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.
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.
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.