Reviews

Tatar historians and political activists have long argued that conversion to Orthodoxy led to outward and inward Russification (obrusenie), that is total assimilation and the rejection of indigenous culture.  Paul Werth’s study of the emergence of an Eastern Orthodox non-Russian indigenous intelligentsia before the 1917 revolution successfully proves otherwise.  Nikolai Il’minskii (1822-91), the founder of a new system of catechisation in native languages, strongly believed that non-Russians could confess Eastern Orthodoxy without losing their ethnicity, cultural individuality, and languages.  After 1905, a new indigenous elite among the Finno-Ugric and Turkic peoples of the Viatka diocese called for a defence of Il'minskii’s legacy, which was under attack, and a redefinition of “obrusenie,” to promote their own ethnic identity.  Native clerics distinguished between a positive spiritual “obrusenie”—the love of the universal Orthodox faith and the Russian people who held it—and narrow “obrusenie”—dressing and speaking like Russians.  Both Orthodoxy and enlightenment could be disseminated among peoples of different ethnicities through their native languages and also through Russian agency (Russians could use native languages to “enlighten” the “natives”).  Concretely this version of “spiritual” Russification meant that non-Russian indigenous peoples could train and choose their own clerics.  Orthodoxy was to serve as a powerful unifying cement between Maris, Chuvash, Udmurts, and Kriashens, caught between the Russian people, who did not always live up to their moral standards, and the Muslim Tatars, their former rulers.  Paul Werth’s article helps to trace the emergence of non-Russian orthodoxies and raises more questions about the incorporation of Orthodoxy into native cosmologies.  What aspects of Russian Orthodoxy was retained or rejected?  How did Kriashen, Chuvash, Mari, Udmurt, and Russian Orthodoxies differ from one another?  What stories did they have of their own conversion?  How did sainthood and the worship of icons develop in non-Russian milieu?  Did Kriashen, Chuvash, Udmurt, Maris have their own narratives of miraculous icons (Mary, Saint Nicholas) as Russians did?  What would they tell us about their understanding of Christianity and their place in it?

Agnès Kefeli, Arizona State University, Tempe
CER: I-3.1.C-192