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Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Religion and Law in the Russian Empire: Lutheran Pastors on Trial, 1860–1917
by Weber, Karen, Ph.D., New York University, 2013, 409; 3591365
Abstract (Summary)

This study explores the shifting legal treatment of religious clergy between 1860 and 1917 in the Russian empire. It begins after the conversion of 100,000 peasants from Lutheranism to Russian Orthodoxy in the 1840s. Over the course of the 1850s and 1860s, many of these converts resumed practicing Lutheranism, although it was illegal to leave the Orthodox church. In the 1860s and 1870s, central officials ignored persistent complaints from Orthodox priests that Lutheran pastors were violating imperial law by serving members of the Orthodox church. Instead, civil officials left Lutheran authorities to manage these developments. I argue that these governmental practices established a legal precedence of leniency. Although no codified laws on religious practice were changed, a wide-range of religious activities was imbued with a sense of legality.

Following the accession of Alexander III in 1881, the central government contested these religious practices. In order to prosecute the pastors in criminal—not ecclesiastical—courts, the Ministers of Interior and Justice reinterpreted imperial laws. I argue that through jurisdictional disputes, officials asserted imperial law and central institutions over Lutheran and Baltic law and local authorities. The trials were meant to reshape boundaries of religious practice, but failed to do so. Into the 1890s, laypeople and pastors continued to engage in religious activities that were defined as crimes in the imperial law code. Once central officials grew reconciled to the fact that these practices were continuing, they created new processes to accommodate them. From the mid-1890s to the end of the imperial regime, the emperors' ministers themselves decided which crimes were punishable.

The trials demonstrate the capacity and limitations of the Russian government. Central officials were successfully able to compel provincial officials to follow certain laws on governmental practices and court procedures. After initial struggle, the Lutheran authorities and Baltic courts complied with central officials' jurisdictional and judicial reforms. However, central officials were not able to change regional attitudes about religious practice. Even the ministers themselves concluded in the mid-1890s that they must apply the "spirit of the law," which would accommodate illegal practices, and not the "letter of the law."

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Burbank, Jane
Commitee: Grant, Bruce, Kizenko, Nadieszda, Kotsonis, Yanni, Shovlin, John
School: New York University
Department: History
School Location: United States -- New York
Source: DAI-A 74/12(E), Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Religious history, Law, Russian history
Keywords: Governance, Law, Lutheran, Pastors, Religion, Russian Empire, Russian Orthodox, Trial
Publication Number: 3591365
ISBN: 978-1-303-31936-5
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