Burkhanism in the making: religious revival in the Altai Republic
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The Post-Soviet Russia experienced waves of changes in social, political, and economic spheres, the process of religious revival among them. Russian religious revival has been described in numerous books and papers, especially the processes going on in the Russian Muslim regions and within the Russian Orthodox Church. Religious revival in the Buddhist and the ethnic minorities’ regions, however, received comparatively less academic attention. The same is true regarding the Altai Republic. This is a region with noticeable shares of Muslim (Kazakh) and Buddhist (Altai) population, that, nevertheless, cannot be completely described as neither Buddhist nor Muslim. The Altai Republic is a place where a local religious movement called Burkhanism/the Ak-Jaŋ (the White Faith) was formed around 1904. Burkhanism originated in Tibetan Buddhism and shamanism and was also influenced by the Orthodox Christianity. It started to spread among the Altai peoples until the Soviet anti-religious policy disrupted its pace. During and after Perestroika, the Altai Burkhanism was remembered again, and used by many, although being explicitly defined by few. In my thesis, I attempt to analyze the role of Burkhanism in the modern Altai Republic, on the case of one of the most prominent religious groups that associate themselves with Burkhanism – the Ak-Burkhan community. I use the information from the academic literature on the Altai studies and religious studies as well as my own anthropological observations to describe the Ak-Burkhan members’ opinions on Burkhanism and characterize this community as a conscious actor of the Altai Republic’s religious life, by implementing an approach of the strategies of religious revival.