Sinful Pasts: Russian Orthodox Anti-Abortion Activism and the Post-Soviet (In)Ability to Mourn – University of Copenhagen

Sinful Pasts: Russian Orthodox Anti-Abortion Activism and the Post-Soviet (In)Ability to Mourn

Guest Lectures in Comparative Culture Studies Presents Sonja Luehrmann, Simon Fraser University/Helsinki Collegium for Advanced Studies

Abstract: This paper looks at anti-abortion activism in the contemporary Russian Orthodox Church as part of a process of shaping historical memory, whereby a particular aspect of the Soviet past is framed as problematic and a particular class of beings (aborted fetuses) is constituted as grievable victims. Under the presidencies of Vladimir Putin, observers have noted an increasing retreat from critical interrogations of the Soviet past. An often-overlooked exception to this trend is the increasing scrutiny of Soviet reproductive policy and gender norms, pinpointed as a cause of current low fertility rates in Russia by secular and religious media. Based on ethnographic research with Orthodox Christian activists in four Russian cities conducted between 2008 and 2014, I situate emerging ritual practices that commemorate and expiate past abortions within Russia’s shifting relationship to its Soviet past. Gendered discourses of regret and ambivalence around past reproductive decisions, I argue, form a terrain comparable to the literary genres Alexander Etkind calls “magical historicism.” Both provide an idiom in which wider reflection on the sacrifices made in the name of Soviet modernity is at once made possible and contained. Beyond binaries of “remembering” or “forgetting” problematic pasts, the narratives and practices of abortion activists provide a glimpse of the social forces that shape critical memory as an unevenly focused and sometimes politically conservative lens.

Bio: Sonja Luehrmann is Associate Professor of Anthropology at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, Canada, and currently a EURIAS fellow at the Helsinki Collegium for Advanced Studies. Her books include Secularism Soviet Style: Teaching Atheism and Religion in a Volga Republic (Indiana University Press, 2011) and Religion in Secular Archives: Soviet Atheism and Historical Knowledge (Oxford University Press, 2015). Her research focuses on secularism, religion, and lived ideology in Soviet and post-Soviet Russia, with special interests in Russian Orthodox Christianity, the politics of reproduction, and archives and historical memory.

For any questions contact Andreas Bandak bandak@hum.ku.dk or Martin Demant Frederiksen mdemant@hum.ku.dk

Organized by Centre for Comparative Culture Studies, Department of Cross-Cultural and Regional Studies