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The paper is supported by a grant of the Russian Science Foundation, project № 17-18-01194.

This article details the rise of Burkhanism’s popularity among the native peoples of the Altai and the reaction of the Russian Orthodox Church between 1904 and 1914. Burkhanism was a reform movement aimed at purging local shamanism of elements associated with the cult of the dead. The initial outbreak of Burkhanism provoked a violent reaction from local Russian settlers, one partially sponsored by local Orthodox churchmen: this was a departure from previous missionary strategies, characterised by their tolerant approach. This article seeks to understand why these churchmen broke with tradition and what methods they used between 1904 and 1914 to try and repress Burkhanism. Using the methods and vocabulary of ethnographical science, missionaries and priests attempted to stigmatise the movement as being pro-Japanese, violently anti-Russian, and a form of Buddhist proselytization. However, secular anthropologists argued the movement had only religious motives. The article conceptualises the shift from a tolerant to a coercive missionary strategy as a move from a ‘voluntarist’ conception of religion, reliant on an individual’s inviolable right to choose their faith, to a ‘confessional’ one, where religious belonging was dependent on the requirements of the state.

Keywords: Burkhanism, Russian Orthodox Church, Altai, Makarii (Glukharev), Orthodox mission, religious toleration

DOI: 10.22250/2072-8662.2017.4.21-30

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About the author


James Matthew WhitePhD, Senior Research Fellow at the Laboratory for the Study of Primary Sources/Laboratory of Archaeographical Studies, Ural Federal University,

Alumnus of the Department of History and Civilization at European University Institute, Italia,;

4 Turgenev str., Ekaterinburg, Russia; This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.