The Old Faith and the Russian Land — Excerpts from reviews


Rogers’ narrative includes useful connections of his discussion to larger problems of scholarship on Old Believers and the anthropology of Russia more generally. His prose is engaging, accessible, and a pleasure to read, so the book should be appropriate for a wide range of undergraduate teaching as well as more specialized audiences.

—Alexander King,  Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute



This beautifully written and highly original historical ethnography moves with extraordinary acumen across disciplines and prompts us to rethink ethics, moral personhood, and historical experience in rural Russia. Douglas Rogers’s sensitive analysis of the twists and turns of Russian history offers a critique of many theories of transition and breaks new ground in offering fresh perspectives and theoretical tools that are guaranteed to stimulate debate. The Old Faith and the Russian Land is a must-read for anyone interested in the region.

—Catherine Wanner, author of Communities of the Converted: Ukrainians and Global Evangelism



Douglas Rogers has written a pathbreaking work of historical anthropology that should become standard reading for historians and other social scientists. Sensitive to religious and economic contexts, he charts the history of the town of Sepych in the western Perm region over the longue durée, beginning with the creation of the priestless Old Believer settlement in the late seventeenth century and ending in the post-Soviet era. Without ignoring the peculiar circumstances that serfdom and ownership by the Stroganov family imposed on the community, Rogers analyzes three major turning points brought about by shifting economic relationships and, in two cases, political change: capitalist modernization after emancipation, which created a schism in the Old Believer community; the imposition of socialism and central planning in the Soviet era; and finally the introduction of global capitalism upon the Soviet Union’s demise….In its goal of moving beyond generalizations about peasant societies as tradition bound, backward, collective, isolated, and centers of resistance, the monograph succeeds brilliantly.

—Christine Worobec, Slavic Review



The book is in dialogue with recent work in the anthropology of ethics that has generally followed, via Michel Foucault’s later writings, an interest in Aristotelian practical ethics. Readers will find a useful summary of this literature, as well as an effort to coin a more analytically explicit framework on that basis. Frameworks aside, however, Rogers’s main theoretical contribution lies in his commitment to historical study, and he is indeed able to illuminate a thick array of historically shaped threads at play in people’s ethical repertoires. The book also offers something to the anthropology of postsocialism: Methodologically, it exemplifies how one might go about linking contemporary practices and the past through archival work, participant observation, and interview. These contributions do not come without their compromises. The book’s chronological organization, essential to capturing the gradual sedimentation of that ethical repertoire, also contributes to an, at times, disembodied account of ethical dilemmas, decision making, and subjectivity. Nonetheless, in response to the question, “what to do with history?” Rogers has offered a compelling answer by way of example. There is much to be savored in this book, and it will certainly influence future work on post-Soviet states, Christianity, and ethics, as well as historical anthropology.

—Tomas Matza, American Ethnologist



This book is … an important intervention in an emerging social science literature on ethics and morality. Rogers conceptualizes ethics as a field of practice, inspired in part by recent work on Aristotle’s practical ethics. It is this close attention to practice that enables him to demonstrate with such precision how it is that certain ethical sensibilities and moral communities persist or recede. Using the example of a funeral, he vividly illustrates how, in everyday life, people make decisions about “the good, the proper and the virtuous” that often contradict dominant ethical regimes and new confessional fault-lines of priestly and priestless Old Belief. Further, Rogers’ insistence on the relevance of social distinction (age, gender, status) and social relations to ethical practice counterbalances a tendency in some of this literature to focus on discourse, narrative, and the self. Finally, the book’s engagement with multiple debates about postsocialism pertaining to life cycle rituals, property, privatization, labor, gender, generation, value-creation, and forms of exchange make it essential reading for scholars of this region.

—Tanya Richardson, Comparative Studies in Society and History



Mobilizing his vast theoretical and historical knowledge of the workings of rural socialism, with a focus on the “wealth in people” system and the fact that socialism produced deep generational ruptures, Rogers weaves a fascinating narrative of the mutual constitution of religious communities and networks of socialism. Especially interesting in this regard is Rogers’ account of a textual community formed between “field archeographers” – metropolitan scholars in search of ancient manuscripts, which they believed would revolutionize the study of Russian history, language, and literature – and Sepych Old Believers. Through close reading of archival materials, such as scholars’ reports and private letters between townspeople and Moscow academics, Rogers illuminates multifaceted and complex power relations, as well as the ways in which these scholars were implicated in the creation and transformation of their subjects.

—Anya Bernstein, Canadian-American Slavic Studies



Douglas Rogers has produced an incisive analysis of the formation and reconstitution under changing circumstances of moral community among the priestless Old Believers of the Urals. This extraordinarily skillful and instructive account of a community’s creation of ethical practices and subjectivities uses ethnography to illuminate history and historical study to elucidate current efforts to define community standards. Rogers’s work also speaks powerfully to the role of religion and community in the post-Soviet world more broadly.

—David L. Ransel, Robert F. Byrnes Professor of History, Indiana University



Read a selection from the Introduction

Return to Books