Publicaton number: AAT 9840175
Source: DAI-A 59/07, p. 2675, Jan 1999

Heretics and Colonizers:
Religious dissent and Russian colonization of Transcausasia, 1830-1890 (Azerbaijan, Armenia, Georgia)

Breyfogle, Nicholas Brenton    [Now a professor at Ohio State University]
University of Pennsylvania, PHD Thesis, 387 pages, 1998

This dissertation examines the settlement of Russian religious dissenters (Dukhobors, Molokans, and Subbotniks) in Transcaucasia from 1830 to 1890. During this period, tsarist officials promoted the relocation of sectarians (sektanty) to Transcaucasia--to the exclusion of other Slavs--in an effort to isolate their 'heretical infection' from Orthodox Russians.

Using previously unexamined archival materials written by the settlers themselves, this study explores Russian frontier colonization at ground level. It examines the migration experience, investigates the role of the periphery in nineteenth-century Russian history, and sheds light on the development of the Russian Empire.

Since religious non-conformists comprised the majority of Russian migrants, this dissertation also discusses questions of popular religiosity and the role of religion in Russian society and polity. Whereas existing scholarship describes Russian empire-building as a bilateral encounter between state representatives and indigenous peoples, this study demonstrates that Russian colonists played a vital role in constructing Imperial Russia as a multi-ethnic, multi-confessional entity.

The sectarian-settlers influenced Russia's imperial enterprise through their interactions with tsarist authorities, local inhabitants, and Transcaucasia's ecology. Tsarist officials were obliged to rely on these 'pernicious heretics' to administer the region because there were so few other Russians in Transcaucasia. Paradoxically, these 'pariahs' came to be considered 'model colonists.'

The dissertation also asserts that a primary effect of Russian imperial expansion was to provide arenas on the frontier in which Russians (in this case religious dissenters) were able to forge alterative existences--'new worlds'--beyond those possible in the central provinces. The Transcaucasian frontier proved a fertile ground for contesting labels, manipulating categories, and refashioning notions of self and community. Distant from central power, and in dynamic interaction with a wide array of non-Russian peoples, the sectarians constructed and solidified new religious beliefs, social structures, economic practices, cultural systems, and identities. The use of non-conformists as colonizers loosened traditional links between Orthodox Christianity and Russian ethnicity, redefining Russian nationality.

See the first 24 pages on-line at < > Click on the "CONTINUE" button, then click on image 8 to begin the Introduction. You'll find the first 24 pages of the thesis.

This is the begining of his Introduction:

Breyfogle begins: "On October 20, 1830, Tsar Nicholas I issued a decree which fundamentally altered two previously unconnected aspects of Russian history. It redirected the trajectory of Russian colonization in the Empire's southernmost region--the newly incorporated provinces of Transcaucasia--while simultaneously recasting the fate of Christian religious dissenters throughout the Empire. The 1830 edict ordered that thenceforth all religious sectarians [sectanty] who were classified as "most pernicious" (including Dukhobrs, Molokans, and Subbotniks, but not Old Believers) were to be relocated to Transcaucasia, by either forcible exile or voluntary resettlement. The legislation was a conscious effort on the part of the tsarist state to utilize the Empire's periphery as a means to segregate sectarian Russians from Orthodox ones. From 1830 until the 1880s, Tsarist policy promoted the relocation of dissenters to the exclusion of all other Slavs in an effort to eliminate what state and spiritual leaders saw as their heretical 'infection' of Orthodox subjects. Although small numbers of Russians had moved to Transcaucasia before 1830, the decree turned a trickle into a torrent. Over the course of the next fifty years, tens of thousands of dissenters left central Russia for the southern frontier. Until the 1890s, these non-conformists comprised the majority of ethnic Russians in Transcaucasia. That religious dissenters dominated the settler communities did much to define the character of Russia's imperial presence in the region by inextricable linking popular religiosity with Russian Imperialism.
     "This study examines the settlement of Russian religious dissenters in Transcaucasia between 1830 and 1890. In so doing, it provides a window onto the development and internal functioning of the Russian Empire, and the role of the frontier in nineteenth-century Russian history. the dissertation views events from the 'on-the-ground' perspective of the settlers themselves, as well as from the vantage of central and local authorities.  It explores the interrelations between Russian colonists, indigenous peoples, and state authorities. Finally, it investigates the internal development of the sectarian' communities in their new environment. Why did the Tsarist administration decide to earmark the Transcaucasus for the settlement of religious non-conformists, and why did the dissenters take up the state's offer in such large numbers to relocate there voluntarily? What was the fate of the migrants once they arrived in their new homes? How did their religious, economic, social, and cultural practices, as well as their notions of self-identity, evolve in their new context? What consequences did this migration have for the destiny of Russian imperialism, for the history of Transcaucasia, and for the future development of these branches of Christianity?"

Also see: "Prayer and the Politics of Place: Molokan Church-Building, Tsarist Law, and the Quest for a Public Sphere in Late Imperial Russia", a paper presented by Dr. Breyfogle at the University of Illinois, Russia and East European Center conference: Sacred Stories: Religion and Spirituality in Modern Russian Culture. It tells about the legal struggles Molokans had when they first tried to build bigger houses in which they could legally meet for prayer meetings and their transformation into a more civically active community. Also see the original diagram of the 1886 Kolesnikov prayer house in Baku, Azerbaidjan.. 

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