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CREES Brown Bag. “‘Foreign Confessions’ in Foreign Contexts: Religion across the Border of the Russian Empire.”

Wednesday, February 10, 2010
12:00 AM
1636 International Institute/SSWB, 1080 S. University

Paul Werth, associate professor of history, University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Sponsor: CREES.

In 1810, Russia’s various non-Orthodox religions and denominations were collectively labeled the “foreign confessions,” in contradistinction to the empire’s “ruling” (and ostensibly native) religion – Orthodoxy. This designation is curious not only because Russia construed itself as a multi-national empire rather than a nation-state, but also because the tsarist regime at the time sought precisely to “domesticate” those non-Orthodox confessions. Yet this designation did capture an important characteristic of those religions – that their principal spiritual centers and the bulk of their adherents were indeed located beyond Russia’s borders.

This presentation places the foreign dimension of the non-Orthodox religions at the center of analysis. Exploring the role of the “foreign confessions” in the project of imperial governance, it examines foreign religious connections as sources of both opportunity and danger for the tsarist regime. It proposes that spiritual ties extending across Russian borders demonstrate some of the ways in which Russia’s imperial experience need be placed in broader, transnational contexts.

Paul Werth received his B.A. from Knox College (1990) and his Ph.D. from the University of Michigan (1996). He has been at UNLV since 1997, and was foreign visiting fellow at the Slavic Research Center of the University of Hokkaido (Japan) in 2004-05. He has conducted research in archives and libraries in Russia, Lithuania, Georgia, and Japan. He has published articles in Social History, Comparative Studies in Society and History, Slavic Review, Kritika, Russian Review, Nationalities Papers, and Ab Imperio. His book, At the Margins of Orthodoxy, was published by Cornell University Press in 2002.