UAF anthropologists to study religion after socialism in Russia

October 24, 2006

Fairbanks, Alaska--The National Science Foundation recently awarded a half-million-dollar grant to University of Alaska Fairbanks cultural anthropologists Patty Gray and David Koester for a study of religiosity in northern Russia over the last two decades.

The $545,985 grant will fund "New Religious Movements in the Russian North: Competing Uses of Religiosity after Socialism (NEWREL)." The three-year grant is one component of a larger international collaborative humanities and social sciences project, led by Gray, which totals nearly $1 million. The project was the top-ranked of 28 initial proposals submitted to the European Science Foundation's Boreas Initiative, an international competition for multinational funding of humanities and social sciences research in the circumpolar North.

The project, instigated by Patty Gray and UAF post-doctoral researcher Patrick Plattet of the University of Neuchâtel, Switzerland, involves scholars from Estonia, Finland, France, Russia, Switzerland and the United States. It brings together experts in disciplines ranging from folklore and literature to cultural anthropology and ethnology. Through independent, original research and three collaborative, international workshops, the researchers will study the religious landscape of the Russian North in various historical and cultural contexts in the aftermath of the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Gray said she hopes the research will offer insight on how people deal with rapid social change, a phenomenon that is occurring around the world, including in Alaska.

Religion and spirituality offer a strong backdrop for examining these issues, she said. "It's a good way to understand how human beings deal with something as apocalyptic as having your whole social system collapse around you." Gray and Koester hold faculty appointments in the anthropology department in the UAF College of Liberal Arts. Gray will conduct research on "Missionaries, Humanitarian Aid and Accompanying Ideologies in the Russian Far East." Koester will conduct research on "New Religious Movements, Voluntarism and Social Mechanisms of Durability."

Both projects will involve ethnographic fieldwork in the Russian Far East.

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