The talk explores the redefinition of Eurasian “shamanism” as “religion” in Soviet politics and propaganda in the 1930s, as well as in Soviet ethnographic research and education. In the 1920s there had been a serious debate on whether “shamanism” was to be classified as “religion” or not, and several scholars had, from a Marxist-Leninist point of view, claimed that it should be looked upon not as “religion” proper, but as “superstition” belonging to primitive, classless societies. However, with the advent of the Cultural Revolution “shamanism” became by definition “religious”, and the “struggle against shamanism” became official policy. Schoolteachers, ethnographers, NKVD-agents and native young communists all cooperated in trying to liquidate the indigenous world views and ritual practices among the peoples of the North.
In the amendments to Soviet legislation in 1926 “shamans” lost their civic rights—their right to vote and be elected to local Soviets and other governmental bodies, as well as their right to own property. Even the families of those lishentsy were often bereaved the same rights.
The struggle against “shamanism” was also to be executed by way of “enlightenment”—educating people in the new Soviet worldview, and at the same time liquidating religious and other indigenous traditions that the ruling party considered detrimental for the development of the natives. Schooling someone is never just teaching certain facts, subjects, and methods, but also disseminating norms and values, a code of conduct and a worldview.
In the second half of the 1930s the struggle against “shamanism” seems to have taken the form of blunt persecution in the general wave of terror that swept the Union, resulting in the arrests of many putative “shamans”. However, a lack of research and concrete data on this persecution makes it difficult to present a clear picture of what happened during these years.
In the post-Soviet “reawakening” of ethnic identities among indigenous peoples of Northern Russia, Siberia, and the Far East, the concept “shamanism” has once again ascended as a prominent political category. Even if now, by its practitioners, it is seen as contributing to the development of society, the concept still largely relies on the definitions made by the cultural revolutionaries of the 1930s.
Sankt Petersburg, Ryssland: Ministerstvo obrazovanija i nauki Rossijskoj Federatsii , 2011. 431-432 p.
Sotsial'naja strategija rossijskoj sistemy obrazovanija 14-15 aprelja 2011 g.