Secularism Soviet Style

Secularism Soviet Style

Teaching Atheism and Religion in a Volga Republic
Sonja Luehrmann
Distribution: Global
Publication date: 11/24/2011
Format: Paperback 14 b&w illus., 2 maps
ISBN: 978-0-253-22355-5
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Sonja Luehrmann explores the Soviet atheist effort to build a society without gods or spirits and its afterlife in post-Soviet religious revival. Combining archival research on atheist propaganda of the 1960s and 1970s with ethnographic fieldwork in the autonomous republic of Marij El in Russia’s Volga region, Luehrmann examines how secularist culture-building reshaped religious practice and interreligious relations. One of the most palpable legacies of atheist propaganda is a widespread didactic orientation among the population and a faith in standardized programs of personal transformation as solutions to wider social problems. This didactic trend has parallels in globalized forms of Protestantism and Islam but differs from older uses of religious knowledge in rural Russia. At a time when the secularist modernization projects of the 20th century are widely perceived to have failed, Secularism Soviet Style emphasizes the affinities and shared histories of religious and atheist mobilizations.

Author Bio

Sonja Luehrmann is Assistant Professor of Anthropology at Simon Fraser University and author of Alutiiq Villages under Russian and U.S. Rule.


“This compelling examination explores the Soviet atheist effort to build a society without gods or spirits and its afterlife in post-Soviet religious revival. ”

“Well conceived from start to finish and likely to become a benchmark in its field. . . . This deeply thoughtful book should appeal to a wide range of readers.”
 — Bruce Grant, New York University

“Drawing upon the material on a particular Russian region, the Republic of Marii El (the former Mariiskaia Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic), from the late nineteenth to the early twenty-first century, the author traces the intricate relationship of religion and secularism in Soviet and post-Soviet times.49.1 2015”
 — Canadian-American Slavic Studies

“[Sony Lûrman's] objective of the study is to compare methods to promote atheist and religious ideas in the Soviet and post-Soviet periods, respectively. Although the content of the teaching of religion [is] the opposite of atheistic propaganda, according to the author, there are similarities in terms of audience and methods . . . .1 2014”
 — Laboratorium

“[This book] greatly enhances our understanding of the post-Soviet revival of religion.June 2013”

“Each chapter traces a concept, an 'elective affinity,' through rich descriptions of how that concept is instantiated in practice across time and across a multireligious social field. The result is new and productive lens through which to understand the relationship between religion and communism.”
 — Anthropos

“Highly recommend[ed].April 2014”
 — H-Soz-u-Kult

“Secularism Soviet Style is an attractively written and thought-provoking book that deserves to be read not only by regional specialists but by scholars of religion and secularism more generally.”
 — Slavic Review

“Luerhmann's ethnography makes an important contribution to studies about the nature of and the relationships between secular and religious movements in Russia. At the same time, its impact will extend beyond studies of religion to shed critical light on processes of knowledge formation and knowledge transmission. In many ways, because Luerhmann does such a good job of attending to and unpacking Russian styles of persuasion, it will be of tremendous value to schlars working on a wide range of topics, from political ideology to forms of aesthetics and representation to institutions and bureaucracies, not just in Russia but across the former Soviet Union. ”
 — The Russian Review

“Luehrmann’s book is well written and excellently researched. It provides much-needed understanding of the late-Soviet atheist endeavors. Importantly, by showing how Soviet secularism diverged from liberal projects, it makes a valuable contribution to conceptualizations of secularism.”
 — PoLAR

“Luehrmann’s book is a fascinating anthropological inquiry into the every-day lives of post-communist citizens that focuses especially on four religious groups: Orthodox,Protestant-Lutherans, Evangelical (especially Pentecostal and Charismatic) and Traditional Mari Religion (Chimarij) and the way these religious groups appropriate the secular mobilization and didactic techniques that were forged during the Soviet period.”
 — Anthropology of East Europe Review

“This is a fascinating probe into the complex world of a country attempting to remove religion and god from society in order to modernize, but finding that atheism is not synonymous with modernization, and that religion has deep roots and an extraordinary ability to adapt to changing circumstances. . . . Recommended.”
 — Choice

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Table of Contents

Preface and Acknowledgments
Note on Translation, Transliteration, and Names

Introduction: Atheism, Secularity, and Postsecular Religion

I. Affinities
1. Neighbors and Comrades: Secularizing the Mari Country
2. "Go teach:" Methods of Change

II. Promises
3. Church Closings and Sermon Circuits
4. Marginal Lessons

III. Fissures
5. Visual Aid
6. The Soul and the Spirit

IV. Rhythms
7. Lifelong Learning

Conclusion: Affinity and Discernment


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