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Memories, migration and molitva: the religious and migrant identities of the old believers in Australia

By Stefanie Scherr


Experiences of migration challenged the religious identity of the Russian Orthodox Old Ritualist (Old Believers) community. In the early twentieth century, thousands of members of the Old Believers Church migrated from Tsarist Russia and, later, the Soviet Union. Many of them fled to China and Manchuria in order to be able to retain their religious beliefs and practices which they preserved since the schism of 1666. In the 1950s, the Chinese government strongly encouraged them to move on, and Old Believers were subsequently resettled in North and South America, Australia and New Zealand. Life histories of Old Believers in Australia tell about continuities and discontinuities of religious identities in the diaspora - within individual biographies and the community. In the diaspora the transference of religious and cultural identities crosses both generations and geographies. The paper argues that the Old Believers community in Australia interacts and constitutes itself as a community through the performative enactment of their religious and migrant memories. Performances of rituals and religious practices pass on and re-structure certain elements of their culture and tradition, generate new ones and re-enforce others by repetition. The paper examines the religious identities of the Old Believers in Australia in their symbolic and performative praxis

Topics: Diaspora, Old believers, Performative praxis, Religious identity, Russian orthodox, Social memory, Symbolic
Publisher: Common Ground Publishing
Year: 2012
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