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Die Wiedergeburt der Ethnologie aus dem Geist des Atheismus. Zur Erforschung des ,,zeitgenössischen Sektierertums” im Rahmen von Chruščevs antireligiöser Kampagne

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The Renaissance of Soviet Ethnology in the Spirit of Atheism. Ethnographic Research on “Contemporary Sectarianism” in the Context of Khrushchev's Anti-Religious Campaigns

In the summer of 1959, researchers belonging to the Academy of Sciences began to conduct fieldwork in Russia's Central Black Soil Area. They dedicated themselves to an issue that was for various reasons quite sensitive: “religious sectarianism”. In the context of the anti-religious campaign launched by Nikita Khrushchev, this research was, on the one hand, intended to scientifically underpin state propaganda. On the other hand, the research team headed by the ethnographer and specialist of religion, Aleksandr Klibanov, had to deal with the problem of how – as atheists on a state mission – to attain reliable information from their interview partners. As members of “sects”, the latter were regarded as potentially “subversive” and thus subject to persecution. In the field, the researchers thus developed forms of participant observation whose results were greatly appreciated by the state, but methodologically criticized as extremely questionable and unworthy of Party and Komsomol members.

In this article, an exploration is made of the interplay between the various State, Party and scientific institutions as well as the interaction between Moscow and the regions where the research was conducted. This allows to identify important elements in the political framework of scientific work and methodological self-reflection within Soviet ethnography during the Thaw period.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: April 1, 2016

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  • The Jahrbücher für Geschichte Osteuropas ("East European History") present the discipline in its entire breadth; for thematically focused articles the emphasis lies on the territory of the former Russian Empire and the former Soviet Union. A double-blind review process with international experts ensures adherence to the annals' recognized high quality standards. An extensive section devoted to reviews informs the reader about current trends in German and international research. In addition, the editorial board publishes an electronic review supplement under the title jgo.e-reviews at
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