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Did growing up fundy prepare you to become a Russian lang expert?


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This question was asked by @PraiseDog who is not available during the Q&A time.

 

I'd like to ask him how he feels his experience as a former fundamentalist influenced him or prepared him to go on to become an expert in Russian language and culture, and what parallels and differences he finds between the two cultures.  
It seems like the Russian people are more outwardly accepting of authoritarianism than we tend to exhibit, so it seems like a place where religious fundamentalism could have taken hold, if not for their government's religious regulations, including kind of a "frenemy" relationship between the government and the Orthodox church.  But at the same time, the Russian people seem to have an underlying cynicism/sadness/snarkiness towards most institutions (or maybe just towards life itself.)  This is just an impression I got when I was lucky enough to visit there in the 70's (on a highly regimented tour, of course) but maybe that's changed in recent years - are younger Russians flocking back to the Orthodox church, or do they consider it just another institution? Or are they looking for, or finding, something else to believe in?    

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These are great questions! Growing up fundamentalist in and of itself didn't prepare me to study Russian language and culture, but my particular experience of fundamentalism did end up somewhat randomly shaping my life in that direction. Around the end of the school year in 1999, when I was about to graduate from my Christian school, I was approached by the middle school orchestra director. The school was K-12; I didn't know him very well, but he knew my mom (who taught in the elementary school) from faculty meetings, etc.

He asked me if I'd be interested in going on a short-term mission trip to Russia that summer, before I started college. I decided to go, got interested in the language and culture thanks to making Russian friends in our rural "English camp" environment, and I started studying Russian when I got back to the US. I had already excelled in German in high school, but my school administration didn't encourage too much language study. I took to languages, and that doesn't really have anything to do with Christian fundamentalism. In fact, I once met a missionary in Moscow who claimed to speak fluent Spanish, and had no Russian, but "God called her to Russia" because he's funny that way.

Growing up, there was a certain fascination with Russia in the background in Evangelical culture during the late Cold War (the USSR ceased to exist when I was 11). There was an idea that preaching the gospel and practicing Christianity behind the Iron Curtain was very noble, and that made post-Soviet Russia very attractive for missions organizations. I went over in 1999 thinking I'd be converting atheists, but most of the students we worked with identified as Orthodox Christians. Christianity and "traditional values" are a big part of post-Soviet Russian ideology now, but they don't go that deep in terms of the practice or religious knowledge of most Russians. And the cynicism about politics remains, but anti-Americanism is now at a higher rate than it's been since the Cold War, due to the sanctions, etc.

Anyway, I'm sort of rambling, but there are ways in which fundamentalism, combined with my other unique life experiences, did prepare me to do the kind of scholarship I do. My scholarship in Russian history also has to do with the history of Russian religious ideology in the early twentieth century, and that ties in to anti-Communism in the West when Russian exiles and emigres have a huge influence from the 1920s. Anti-Communism is also at the root of the twentieth-century Christian Right, so it all comes full circle for me.

Here are some things I've written that will unpack some of what I've said above in greater detail:

https://www.academia.edu/27600336/Bad_Ecumenism_The_American_Culture_Wars_and_Russia_s_Hard_Right_Turn 

http://www.politicalresearch.org/2016/02/16/russian-social-conservatism-the-u-s-based-wcf-the-global-culture-wars-in-historical-context/#sthash.jQxqqvq5.dpbs

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jumping off from things you said above, are Evangelicals still fascinated with Russia and is that part of the reason so many voted for Trump or they would have voted for Trump anyway and the love of all things Russian is just a perk?

 

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Some of them have been. Some also had to overcome their wariness toward Russia and Putin that was a holdover from the Cold War. But I think what many on our Right have grasped that many on the Left still haven't is that Putin, especially in his third term, has made Russian into a far Right, socially conservative state. Many Evangelicals and other conservative religious Americans and Europeans were ready to get on board with Russia for that reason. Franklin Graham met Patriarch Kirill of the Russian Orthodox Church in late 2015, after which the patriarch declared anti-LGBTQ Christians everywhere to be "confessors of the faith." Lately, however, Russia has started persecuting Protestants again, creating some complications for Evangelicals. See these two pieces I've written for more:

http://religiondispatches.org/was-it-the-russians-or-god-evangelicals-leaders-working-out-the-kinks-with-trumps-transition-picks/

https://publicorthodoxy.org/2016/10/25/yarovaya-conservatives-traditional-values/

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