"Let books be your dining table, / And you shall be full of delights. / Let them be your
And you shall sleep restful nights" (St. Ephraim the Syrian).

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Secular Archives, Sacred Realities

If I had endless money and endless time, I would spend both in any number of archives--Vatican, Ottoman, Churchill, and many others--ferreting out some of the golden eggs of insight, scandal, or amusement they doubtless still withhold from us, or being amazed at the lacuna in their holdings. To anyone who has ever done archival research, the idea that they are simple, innocent, objective, comprehensive repositories--mere bank vaults for everything every written on a topic--is of course nonsense. What makes it into the archives is as important a question as what does not. Who determines the nature of the collection determines in significant part the history that gets written on the basis of those archives.

Published this summer is a book that looks fascinating because of the complex intersection of religious history in the hands of official atheists:

Sonja Luehrmann,  Religion in Secular Archives: Soviet Atheism and Historical Knowledge (Oxford UP, 2015), 256pp.

About this book the publisher tells us:
What can atheists tell us about religious life? Russian archives contain a wealth of information on religiosity during the Soviet era, but most of it is written from the hostile perspective of officials and scholars charged with promoting atheism. Based on archival research in locations as diverse as the multi-religious Volga region, Moscow, and Texas, Sonja Luehrmann argues that we can learn a great deal about Soviet religiosity when we focus not just on what documents say but also on what they did. Especially during the post-war decades (1950s-1970s), the puzzle of religious persistence under socialism challenged atheists to develop new approaches to studying and theorizing religion while also trying to control it. Taking into account the logic of filing systems as well as the content of documents, the book shows how documentary action made religious believers firmly a part of Soviet society while simultaneously casting them as ideologically alien. When juxtaposed with oral, printed, and samizdat sources, the records of institutions such as the Council of Religious Affairs and the Communist Party take on a dialogical quality. In distanced and carefully circumscribed form, they preserve traces of encounters with religious believers. By contrast, collections compiled by western supporters during the Cold War sometimes lack this ideological friction, recruiting Soviet believers into a deceptively simple binary of religion versus communism. Through careful readings and comparisons of different documentary genres and depositories, this book opens up a difficult set of sources to students of religion and secularism.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Anonymous comments are never approved. Use your real name and say something intelligent.

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...