Secular Archives, Religious Trouble?
This chapter situates research in Soviet archives within a broader epistemological dilemma that informs recent debates about secularism and the politics of knowledge: if approaches to the study of religion have been shaped by nineteenth-century secularism, what does that say about the ability of social sciences to understand religious worlds? The chapter presents an overview of debates about methodological atheism and empathy in the study of religion and relates those to archival transcripts of seminars where Khrushchev-era Soviet atheist activists grappled with how to understand religious persistence under advanced socialism. If we understand Soviet documentary practices as actions in a larger project of social change, we can begin to appreciate the possibilities of knowledge opened up and foreclosed by the hostile perspective of these documents.
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