Freedom of Conscience and the Redefinition of Confessional Boundaries in Imperial Russia, 1905-1914

Paul W. Werth


This paper demonstrates that "freedom of conscience" became the central touchstone for believers, politicians, and statesmen in their attempt to imagine and effectuate a new religious order in 1905 Russia and after. Encompassing both new rights on the part of virtually all non-Orthodox believers and therefore new obligations on the part of the state towards those communities, the concept "freedom of conscience" necessitated the institutionalization and legal regulation of diverse conceptions of the sacred along new lines. Moreover, because this task required the theoretical definition of the conditions necessary for the free exercise of conscience, state authorities were compelled to conceptualize what "religion" and "spirituality" actually represented in generic terms. Yet all the while, both older prejudices and, increasingly, the political constellation of forces in Russia in the Duma period of impinged upon this reconceptualization.

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