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Defending the FaithGlobal Histories of Apologetics and Politics in the Twentieth Century$
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Todd Weir and Hugh McLeod

Print publication date: 2021

Print ISBN-13: 9780197266915

Published to British Academy Scholarship Online: May 2021

DOI: 10.5871/bacad/9780197266915.001.0001

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PRINTED FROM BRITISH ACADEMY SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (www.britishacademy.universitypressscholarship.com). (c) Copyright British Academy, 2022. All Rights Reserved. An individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in BASO for personal use.date: 01 July 2022

Atheism as a Vocation: Soviet Communism and Its Atheist Apologists

Atheism as a Vocation: Soviet Communism and Its Atheist Apologists

(p.182) 9 Atheism as a Vocation: Soviet Communism and Its Atheist Apologists
Defending the Faith

Victoria Smolkin

British Academy

In the Soviet Union, the figure of the “atheist apologist”—a propagandist charged with publicly denouncing religion and spreading atheism—emerged during Nikita Khrushchev’s antireligious campaign (1958-1964). When Khrushchev came to power, he denounced Stalin’s more pragmatic approach to religious affairs and called for a return to ideological purity. The Soviet Union had entered a new historical stage – “Building Communism” – which again made religion a problem and atheism a priority. Yet, as the party mobilised for a new antireligious campaign, it realized that it lacked the institutions, expertise, and cadres to conduct atheist work, and that it had to build an atheist apparatus. This made the figure of the religious apostate turned atheist apologist especially valuable., and under Khrushchev, hundreds of believers and clergy publicly broke with religion. Among them, Evgraf Duluman (1928-2013) and Aleksandr Osipov (1911-1967) were the most prominent. These figures transformed a private spiritual crisis into a public vocation, in the process becoming the party’s atheist apologists. Based on archival sources and the author’s interviews with former atheist cadres, this chapter looks at what atheist apologists can reveal about the Soviet atheist apparatus and the party’s struggle to overcome religion, spread atheism, and build Communism.

Keywords:   Apologetics, Atheism, Antireligion, Secularism, Soviet Union, Russia, Communism, Socialism, Apostates, Conversion, Culture Wars, Russia, Orthodoxy, Christianity, Worldview

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