Reviews

This collection of essays by Russian and North American scholars interested in issues of national, religious and ethnic identifications focuses on the roles of Orthodoxy and Islam in national and ethnic identity-building in modern-day Russia.  Juliet Johnson (“Religion after Communism: Belief, Identity, and the Soviet Legacy in Russia,” 1-25) reviews the status of religion during the Soviet period and discusses the party-state’s religious and national policy in different periods: the revolution, the NEP, the ‘Great Turn’ of the late 1920s, the ‘Red Terror’, wwii, the admixture of liberalisation and repressions under Khrushchev and Gorbachev.  Then she discusses how the Soviet period has influenced the current patterns of belief and practice.  Through statistic data and case studies, J. Johnson explores the reasons behind the rise of religiosity among Russian and Muslim peoples of Russia.  Marietta Stepaniants (“Ethno-Religious Identity in Modern Russia: Orthodoxy and Islam Compared,” 26-38) examines the effects of the disintegration of the USSR on collective self-identification.  Among factors of self-identification, religious affiliations are credited of being the most powerful basis for community formation in contemporary Russia, comparing community building processes among ethnic Russians, Dagestanis, and Tatars (with interest, as far as the latter are concerned, in varied ideological movements well represented since the late 1980S: Islamism, Turkism, ‘Tatarism’, and ‘Tatarstanism’).  Liudmila Gatagova (“Orthodoxy, Ethnicity, and Mass Ethnophobias in the Late Tsarist Era,” 39-53) examines the development of ethnic and religious identity through the prism of mass ethnophobias in the nineteenth-century Russian Empire (against Poles, Germans, Jews), and of their influence on policy-making and on collective mentalities.  In his article (“In Search of the ‘Russian Idea’: A View from Inside the Russian Orthodox Church,” 54-65) Father Georgii Chistiakov argues that while mainstream Orthodoxy is defining itself in opposition to Catholicism and Protestantism, in its fringes nationalism, anti-Semitism and xenophobia have accompanied its overall effort to forge a distinctive Russian Orthodox identity.  As a result Orthodox self-consciousness has become increasingly xenophobic, close-minded and highly intolerant to other faiths and to the West in general—Orthodoxy adopting the image of the ‘enemy’ from the Soviet ideological heritage, and demonstrating to which extent political ideology can shape religious identity.  In her contribution (“Tolerance and Extremism: Russian Ethnicity in the Orthodox Discourse of the 1990s,” 66-91), Svetlana Ryzhova argues that the Orthodox discourse that constructs and supports Russian ethnicity is now escaping semantic control by priests, extremist groups using ideologems of religious discourse in contradiction with tolerance advocated by the Church.  Ryzhova applies the analytic and conceptual apparatus of psychology to modern Russian Orthodox sub-discourse, distinguishing four fields of subjectivity with their corresponding models of ethnic self-awareness: tolerant, radical, dysfunctional, and extremist.  Aidar Yuzeev (“Islam and the Emergence of Tatar National Identity,” 92-105) examines the role of Islam in the shaping of the Tatar nation, tracing how Tatar ethnic and religious traditions have changed and developed in relation to each other.  According to him, in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries it is the Islamic identity that has allowed Tatars to resist attempts to assimilate them and to convert them to Orthodoxy, the religious reformer Shihab al-Din al-Marjani being at the forefront of the constitution of the modern Tatar nation.  As to the current period, Islam has again become central to Tatar national identity, the author showing interest in the role of religion in public life in Tatarstan, and in particular in the promotion of the notion of ‘Euro-Islam’.  Another view on the recent development on collective identity-building among the Tatar is Suzanne Wertheim’s study (“Islam and the Construction of Tatar Socio-Linguistic Identity,” 106-23), for which she has been using the Volga Tatar press of the years 1990 to 2001 as a means of accessing public discourse on the role of language in the creation of both Tatar ethnic identity and nation.  This discourse is divided into three categories: the denunciation of an overall ‘impurity’ because of influence and interference of Russian language and culture; the quest for purity as an explicit ideal, particularly in language matters; and the appropriate place to be given to Arabic loanwords and influence in ‘pure’ post-Soviet Tatar.  Wertheim focuses on three linguistic phenomena: borrowings, naming practices, accent.  If the Stalin-era language developments had replaced a majority of Arabic and Persian loanwords in Tatar language with borrowings from Russian, now voices raise for claiming for a return to the ‘old’ versions.  The article also casts light on the significant role played by religion in naming practices—numerous Muslim Tatars going so far as to rename themselves when their original names do not bear enough expression of Islamic/Tatar identity.  As to accent, it also growingly appears as a marker of religion self-identification (the author remarks that religiously oriented speakers pronounce a super-backed variant of the phoneme /k/ under the influence of super-backed consonants in Arabic language).  The volume’s last contribution is Zagir Arukhov’s “The Search of Ethnic and Religious Identity in Dagestan” (124-35) that discusses the ambiguous role of religion in the post-Soviet North Caucasus.  The ethno-cultural closeness of the peoples of Dagestan, their common historical experience and their closely intertwined economic life have contributed to stabilise relations among the republics national and religious groups.  Since 1991 this unity has gradually declined in the face of continued economic instability, falling living standards, unfinished transition, and growing Islamic fundamentalism.  However Dagestan has so far succeeded in overcoming inclinations toward ethnic separatism, and maintained institutional and territorial stability.  In her overall conclusion, Juliet Johnson (“Modern Identities in Russia: A New Struggle for the Soul?,” 136-44) sums up the issues raised by articles, arguing that the historical heritage of the nineteenth century, the repression of religious practice in the Soviet period, and contemporary political forces have opened a space for extremism and exclusionary forms of religious and national identities.

Ilnur Minnullin, Sh. Marjani Institute of History, Kazan
CER: I-5.1.A-392