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The Russian Policy of Estate, Civil, and Confessional Integration of the Supporters of “Old Belief”

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In the Second Half of the 18th to the Beginning of the 19th Century

image of Russian History

In the second half of the eighteenth century the Russian state carried out a policy of estate, civil-legal, economic, and confessional integration of Old Believers, as well as their return to Russia from abroad. This policy was first approved for the western and southwestern outskirts of the emerging New Russian region, and then the transfer of developed models to the central regions of the country occurred. Channels of social mobility were opened for Old Believers; fiscal marginalization was eliminated, as were a number of restrictions on civil rights; the official designation of “schismatics” and the mandatory labeling of external appearance were nullified; and extensive possibilities for participation in economic development were granted. On the whole, the program of estate, civil-legal and economic integration of Old Believers was implemented fairly successfully. A portion of the Old Believers from abroad returned to Russia. Deciding the question of the confessional integration of the Old Believers was more difficult. In this direction, various projects were developed by secular authorities at different levels, by the spiritual authority, and by individual groups of Old Believers. To achieve integration, the government partly rehabilitated the “Old Rite” in the 1760s. But recognition of an Old Believer confession autonomous from the ruling Church was unacceptable to the government, and particularly, to the spiritual authorities. The idea of the indissolubility of ethnic and confessional categories did not allow for another church, besides the official Orthodox one, for the Russian population. In New Russia’s Elisavetgrad Province in the 1780s, the model of edinoverie integration of Old Believers was tested. By the end of the eighteenth century, an extremely limited model edinoverie was adopted on an empire-wide scale, which did not involve the confessional autonomy of the Old Believers. As a result of the low nationwide prevalence of edinoverie, the government was partially obliged to tolerate, at the administrative level, the existence of Old Believer worship, religious infrastructure, and Old Believer priests. But this status of Old Believer confessionalism was legally uncertain and unsustainable in practical terms. Accordingly, no solution to the problem of the confessional integration of Old Believers was found during the period under review.

Affiliations: 1: Research Fellow, Saint Petersburg Institute of History of the Russian Academy of Sciences, 7 Petrozavodskaia ulitsa, St. Petersburg, 197110, Russian Federation


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