creating an Evangelical self: an analysis of narratives of conversion to Evangelicalism in post-Soviet St Petersburg.  Religion, State and Society.  Early online publication.

Abstract: In this article I analyse the narratives of conversion to Evangelical churches in St Petersburg by inquiring how Russians engage with the Evangelical churches and how they construct a meaningful conversion identity. My analysis shows how the social and political changes of post-Soviet Russia are experienced in religious terms and whether they have social implications that are reflected in identity-building as both Russian and Evangelical. Individual identity always reflects time and place, and the social and societal context in which an individual lives. Through this route I also broaden the understanding of Russian societal attitudes towards present-day ‘religious dissidents’. My research is based on 19 thematic interviews and participant observations in church meetings in St Petersburg between 2006 and 2009. Most of the interviewees belonged to communities that could be categorised as neo-Pentecostal. The study revealed that both a personal religious quest, especially during the societal turmoil that existed after the collapse of the Soviet Union, and the influence of friends or relatives were significant impulses for conversion. The resources sustaining the conversion as an ongoing process are communal, but also involve an individual self-improvement project within the construction of a new Evangelical self.

Mikeshin, “How Jesus Changes Lives”

Mikeshin, Igor. 2016. How Jesus Changes Lives: Christian Rehabilitation in the Russian Baptist Ministry. Research Series in Anthropology (University of Helsinki). Doctoral Dissertation. Helsinki: Unigrafia.

Abstract: This thesis is the study of a rehabilitation ministry for the addicted people called Good Samaritan, run by the Russian Baptist Church. The study scrutinizes a two-dimensional process of Christian Rehabilitation. This process consists of two aspects: bodily detoxication through prolonged isolation, and radical moral transformation through conversion to Christianity. This twofold process corresponds to the twofold nature of substance use dependence: biochemical and psychological. The narrative of conversion is constructed upon the literalist reading of the particular translation of Scripture Russian Synodal Bible impacted by the 16th (Martin Luther) and 17th century (Jacobus Arminius and the Remonstrants) Protestant dogmatics and Russian historical and sociocultural context. The narrative of rehabilitation is also impacted by the street, junkie, and prison experience of the rehabilitants and their elders, who hold the authority to interpret Scripture. My research contributes to the study of Russian Evangelical Christianity and substance use dependence, both of which are unique and substantially influenced by contemporary Russian historical, sociocultural, political, economic, and linguistic context. At the same time, both Russian Evangelicalism and substance abuse share global features of Evangelical Christianity and drug epidemics. My analysis is based on the ethnographic fieldwork conducted from January 2014 to January 2015 in St. Petersburg and Leningradskaia oblast’, Russia. The participant observation included prolonged stays in three rehab facilities, guest and missionary visits, church services, seminars, festivities, and extensive study of Protestant Christianity and substance abuse.

Mikeshin, “Decency, Humility, and Obedience”

Mikeshin, Igor. 2016. Decency, Humility, and Obedience: Spatial Discipline in the Baptist Rehab Centre. Journal of Ethnology and Folkloristics 9(2): 41-58. 

Abstract: This paper scrutinises the role of place and space in the process of Christian rehabilitation. This process is an interconnection of the rehabilitation of the addicted people and conversion to a particular kind of Christianity, working as an inseparable twofold process. The narrative of conversion in the rehabilitation ministry is impacted by the 150-year history of Russian Baptists, the rich sociocultural context of contemporary Russia, the junkie and prison context of the people in rehabs, and a very specific Russian Synodal translation of the Bible. I demonstrate the role of space in the implementation of rehab rules and discipline, Christian dogmatics, and construction of the Christian self. The organisation of space in the rehabs very much resembles prison, while also following the common dogmatic principles of the program. At the same time, rehabilitation is enforced by harsh conditions, a strict regime, and the idea of proper Christian family.

Bernstein, “Freeze, Die, Come to Life”

Bernstein, Anya. 2015. Freeze, die, come to life: The many paths to immortality in post-Soviet Russia. American Ethnologist 42(4):766-781. 

Abstract: Through practices such as cryonics and plans to build robotic bodies for future “consciousness transfer,” the Russian transhumanist movement has engendered competing practices of immortality as well as ontological debates over the immortal body and person. Drawing on an ethnography of these practices and plans, I explore controversies around religion and secularism within the movement as well as the conflict between transhumanists and the Russian Orthodox Church. I argue that the core issues in debates over the role of religion vis-à-vis immortality derive from diverse assumptions being made about “the human,” which—from prerevolutionary esoteric futurist movements through the Soviet secularist project and into the present day—has been and remains a profoundly plastic project.

