Protestants behind the Iron Curtain

Religious Belief, Identity, and Narrative in Russia and Ukraine since 1945

Principal Investigator: Dr Miriam Dobson

When Winston Churchill first spoke of the iron curtain in 1946, a quarter of
a million Soviet citizens were registered as members of the Evangelical
Christian-Baptist Union; by the time the curtain was lifted in 1991, that
number had jumped to 1.5 million. The religious renaissance of the late and
post-Soviet periods took the world largely
unawares: How had faith survived the atheist onslaught? Why had people
turned in such large numbers to the church? What does this tell us about the
process of 'secularization'?

During the Cold War, the West saw Christians in the Soviet Union as
potential allies against the communist regime, particularly Baptists and
Pentecostals. The Soviet authorities were, of course, displeased by the
overtures of overseas religious groups and targeted Protestants as lackeys
of the West. By the Khrushchev era 'sectarians', as the state labelled them,
were passionately demonized. Despite this persecution, Protestant
communities not only survived, but even grew.
This project explores how a sense of spiritual quest characterized the
religious consciousness of many Russian and Ukrainian citizens, particularly
in the traumatic wake of the Second World War. It asks why Protestantism
became the spiritual refuge of choice for growing numbers of Soviet men and
women. This has important implications for the Soviet project as a whole
because it explores the limits of the state attempt to shape the 'new Soviet
person' and the potential for alternative worldviews and beliefs to exist
and even thrive within the USSR.

The AHRC has provided funding for four years which will allow extensive
collaboration between the principal investigator (Miriam Dobson) and colleagues in Moscow
(Nadezhda Beliakova and Aleksei Sinichkin). During this time, we will be
working to collect archival materials and record oral testimony from
believers in four regions: Moscow, Kiev, Chernovitsi, and Voronezh. The
project will result in three kinds of output: a website in both Russian and
English allowing users access to selected archival documents and interview
transcripts; a collection of documents relating to the history of
Protestantism in the Soviet Union (in Russian); and a series of academic
articles and a monograph (in English).

Contact: m.dobson@sheffield.ac.uk

          Protestants behind the Iron Curtain photo