The Renaissance of Ethnography from the Spirit of Atheism? Research on “Contemporary Sectarianism” in the Context of N.S. Khrushchev’s Anti-Religious Campaigns
[Rozhdeniie etnografii iz dukha ateizma? Issledovaniia “sovremennogo sektantstva” v kontekste antireligioznykh kampanii N.S. Khrushcheva]
Type of publication: Research Article
history of ethnography, methods, Soviet ethnography, USSR, study of religion, sectarianism, atheism, anti-religious campaigns
In the summer of 1959, scholars of the Soviet Academy of Sciences began to conduct field research in Russia’s Central Black Soil Area. They dedicated themselves to an issue that was for various reasons quite sensitive: “religious sectarianism”. In the context of the anti-religious campaign launched by Khrushchev, this research was on the one hand intended to scientifically underscore the state propaganda. On the other, the research team headed by the ethnographer and specialist on religion, Aleksandr Klibanov, had to deal with the problem of how – as atheists on a state mission – to attain reliable information from their interview partners. As members of “sects”, the latter were regarded as potentially “subversive” and thus subject to persecution. In the field, the researchers thus developed forms of participant observation whose results were greatly appreciated by the state, but methodologically criticized as extremely questionable and unworthy of party and Komsomol members. In this article, I explore the interplay between the various state, party, and academic institutions as well as the interaction between Moscow and the regions in which the research was conducted. This allows me to identify important elements in the political framework of academic work and methodological self-reflection within Soviet ethnography during the Thaw period of the country’s history.
Huhn, U. 2018. The Renaissance of Ethnography from the Spirit of Atheism? Research on “Contemporary Sectarianism” in the Context of N.S. Khrushchev’s Anti-Religious Campaigns [Rozhdeniie etnografii iz dukha ateizma? Issledovaniia “sovremennogo sektantstva” v kontekste antireligioznykh kampanii N.S. Khrushcheva]. Etnograficheskoe obozrenie 2: 100-121. https://doi.org/10.7868/S0869541518020082
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