Russian Protestantism at the Stage of Legalization: 1905-1917



This article examines the legal and civil status of Russian Protestants at the beginning of the twentieth century. By that time there were at least three streams that later developed into the confessions of Russian Protestantism — Evangelical Christians, Baptists, and Seventh Day Adventists; Pentecostals emerged soon after. The Edict “On Strengthening the Beginnings of Religious Tolerance” dated April 17, 1905, defined the legal rights of Russian religious minorities and abolished their persecution as apostates. Nevertheless, the contradictory nature of the Russian laws allowed local authorities to take arbitrary action against Russian Protestants. Within religious politics and the social movements of that time two opposing currents fought with varying success: sympathy for the emancipation of Russian Protestants and attempts to stop this process by legislative, criminal, administrative, and social means. The latter tendency prevailed during World War I; however, the February Revolution of 1917 declared all confessions equal. Although before 1917 Russian Protestants were a persecuted religious minority, their participation in the revolutionary movement was sporadic, and their social activities were directed largely to advocacy for the establishment of freedom of conscience and civil institutions in Russia, as well as to defense of the rights of fellow believers. Unlike Protestants in the West, Russian Protestants could not and did not strive to become at all an influential movement, claiming a special social political role in the history of the country. However, the legalization of Russian Protestantism was very important. Later on, despite hardships and periods of severe persecution, Russian Protestantism preserved its legal status (at least partly, on the level of individual communities or confessions) and proved to be an independent and tenacious phenomenon of Russian religious life.


Russian Protestants; legalization of Russian Protestantism; religious politics

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