Baltic Orthodoxy: People, Practices, Places

Baltic Orthodoxy: People, Practices, Places

Irina Paert, University of Tartu; Liina Eek, University of Tartu; James M. White, University of Tartu
Takes place
From - Until
01.05.2023 -
Connections Redaktion, Leipzig Research Centre Global Dynamics, Universität Leipzig

Contributing authors representing a variety of academic disciplines and national backgrounds will be asked to provide micro examinations of Orthodoxy in the Baltic region (Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and Finland), choosing as their case studies individual people, communities, and practices from the nineteenth century to the present day.

Baltic Orthodoxy: People, Practices, Places

From the nineteenth century, Orthodox practices, identities, and institutions in the Baltic region have continually been rewoven to form a truly intriguing tapestry reflecting the particular perspectives and interests of a dazzling number of weavers. Initially the religion of Russian settlers, Orthodoxy attracted indigenous lower-class adherents during complex social manoeuvring between local elites and the imperial authorities. In the process, both rural and urban locales were transformed by the presence of Orthodox clergy, churches, charities, schools, and sacred narratives, some imposed from above, others created by agents on the ground. Following the devastation unleashed by the First World War and revolution, Baltic Orthodox churches and believers faced not only the formidable task of creating new institutions embodying both late imperial reform movements and new democratic trends, but also negotiating their position as minorities within avowedly secular republics. Following yet another round of destructive conflict in the Second World War, Orthodoxy in parts of the Baltic region had to confront yet another challenge, that of the militantly atheistic Soviet state, which shuttered churches, persecuted clergy and believers, and imposed strict regulations on religious activities. Today, Orthodoxy and its adherents continue to play an important role in the multicultural landscape of the modern Baltic region, adapting their faith and practices to a world thoroughly changed by digital revolution.
Throughout this period, the Baltic region has been at the avant-garde of the changes associated with modernity. The population enjoyed levels of literacy that were impressively high compared to many countries of the time. Its transport and communication systems rapidly developed, as did the sciences, arts, and culture:
Orthodoxy in the Baltic region has interacted with and reflected these developments. At the same time, Orthodoxy in the Baltic region was diverse, including representatives not only from ‘official Orthodoxy', but also varied Old Believer groups.
The study of Orthodoxy in the Baltic region has typically focused on the religion’s place within overarching political narratives – within imperial russification, as a minority faith in secular states, or as a target of Soviet persecution. Such a focus is certainly justified, but it has often led to the neglect of the everyday religious experiences of Orthodox parishioners, communities, and institutions within this multiconfessional, multiethnic, and multilinguistic region in the throes of modernization. Equally, it has led to a neglect of the agency of a variety of local groups and peoples, as such actors tend to be viewed as the recipients of projects and policies rather than active participants in them.
Taking as its starting point a microhistorical perspective/Geertzian deep description, this proposed volume will decentralise narratives of Orthodoxy in the Baltic region and restore agency to local Orthodox actors, demonstrating how believers and communities, although not in isolation, have experienced and transformed Orthodoxy in the context of a variety of political regimes (empire, republic, Soviet federal unit, post-Soviet state) and in a period marked by modernization. Contributing authors representing a variety of academic disciplines and national backgrounds will be asked to provide micro examinations of Orthodoxy in the Baltic region (Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and Finland), choosing as their case studies individual people, communities, and practices from the nineteenth century to the present day.
In presenting this research, this book will, for the first time in English, demonstrate the dizzying array of Orthodox experiences from a bottom-up perspective, understanding Orthodox identities as, at least in part, generated not only by central institutions but also by believers, clergymen, and communities. Orthodoxy in this volume will not be understood within a vacuum: the authors will be expected to
demonstrate how individuals, communities, and practices influenced and were influenced by broader social, cultural, political, and economic trends, and how Orthodoxy affected and was affected by actors and institutions from other groups. Finally, the volume will also stress the fluid and penetrable nature of both state borders and various imagined communities, emphasising links not only between the Orthodox communities of four Baltic countries, but also connections with groups, people, and institutions in other parts of the globe. These links had and continue to have transformative potential, changing perspectives, attitudes, and the allocation of resources.
The contributions should consider the following questions:
- How have Baltic Orthodox actors and institutions (individuals, parish communities, schools, ecclesiastical institutions, etc.) developed (and continue to develop) in the context of religious and ethnic diversity?
- How did/do aspects of modernity affect Orthodox communities and identities?
- What was/is the impact of central policy (for instance, nationalizing imperial practices or Soviet anti-religious policy) on Orthodox individual and collective identities?
- What role did/does women and gender issues play in Orthodox communities?
- What role has/does monasticism play in the image, identity, and attractiveness of Orthodoxy in the region?
- How did/do connections with communities (Orthodox or otherwise) across the world transform Baltic Orthodox identities and practices?
- How did/do local environmental conditions affect the development of Baltic Orthodox communities?
- How did/do Orthodox practices of conciliarity, such as the rituals and practices of self-government, develop on the level of the parish, deanery, and diocese?
- What conflicts did/do they provoke?
- How did Orthodox theology change and develop in the Baltic context? How did such thought influence Baltic Orthodox praxis?
- How did music and musical practices reflect developments in Baltic Orthodoxy?
- In what distinctive ways did Old Believer communities, practices, and institutions develop from the nineteenth to the twenty-first centuries? How did Old Belief’s relationship with ‘official Orthodoxy’ change over this period?
These questions could be studied through the following lenses:
- Biographical approaches to individuals, be they clergy or laity, Orthodox or connected with Orthodoxy;
- Focusing on an individual parish or group of parishes from a historical or anthropological/sociological perspective;
- Historical or sociological case studies examining religious institutions, including schools, parish institutions, missions, monasteries, archives, bureaucratic organs, and jurisdictions;
- Historical, ethnographic/anthropological, theological, and musicological approaches to the study of religious practices, including singing, pilgrimage, charity, cross processions, naming practices, etc.

This book is expected to appeal to specialists in the history and politics of states in the Baltic region, specialists in the history and contemporaneity of European religions, specialists in the lives of minority groups, interested members of the general public, and university students.

English-language editorial assistance will be provided to non-native

Timetable for contributors
1 June 2023 – Deadline for proposals (title, author details, abstracts of no more than 500 words, keywords)
1 July 2023 – Editorial decisions on contributors and contributions
30 January 2024 – Submission of draft articles
Spring 2024 – Workshop for contributors to be held at the University of Tartu
1 April 2024 – Requests for revisions
1 September 2024 – Submission of second drafts
1 January 2025 – Submission of the book to the press
*Please submit your proposal to the editors at,, and*

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