3 presentations about Subbotniki and Molokans

International Conference, Warburg Institute, London 27-28 March 2006
"Ethnic and Religious Communities in the Caucasus"  

10. Dr Alexander A. Panchenko,  Chair of Research Group for Literary Theory and Interdisciplinary Studies, Institute of Russian Literature, Russian Academy of Sciences, St. Petersburg

[See his previous papers which analyze two mystic aspects of sectarians: "Strange Faith" and the Blood Libel", and "Eschatological expectations in a changing world: narratives about the end of the world in present day russian folk culture". "Strange Faith..." provides background for why outsiders may think sectarians are cults that eat children, as some Jumpers in Los Angeles were accused of in 1985. "Eschatological expectations..." examines current Russian culture for the process that leads to pakhod. Also hear the 1-hour audio presentation: "New Religious Movements in Contemporary Russia", CREECA Online Lectures, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Spring 2002 Lectures, in which he summarizes his later paper: "New Religious Movements and the Study of Folklore: The Russian Case", Folklore, vol. 28. December 2004.]

Heterodox Christianity in the Caucasus

Russian religious culture was never stable or monolith. In fact, as Gregory Freeze argues, "Russian Orthodoxy was Russian Heterodoxy — an aggregate of local Orthodoxies, each with its own cults, rituals and customs. Religion, like other dimensions of life, was intensely particularistic, with kaleidoscopic variations from one parish to the next, not to mention broad regional differences". However, in 18th and 19th centuries, vernacular religious practices in Russia became the basis for a number of popular religious movements, both in rural and urban environment. The movements were often labeled as "sects" (or "Old Russian sects"), but, usually, they did not possess any stable social structures or consistent religious teachings. Religious practices, rituals and customs of the "sects" varied greatly from ecstatic cults of the so called "Mystical Sectarians" ("the Christ's faith", or "Khlysty", and "the Castrates", or "Scoptcy") to "Popular Protestantism" of the "Dukhobor" and "Molokan" movements.

Up to the 1840s, the Russian government attempted to stop dissemination of the "newly discovered heresies" by punishing and imprisoning their leaders along with establishing isolated communities of schismatics within the southern provinces of Russia., Then, however, many of religious dissenters were resettled in the Caucasus and Transcaucasia. From the mid 19th century on "Russian sectarians" were a notable part of confessional and cultural map of the region. The presentation deals with the history, religious and social practices of various groups of Russian Heterodox Christians in the Caucasus.

11.  Dr. Sergey A. Shtyrkov, Assistant Prof., Dept. of Ethnology, European University, St. Petersburg

[This paper expands his research in Stavropol' province in 2000: "Strategies of Constructing a Group Identity: The Sectarian Community of the Subbotniki in the Staniza Novoprivolnia" which was pubished in Folklore (Vol 28, Dec. 2004, page 91). Staniza is a small village, literally a "station" where horses were changed. L'vov and Panchenko assisted Shtyrkov with 14 hours of interviews with Subbotnik elders taped in September 2000. 300 Subbotniki resettled from Azerbaijan to this village where Molokans also live.]

Between Jewishness and Russianness: the case of religious sectarians Subbotniki (Judaizing Heresy) in the Caucasus

If one consider a social identity as a dynamic process of creating symbolic borders of human groups, it is interesting to have a look at such processes in the communities, which members have in a sense uncertain identity. Very often such uncertainty results not from certain group' inability to identify its borders and particular traits but from the fact that members of the group realise that "others" might not admit this community as a separate, valid social unit. Such situation generates an especially intensive process of identity construction inside the group.

Subbotniks religious movement appeared in the middle of the 18th century in the some rural regions of the Central Russia, when some Russian peasants repudiated the New Testament as well Christianity. Peculiarity of the Subbotniks’ dogma lies in orientation to the Old Testament, especially to the Pentateuch. Perhaps, initial Subbotniks’ dogma was a kind of «Russian Folk Judaism», based on traditions of peasants’ hermeneutics. But already by the midst of the 19th century the movement of Gers oriented to European Judaism and keeping in touch with Jewish communities in Russia, was formed among Subbotniks. The other part of Subbotniks who did not accept the Talmudic Judaism, was oriented to Karaimism and probably preserved some special practices of the initial Subbotniks’ dogma, traditional forms of peasant rituality and folklore existing in their culture as well.

In 1830-ies – 1840-ies, under Nicolas the First both central government and local authorities began to provide rather strict politics towards Old Believers and sectarians. As a result, many Russian sectarians, in central areas of the European Russia, were forced out to the Caucasus and Transcaucasus and also to Siberia, where they established a number of mono-confessional villages. On the one hand, exile to Trans-Caucasian or Trans-Ural provinces were the most often used punishment for «schism». But, on the other hand, it appeared very soon that detached existing in alien ethnic and confessional surrounding was of quite tempting perspective for sectarians themselves. Their religious, social and economical activity was not persecuted by local administration (either civil or clerical). That is why it was since the middle of the 19 th century when sectarians began to move to the Caucasus and Transcaucasus not only according to the court sentence but also on their own initiative.

The destabilisation of socio-political and religious situation in the Caucasus and Transcaucasus in the end 20 th century (such as Armenian-Azerbaijanian conflict, civil war in Georgia, the Chechen wars, increase of nationalistic ideologies in the New South-Caucasian states and so on) made most Russian sectarians leave their traditional living places. For instance, in Privol’noe village (Azerbaijan), where in the 1960-ies about 5 thousand Subbotniks and Gers lived, by 1997 there remained about 200 Russians.

Though Transcaucasus sectarians’ migration directions are various (many of them move to their relatives all over Russia or to their co-religionists living abroad), part of them prefers to move inside the North-Caucasian area to the settlements of Stavropol’ and Krasnodar regions, where at least a few co-religionists live. Thus, new sectarian communities appeared in larger poly-confessional villages. In these new circumstances the Subbotniks recognise their identity as an uncertain one regarding their ethnicity as well as religiosity – they are both Russian and Jewish, neither Russian nor Jewish. To escape this uncertainty Subbotniks try to find «others» who can confirm the particular identity of their group.
16.  Vartan Akchyan (Georgetown University), will introduce his documentary film

Jews in Armenia: The Hidden Diaspora

His film was nominated for Best Documentary at AFFMA International Film Festival in Los Angeles, 2002.

[See the earlier posting about this film. summarized here:

Jews in Armenia:The Hidden Diaspora (PDF), Thesis/article by Vartan Akchyan
“The People of the Sabbath” relocated in the 1730s from central Russia to ... (Armenia) ...  100 years before Molokans and Doukhobors.... Their beliefs are based only on the Torah ... Ancestors had their own synagogue, rabbi, and prayer books which were translated from Hebrew to Russian. Their song melodies are similar to Molokan-Jumpers.”

Jews in Armenia: The Hidden Diaspora (link to film site with purchase information)
Thesis/film by Vartan Akchyan 2002, DVD/video, 25 minutes, $46.
Includes 3.5 minutes of interviews and services with the Subbotnik congregation and leaders in Sevan, Armenia. See a storyboard of the Subbotnik video segment  — 40 frames with subtitles and 2 songs.]

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