Russian Empire as a Multiconfessional State: Orthodox Authority and Non-Orthodox Communities, 1700–1917

AHA Session 93
Friday, January 7, 2011: 2:30 PM-4:30 PM
Room 308 (Hynes Convention Center)
Matthew P. Romaniello, University of Hawai'i at Manoa
Gregory L. Freeze, Brandeis University

Session Abstract

This panel will examine how religiously identified rulers, the Russian emperors and empresses, sought to legitimate their rule among peoples of non-dominant faiths.  From the reign of Peter the Great (1682-1725) until the collapse of the Romanov dynasty, Russian Orthodoxy remained the official and predominant religion of the empire.  From the sacred nature of the coronation, to the pronouncement of imperial decrees in sacred spaces, to holidays and the organization of the calendar, imperial authority was conveyed through a religious idiom.  At the same time, the empire’s great expansion in this period necessitated intensive engagement with non-Russian Orthodox communities.  The Northern War of the early 18th century brought Russian Orthodox authority to the Baltic Lutherans; the Partitions of Poland made imperial subjects of Catholics and Jews in the western borderlands in the late 18th century; and conquests from Bashkiria in the 1730s to Central Asia in the 1860s brought with them large Muslim populations.  How did Russian Orthodox authority establish itself among non-Orthodox peoples?  In what ways did the emperors and their officials seek to legitimate Russian Orthodox authority, to make it seem normal and stable?  To what extent did the regime succeed?

This panel will examine these questions by bringing together scholars of four of the empire’s major religious communities—Catholic, Jewish, Islamic, and Russian Orthodox.  In doing so, the panel seeks to break through professional divides that often isolate scholarly examination of different faiths from one another.  Taken together, the panel’s papers will identify common patterns and crucial differences in the relationship between religious communities and political authority.  The panel’s participants include a historian of tsarist rule of Catholics and Uniates in the empire’s western borderlands (Skinner); of the Jewish population in Ukraine’s capital, Kiev, (Hillis); and of Muslims in the empire’s southeast (Steinwedel).  The panel’s commentator, Gregory Freeze, is the preeminent authority on Russian Orthodoxy and its institutions in imperial Russia. The panel builds upon a confessional turn in scholarship on imperial Russia over the last decade.  The collapse of the Soviet Union into nation-states gave the framework “empire and nation” new prominence in the field as historians considered the emergence of national identities, or lack thereof, among the tsar’s subjects in the late imperial period.  In this context, the formation of the Soviet Union represented a move toward nation-making that had been largely absent among imperial officials before 1917.  The relative weakness of national conceptions among imperial officials before 1917 has subsequently shifted concern toward what did persist—the imperial state’s identification of the tsar’s subjects according to religious confession and the institutional framework with which the imperial state incorporated non-Russian Orthodox faiths into the empire.  The panelists will consider how non-Russian Orthodox religious communities participated in this confessional structure through the use of the imperial state’s institutions, language, and categories.  The panel will be of interest to all scholars of Modern Russia and to those of other regions interested in the comparative dimensions of the Catholic, Jewish, and Muslim experience.

See more of: AHA Sessions