BLS 383: Religious Resistance to Political Power

Throughout history, religion has frequently provided a rallying point around which peoples have organized to oppose an invading people, culture or ideology. Through a variety of overt and underground tactics, people often draw on the spiritual and material resources of faith communities to survive and often fight back against occupation by an outside entity or oppression at the hands of their own government. For example, the Catholic church has long played an active role in grassroots organizing in conflicts throughout Latin America. In more recent history, the breakup of Yugoslavia resulted in intensified religious feeling and identification among Catholic Croats, Orthodox Serbs and Muslim Bosnians as each of these groups resisted the aggression of the others. Today, radical Islamic groups form terrorist organizations to confront what they see as Western cultural, economic and political imperialism.

In this course, we will examine the ways in which different religious groups, through peaceful means or violent, through a cooptation of or radical assault on state structures, confronted the invasion of a common foe: the Communist Soviet Union, with all its attendant values and repressive structures. We will explore various forms of religious resistance to atheist Soviet doctrine in three contexts: within the Soviet Union itself, in Cold War Communist Poland and in Afghanistan following the Soviet invasion of 1979. In each unit we will examine how the dominant religion operated in each country (Russian Orthodoxy in the Soviet Union, Catholicism in Poland and Islam in Afghanistan) prior to the Soviet takeover and how these relationships between religion and society shaped how citizen actors responded to the occupation. We will look at examples of peaceful accommodation, cooperation and compromise along with examples of uncompromising, violent radical resistance. We will investigate how communism may have been seen or experienced by the occupied as a religion in itself and further explore the relationship between nationalism and religion. How, in one context, does faith work hand in hand with nationalism? How does it operate in another culture, where an idea of the “nation” has never existed? We will analyze a range of sources from the writings of workers and intellectuals, scholars native and Western.


  • All required readings are online.