Martin, Dominic A. (2017), “Loyal to god: Old Believers, oaths and orders,”History and Anthropology, 28 (4): 477-496.
Abstract: Since the reign of Peter the Great, the Russian sovereign, be it Tsar, Soviet or Putin, has required demonstrations of ‘loyalty’ that evidence subjects’ interior as well as exterior states. This article explores, through historical and current ethnographic examples, how Old Believers, a dissenting movement of Russian Orthodox Christians, have sought to reconcile this worldly demand with their overarching allegiance to the Kingdom of God, and their refusal to acknowledge a separation between the spiritual and the temporal. This dichotomy is particularly problematized around the swearing of oaths of fealty and the giving and receiving of decorations and orders that vouchsafe loyalty to state or sovereign.
Naumescu, Vlad. 2016. The end times and the near future: the ethical engagement of Russian Old Believers in Romania. JRAI DOI: 10.1111/1467-9655.12379 [Early View Version].
Abstract: Despite growing insights into the secular practices of former socialist states, we are yet to grasp fully their resonance in religious lives. Taking socialist modernity and Old Belief as distinct ethical projects, in this article I discuss the ethical engagements of Russian Old Believers in socialist Romania as reflected in individual biographies. Their struggle to maintain an ascetic Orthodox culture in the midst of an intrusive atheist state was at odds with the urge to join a modernizing project that preached the collective good. This tension was managed through a temporary ‘secularization’ which allowed for differentiated generational commitments and the successful reproduction of their tradition within the socialist system. Old Believers’ return to the church in old age reveals their attempt to shape their lives through ethical action based on the obligation to continuity, to carry on the old faith. It shows how the pursuit of continuity in the Old Belief is a virtuous practice leading to moral exemplarity in a space of equivocal moralities.
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.
Naumescu, Vlad. 2011. The Case for Religious Transmission: Time and Transmission in the Anthropology of Christianity. Religion and Society: Advances in Research. 2(1):54-71.
Acknowledging the growing interest in issues of religious transmission, this article reviews two promising yet contradictory approaches to religion that could be described as historicist and universalist. It offers an alternative view premised on their convergence in a pragmatic approach that can link the material, contextual, and institutional dimensions of transmission with corresponding cognitive, perceptive, and emotional processes. This perspective recognizes the historicity of religious transmission and its cognitive underpinnings while attending to the materiality of its semiotic forms. The article focuses on the relationship between time and transmission in recent ethnographies of Christianity that show how Christian temporalities influence perceptions of social continuity or rupture and individuals’ becoming in history. Within this frame, it examines the case of Old Believers, an apocalyptic movement that emerged out of a schism in seventeenth-century Russian Orthodoxy, to indicate how a pragmatic approach works in practice.