Entangled Histories: Russia and the Holy See, 1917-1958 is a three-year RSF-funded project which began in April 2019.
The Project's aim is to identify and describe the lines of interaction between Soviet Russia and the Holy See in 1917-1958 by introducing into scholarly circulation a new collection of documents related to the history of the USSR, viz., approximately 1,500 letters produced by the Vatican’s representatives in Soviet Russia, preserved in a number of archives outside Russia. It will allow scholars to look at the historical processes that took place in Russia in the first half of the 20th century from the point of view of ordinary citizens and not from the standpoint of the Communist Party and Soviet state apparatus, including its punitive bodies. The Project will help lay down the foundation for a fundamental reorientation of Russian historiography towards non-institutional history that sees the 'man in the street' as an actor in the historical process, which corresponds to modern trends in world historiography (social history, historical anthropology, a post-secularization paradigm in the sociology of religion).
The Project is led by historians at the Institute of World History, Russian Academy of Sciences.
Gregory Freeze (USA), Leading Research Fellow at the Institute of Wolrd History, Russian Academy of Sciences; Victor and Gwendolyn Beinfield Professor of History at Brandeis University, USA.
Conference video recordings are available at the Centre for the Study of the History of Religion and Church History's YouTube-channel.
Recently, scholars of religion in the Soviet period have increasingly felt the insufficiency of available sources for a comprehensive reconstruction of religious life in the 20th century. Most of them were created by the Party, state, or police organs, which pursued a strict anti-religious policy and had an exclusively biased view of the religious life of its citizens. Religious institutions were systematically disestablished by the regime and hence could no longer collect information about their members. Their archives were subject to seizure and destruction in the pre-war years, and in the later period contained extremely limited information. Hence sources created by believers and hidden from the eyes of state censorship are of particular importance. These sources consist of letters, diaries, memoirs – especially those that found their way abroad.
Members of the Catholic Church, both clergy and laity, had more reasons, and sometimes more opportunities, to transmit information abroad than, for instance, their Orthodox counterparts. Moreover, Catholics became actors in the global social and political transformations that took place in Soviet Russia in the 1920s and 1930s. During World War II, many faithful Catholics, Latin and Byzantine Rite Catholics of different ethnic backgrounds, found themselves in the territory of the Soviet Union.
The conference participants focused on the identification and analysis of sources of non-state (non-party) origin that concern the life of the Catholic community in the USSR in the 1920s – 1950s.