Occasional Paper: Mikeshin, “Russian Evangelicalism Glocalized”

Russian Evangelicalism Glocalized
Igor Mikeshin (University of Helsinki)

This paper echoes the idea of glocalization of Evangelical Christianity, suggested by Joel Robbins (2004). Robbins marks two simultaneous processes in Pentecostalism and Charismatic (P/C) Christianity as Westernizing homogenization and indigenizing differentiation. I suggest that Russian Evangelicalism’s relation to the Russian culture is glocal in a similar way: “a relationship of both rejection and preservation.” (Robbins 2004: 137) Russian Evangelical congregations, as well as P/C, are also to a great extent autonomous, egalitarian, and focused on evangelism.

Although I place Russian Evangelicalism in the Robbins’ model, there are remarkable differences between those two phenomena, constructing a distinct narrative of glocalization. These differences go beyond denominational features, or even explicit display of the Holy Spirit by P/C, and they rise from the dogmatics. Firstly, the emphasis on the direct interaction with God was spread through the vast activity of P/C missionaries. Initially it took form of planting and growing churches by the Western ministers, which can be also seen in Russia after 1991. However, Russian Evangelical groups, even Pentecostals, originated from the spiritual endeavors of certain Russian intellectuals, most remarkably Ivan Voronaev (Pentecostal) and Ivan Prokhanov (Evangelical Christian). They brought Western teachings to Russia, interpreted and transformed them on the basis of the Russian Bible, and constructed the narrative of response to the Orthodox spiritual monopoly and Russian sociocultural context.

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Vallikivi, “On the Edge of Space and Time”

Vallikivi, Laur. 2014. On the Edge of Space and Time: Evangelical Missionaries in the Post-Soviet Arctic. Journal of Ethnology and Folklorisitics 8(2): 95-120.

Abstract: Evangelical missionaries have missionised pretty much throughout Russia after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Among their favourite targets are the small-numbered indigenous groups in the Russian Arctic, where the numbers of converts are steadily growing. One particular denomination, known as the Unregistered Baptists, are among the leading agents of religious change in the North today. They are driven by the promise of the return of Christ after the gospel is preached “at the ends of the earth”. I suggest that the Baptists’ agenda is shaped, on the one hand, by the literal reading of the Bible, which allows them to be the divine instruments at the end times and, on the other hand, by the idea of Russia’s special role in God’s salvation plan. I shall analyse the Baptists’ ideas and practices, using among others Bakhtin’s concept of chronotope in order to demonstrate how powerful narratives are created and lived.

Humphrey, “Schism, Event, and Revolution.”

Humphrey, Caroline. 2014. Schism, Event, and Revolution: The Old Believers of Trans-Baikalia. Current Anthropology DOI: 10.1086/678476

Abstract: This paper discusses historical dynamics in the Russian Eastern Orthodox Church, in particular among the groups known as Old Believers. Seeing itself as the only true continuation of ancient Christianity, Eastern Orthodoxy has been more concerned with continuity and institutional authority than with conversion into the faith, and therefore schism was regarded as a matter of utmost significance. The Great Schism of 1666 split the reforming central religious authorities from the plethora of Old Believers, so-called because they remained faithful to the truth of the old ways. Over later centuries the excommunicated Old Believers would themselves scatter and splinter repeatedly, in each case erecting boundaries around a newly defined (yet seen as ancient) righteous way of life, while also protecting it from the state law and external authority. In this paper I suggest that these schismatic decisions to adopt the stance of messianic “rightness,” and the willingness of martyrs to struggle for it, can be related to the moral-social basis of the Russian Revolution, especially if revolution is understood not simply as a political event but also as the forging of new and “true” meaning, accompanied by the rejection of wrongful thinkers.

Zigon, “On Love”

Zigon, Jarrett. 2013. On Love: Remaking Moral Subjectivity in Post-rehabilitation Russia. American Ethnologist 40(1):201-215.

Abstract: Love, I argue, is a demand around which moral experience—and thus moral subjectivity—takes shape. Love entails the struggle to ethically remake oneself, and the response to its unavoidable demand has consequences for both oneself and others. I examine the moral experience of love as it was lived by two former participants in a Russian Orthodox Church–run heroin rehabilitation program in St. Petersburg. My discussion thus contributes conceptually and ethnographically to the growing literature on the anthropology of moralities.