Religion and Identity in Buryatia: Competition between Orthodoxy and Buddhism in Imperial Russia

Darima Amogolonova


The paper discusses political importance of religious identity in the context of competition between Orthodoxy and Buddhism in the Buryat spiritual space. Christianization of Buryats, who are one of the biggest Siberian indigenous ethnic groups, as well as other non-Russians in the remote regions of Russia, seemed a necessary tool for strengthening the borders of the Empire under threat from Qing China. While Christianization of Pre-Baikal (Western) Buryats-shamanists was quite successful at least formally, the Trans-Baikal Buryats remained largely steadfast Buddhists. Considering this fact, the secular authorities built relationships with the Buddhist clergy in the framework of the existed legal regulations. However, the relation of the Orthodoxy towards Buddhism was irreconcilable overall the imperial history. The situation worsened at the end of the XIX century, when in connection with the Buryat ethnonational movements Buddhism began to spread among Western Buryats causing serious trouble to the Irkutsk Orthodox eparchy. Meanwhile, in addition to big adaptive ability, institutionalized Buddhism in Russia developed all-Buryat adoration and devotion to the Tsar through appropriate preaching among believers thus promoting and strengthening both its own positions and Russian identity of the Buryats.



Orthodoxy, Buddhism, religious identity, Buryats, Russian Empire, spiritual space.

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