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Customer Review

5.0 out of 5 stars A detailed study with major implications, 29 Sept. 2012
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This review is from: Popular Religion in Russia (Routledge Studies in the History of Russia and Eastern Europe) (Paperback)
The aim of this book is not to offer a full description of the practices of Russian popular (or folk) religion, though it contains many vivid references to customs often associated with major Christian feasts, such as bonfires, bathing, drinking, ribbald songs and the like, some of which were probably more than mere jollification and contained a magical element. Instead, the book provides a critical analysis of the concept of 'double belief' ('dvoeverie'), namely that Russian popular religion was a mixture of Christian and pagan elements, and that the strength of the pagan element distinguishes Russian religion from the Christianity of other lands, where folk traditions were less robust and normative Christianity more dominant.

Dr Rock shows that the notion that this was already perceived by medieval churchmen, and defined by them with the word 'dvoeverie', is a misconception: the word was used rather to refer to wavering and uncertainty (and sometimes to toleration of Latin Christianity), not to a combination of Christianity and paganism. What rather we find in early Russian texts is a recurrent rhetoric on the part of the educated clergy that condemned practices which in their view were unacceptable as 'pagan' or 'demonic'. In a wide-ranging final chapter she shows how this concern was equally strong in western Christianity, from late antiquity to the early modern period, and does not provide evidence of Russian particularity.

The book brings out tellingly how analysis of the mixture of Christian and non-Christian elements in European culture has been vitiated by restrictive and often anachronistic notions of what can count as Christian. Most often, what a historian might categorize as a 'pagan survival' was not perceived by those who practised it to be anything of the kind. To define correct Christian practice in narrow terms, according to the convictions of a religious elite -- whether monastic or reformed or rationalistic --, and then stigmatize other forms of religious practice as semi-pagan is simply a refusal to understand.
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Location: London, UK

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