Reviews

Soviet and contemporary Tatar historiographies have presented the Russian conversion campaign of the eighteenth century among the native peoples of the Middle Volga as state-initiated violence.  Paul Werth argues instead that this thesis should be qualified, for by the beginning of the twentieth century baptised Tatars, Chuvash, Mordvins, Maris, and Udmurts strongly and voluntarily identified themselves with Eastern Orthodoxy.  The state viewed conversion as a way to integrate the peoples of the Middle Volga into the bureaucratic structure of the empire, and churchmen regarded conversion not as a private individual transformation but as the foundation for future spiritual growth under its authority.  Both state and church refused to favour coercion as a means of conversion, encouraging instead the use of positive incentives (tax relief, gifts of clothes, draft exemption).  Abuses however actually occurred but they followed baptism or came more from local overzealous hierarchs and functionaries than from Saint Petersburg, unable to control its periphery adequately.  Because of the lack of indigenous evidence, historians, be they in Kazan or in the West, remain largely dependent on Russian legal and missionary interpretive accounts, which leaves room for much speculation.  However Werth’s article points to local variations in the history of Christianisation, worth investigating further. While church and state supported each other in their Christianisation campaign, sometimes local Russian state authorities supported non-Russians against missionary abuses. Also if soldiers used intimidation against the Mordvins in Teriushevskaia volost’ (a petition indicates that they were “tied up during their immersion into the baptismal font,”), in other instances non-Russians voluntarily asked for baptism. More importantly tensions, probably of a socio-economic nature, existed within and between agrarian communities of various ethnic backgrounds, which might explain their voluntary adoption of Christianity or their refusal to accept baptism.

Agnès Kefeli, Arizona State University, Tempe
CER: I-3.2.C-223