Reviews

This is a problematic book that will be of little use to serious scholars of Central Eurasia.  In terms of its analytical rigor, its engagement with the existing scholarship, its use of sources, and its conceptualisation of the central issues it investigates, the book is deeply flawed.  A. K. Tikhonov addresses state policy with respect to the three largest non-Orthodox religions in the Russian Empire—Catholicism, Islam, and Judaism—from late eighteenth century until 1905.  But for the most part he forfeits the benefits of comparative analysis and treats each religion in almost hermetic isolation from the others.  Most of his conclusions are either mundane or highly contestable.  That the government constructed its policy with a view towards maintaining the state’s unity seems scarcely objectionable; that this unity could be attained only on the basis of the “titular nationality” and its faith is a proposition requiring much greater argumentation than the author provides.  Other assertions are more problematic still:  that officials of the higher bureaucracy were not anti-Semitic; that Islam was raised to a level equal to Orthodoxy in 1905; that there was no struggle with Catholicism “as a religion”; that officials did not interfere in the “internal confessional life” of Russian Muslims; etc.  In some cases, A. K. Tikhonov’s observations contain a small grain of truth, but he asserts them in such a crude and unqualified manner that they can only shock and awe the reader.  There are numerous other problems with the book.  Despite an introductory chapter in which he cites a mountain of literature, the author fails almost entirely to engage with the findings of other scholars in the pages that follow.  Not only is his list of scholarship in English dated and largely cosmetic, but he also ignores a series of core works in his own native tongue.  The book accordingly offers little more than a deadening rehash of decrees and archival files.  The author often reproduces lengthy lists from various documents, usually without any sort of analysis.  A. K. Tikhonov also evinces a shockingly naïve faith in his sources (all of them Russian) and the categories that they deploy.  Expressions like “Muslim fanaticism,” for example, are deployed without quotation marks and without irony.  The assertions of the documents are in most cases accepted uncritically as fact.  The author’s position therefore emerges as that of the imperial government, and indeed parts of the book could easily have been written in the nineteenth century.  Furthermore, the book is badly organised, and the prose is disjointed (the transitions, in particular, are often very rough).  And ultimately, the analysis is weak.  The introduction consists mostly of lengthy citations of other works (Boris Mironov’s social history of the Russian Empire and a mysterious, authorless Moscow publication of 2004 called “Toleration”), but without much effort on the part of the author to stake out his own position.  And when one reads that the book’s methodological foundation consists of “the principles of historicism, scholarly objectivity,” and that the specific methods being deployed include “the retrospective approach,” one is inclined to go no further.  In short, despite a handful of curious moments and some useful source material in citation, this book offers little aside from frustration to specialists of Central Eurasia.

Paul W. Werth, University of Nevada, Las Vegas
CER: I-5.1.A-397