Lived Religion in Russia and Eastern Europe

Through a detailed examination of primary sources, this course explores the religious beliefs and practices of peasants, workers, monks, and rabbis from the Balkans to the Ural Mountains over the past two hundred years. In the process we will grapple with a range of theoretical questions of interest to scholars of religion, including how broad structural changes to societies in the region altered lived religion, how orthodoxy was reinforced and challenged, what role religion played in forging group identities, and how people related to the divine through a range of different religious traditions.


Required Texts

Heather J. Coleman ed., Orthodox Christianity in Imperial Russia: A Source Book on Lived Religion. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 2014.


Irving Howe and Eliezer Greenberg eds., A Treasury of Yiddish Stories. New York: Penguin, 1990.


Additional Readings

Paul Robert Magocsi, Historical Atlas of Central Europe

Hent de Vries, “Introduction,” in Religion: Beyond a Concept

Alexander Schmemann, For the Life of the World

Abraham Joshua Heschel, The Sabbath

John Behr, The Nicene Faith

John Anthony McGuckin, The Orthodox Church

John Ephron, Medicine and the German Jews

Antonie Plămădeală, Tradition and Freedom in Orthodox Spirituality

Anca Şincan, “From Bottom to the Top and Back: How to Build a Church in Communist Romania”

John-Paul Himka, Last Judgment Iconography in the Carpathians

David Landau, Piety and Power: The World of Jewish Fundamentalism 

Amar Adonay Le-Yaahov, God is in All

Sander Van Maas, “Intimate Exteriorities: Inventing Religion through Music”

Donna A. Buchanan, Performing Democracy: Bulgarian Music and Musicians in Transition

Susan Ashbrook Harvey, Scenting Salvation: Ancient Christianity and the Olfactory Imagination

Dumitru Gelu, Maglavit, 1935

Andriy Zayarnuk, “Letters from Heaven: An Encounter Between the ‘National Movement’ and ‘Popular Culture'”

Ben Eliezer, “Keter Shem Tov”

Alexander Schmemann, Great Lent

James Kapaló, Text, Context, and Performance: Gagauz Folk Religion in Discourse and Practice

Michael Sells, “Crosses of Blood: Sacred Space, Religion, and Violence in Bosnia-Hercegovina”

Emil Fackenheim, God’s Presence in History: Jewish Affirmations and Philosophical Reflections

William B. Husband, Godless Communists: Atheism and Society in Soviet Russia, 1917-1932

James Bjork, “Bulwark or Patchwork? Religious Exceptionalism and Regional Diversity in Postwar Poland”

Emily B. Baran, Dissent on the Margins: How Soviet Jehovah’s Witnesses Defied Communism and Lived to Preach about It

Catherine Wanner, Communities of the Converted: Ukrainians and Global Evangelism

Lavinia Stan and Lucian Turcescu, “The Devil’s Confessors: Priests, Communists, Spies, and Informers”


Online Resources

Facebook pages:

The Religious Studies Project

Eastern Europe

Orthodox Christianity

Orthodox Christian Cooking Show

Orthodox Christian Network

Orthodox Christian Chants

Jewish Life in Warsaw and Lublin

Jewish Heritage Europe

Jewish Review of Books

Jewish Food

Yiddish and Klezmer Music


Twitter Feeds:

Religion Dispatches               @RDispatches

Religion News Service            @RNS

Orthodox Philokalia                @OrthoPhilokalia                            @Pravmir_English

Orthodox Christian Network  @MyOCN

Center for Jewish History       @cjewishhistory

The YIVO Institute                @yivoinstitute








Assessment Tasks

Class Discussion (1 point per lesson):
Points will be awarded at the instructor’s discretion for constructive comments made during class that demonstrate that the student has done the assigned reading for that class.

Facebook Discussion (1 point per contribution):
Much of the discussion for this class will take place within the Facebook group “Lived Religion Course.” If you are unsure of what to contribute to these discussions, consider answering one of the following questions:
• Who wrote this text and why?
• What is the main argument the text’s creator is trying to convey?
• What are the biases of the text?
• What does the creator of the text assume you know before you start reading?
• What words or concepts in the text are unclear?
• What other texts would you like to use to supplement this?
• What could you use this text to prove?

Facebook Posting (3 points per contribution):
Points will be awarded at the instructor’s discretion for new posts of online content related to the topic of the class. Posts that are repetitive or which do not contribute to the learning of others will not receive points.

Definitions Task (4 points):
Post a definition of “religion” to the Facebook group together with a citation. This must be a scholarly definition and may NOT come from a dictionary or encyclopedia.

Museum (10 points per task):
A Museum task will be posted on Blackboard every Wednesday, and should be completed by midnight on Friday. Points will be awarded according to the completeness and quality of the post. You will be asked to:
1. Find an artefact/image/video/music/text that could be used as part of a museum exhibit for the week’s topic and post it to the “Lived Religion Course” group on Facebook.
2. Write a short description (~100 words) of the artefact, explaining its importance and placing it in its historical and geographical context. (Plagiarism is unacceptable!)
3. Briefly cite your sources using the conventions of the Chicago Manual of Style. You MUST provide the date of the artefact.
4. You may ONLY post about the same thing that someone else has already posted about if the artefacts you are describing were produced 100 years apart.
5. Good quality posts will be uploaded to by Monday morning and the content will be quizzed in class each Wednesday.

Quiz (4 points per quiz):
A quiz will be held in class every Wednesday, based on the artefacts and descriptions uploaded at on the previous Monday.

Beliefs and Doctrines Essay (100 points):
How did Eastern Orthodox and/or Jewish believers in Russia and/or Eastern Europe learn and articulate their beliefs and doctrines between 1800 and 2000?

Participant Observation Essay (100 points):
Visit a worship service and write a 5 page (size 12 font, double-spaced) description and analysis of your observations. You must include the date and time that you attended and you must stay for the entire service. The leaders of all of these congregations are aware that you will be visiting them to observe their worship practices.

Rationalization Essay (100 points):
How have believers in Russia and Eastern Europe reconciled their faith with the increasing hegemony of modern science over the past 200 years?


Change Essay (100 points):
How have social and political upheavals changed religious practices in Russia and Eastern Europe over the past 200 years?