Religious Freedom as a Marker of Modernity: The Imperial Bequest

Document Type



Representing a translation of the keynote address delivered at the international conference “The Varieties of Russian Modernity II: Religion, State, and Approaches to Pluralism in Russian Contexts,” this article relates some of the key findings of Werth’s recent monograph, The Tsar’s Foreign Faiths: Toleration and the Fate of Religious Freedom in Imperial Russia (Oxford University Press, 2014). It posits that religious freedom represents one major marker of modernity and goes on to recount the complex process by which religious freedom appeared in the years leading up to World War I. The presentation first briefly considers the Muscovite inheritance and the conception of religious toleration that resulted from that historical experience. It then discusses toleration in the imperial period, treating it as a matter of both practice and ideology. It finally examines the difficult and incomplete transition in Russia from “religious toleration” to “freedom of conscience.” The presentation demonstrates that just as modernity itself appeared gradually and with much contradiction, so too the development of religious freedom in Russia was beset by tensions and competing imperatives that complicated its progress.


Modernity; religious toleration; freedom of conscience; secularism; empire

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