HST232: Holy Russia, Soviet Empire: Nation, Religion, and Identity in the 20th Century

20 credits (semester 2)

Module Leader: Dr Miriam Dobson



Pass in at least two Level One History Units HST112-120.


Module Summary

In the wake of the Soviet Union's collapse in 1991, new independent states were established across the former communist bloc, from Central Asia to the Baltic coast. A wave of religious and nationalist emotionprevailed in many of these new countries; war erupted in some parts, most notably in Chechnya.

This module explores the history behind these turbulent events. Rather than approaching the Revolutionary and Soviet periods by focusing on the rise and fall of different political leaders, we instead approach this subject through the prism of nation, religion, and identity. The course probes the following questions: What did the ‘Russian Revolution’ mean for the multi-national empire created by the Romanovs? How far did the communist party manage to create a ‘Soviet’ identity, and on what was this based? Did the Bolsheviks’ attempt to create an atheist society succeed? And what happened to ‘Soviet’ identity when communist leaders began to lose their grip on power in the final decades of the twentieth century?


Module Aims

This module aims to introduce students to the history of Russian Empire, the Soviet Union, and the post-Soviet space in the 20th Century. This module encourages students to think about the diversity of national and religious identities present in the vast geographical area caught up in the ‘Soviet experiment’. It seeks to examine what it meant for ordinary people to become ‘Soviet’ and how other identities (particularly national and religious ones) might feed into, or alternatively undermine, their sense of being Soviet.


Teaching and Assessment

This module will be taught through one lecture and one seminar per week. In some seminars we will use primary sources to explore the issues under consideration; in others we will have more open-ended debate based on the secondary literature.

The precise lecture and seminar programme will be circulated to students at the start of the course but topics are likely to include: an introduction to the concept of 'Holy Rus'; The Russian Orthodox Church before 1917; pogroms in the Tsarist empire; Bolshevik writings on nationalities and religion; unveiling campaigns in Central Asia; nationalism under Stalin; patriotism in the Second World War; atheist propaganda under Khrushchev; religious revivals and nationalist movements in the 1980s.

Further guidance is provided in the module course booklet, available through MOLE.

Information on assessment can be found at: http://www.sheffield.ac.uk/history/current_students/undergraduate/assessment/level2


Course Assignment Information

A wide range of possible topics can arise from this module. Students could decide to investigate some of the debates and issues we have discussed through a detailed case-study of a particular country or region of the USSR. Alternatively, they might decide to explore more fully some of the primary source materials available in translation (memoirs, archival documents, newspaper articles), or visual sources such as posters and paintings.


Selected Reading

Ronald Grigor Suny and Terry Martin, A state of nations: empire and nation-making in the age of Lenin and Stalin (Oxford, 2001).

Terry Martin, The affirmative action empire: nations and nationalism in the Soviet Union, 1923-1939 (Ithaca, 2001)

Douglas Taylor Northrop. Veiled empire: gender and power in Stalinist Central Asia (Ithaca, 2004)

William Husband, "Godless communists" : atheism and society in Soviet Russia, 1917-1932 (DeKalb, 2000)

Hiroaki Kuromiya, Conscience on Trial: The Fate of Fourteen Pacifists in Stalin's Ukraine, 1952-1953 (Toronto, 2012)

Ronald Grigor Suny, The revenge of the past: nationalism, revolution, and the collapse of the Soviet Union (Stanford, 1993).


Intended Learning Outcomes
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