CREES Noon Lecture. “Weapons of the Watchtower: Jehovah’s Witnesses and Resistance to Soviet Power.”
In this lecture, Baran will examine the history of the Soviet Jehovah’s Witnesses. Their story begins in the western borderlands in interwar Eastern Europe. Border shifts as a result of World War II brought these largely Ukrainian and Romanian believers onto Soviet soil. Now Soviet citizens, they not only survived decades of state persecution, but maintained their religious beliefs, communities, and way of life, and even found converts. Their journey suggests the need to broaden historical conceptions of dissent beyond the well-known urban, intellectual dissidents of the late Soviet era. The Witnesses, a rural, religious community, provide an ideal vehicle to do so because they ran one of the largest and most complex underground organizations in the postwar USSR. Their apocalyptic beliefs, door-to-door preaching, and rejection of secular society compelled them not to conform to even the most basic cultural and political norms of Soviet life. This lecture will explore the ways in which religion provided a powerful structure for ordinary, often rural citizens to form complex alternative communities that pushed the boundaries of control established by the Soviet state.
Emily B. Baran is assistant professor in the Department of History at Middle Tennessee State University. Her research explores the shifting contours of state control, human rights, and religious freedom in the Soviet Union and post-Soviet states. Her first monograph, Dissent on the Margins: How Soviet Jehovah’s Witnesses Defied Communism and Lived to Preach about It, will be published by Oxford University Press in April 2014. Her articles have appeared in Cahiers du Monde russe, Journal of Church and State, Russian Review, and Religion, State and Society. She is currently working on a second monograph, tentatively titled, Communism or Armageddon: Forging an Atheist State in Postwar Ukraine, which will examine the Soviet Union’s efforts to construct a cohesive sociopolitical order in its newly annexed western borderlands after World War II. It will offer a case study of one 1949 police investigation into a religious community in the village of Bila Tserkva, Ukraine.
Sponsors: CREES, Eurasia Collective, WCED
Part of the series Pluralism in Politics and Culture, a new initiative jointly sponsored by CREES and WCED that examines the foundations of free and open societies. The project builds on the university’s rich legacy of study and support of the dissident culture in the former Soviet Union and on several existing efforts at U-M. The series focuses on multiple facets of political pluralism, including its legal, cultural, and economic dimensions, and explore them in a broader historical context.
Emily Baran, assistant professor of history, Middle Tennessee State University