Measuring Tolstoy's Peasants: Old Believer Settlement in Oregon through the 1960's and 1970's
Antley, Jeremy Scott
University of Kansas
Copyright held by the author.
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As ethnic Russian Old Believers began to immigrate into the area around Woodburn, Oregon in the 1960s, their presence became a fixation for American interlocutors who viewed the new arrivals as traditional peasant figures on the path towards becoming modern citizens. Because this Russian religious group possessed little to no context for American administrators, academics, and citizens alike, attempts to build knowledge networks around the Old Believers became paramount in the first decade of their settlement in the United States. Initially assisted by the Tolstoy Foundation and, later, the Valley Migrant League, the Oregon Old Believers often became targets of character rhetoric that sought to measure the distance between the traditional lifestyle of the Russian religious group and the modern milieu amongst which they lived. Various academics, reporters, and lay observers alike built knowledge networks around the Russian religious group through reports, articles, and direct interactions that could qualify and define the distance between Old Belief and American modernity. Yet as the Old Believers took on recognized standards of American modernity- home ownership, gainful employment, and consumer consumption- they did so without wholesale abandonment of their religious culture, prompting anxiety amongst American observers who questioned the power of modernity to fully assimilate traditional subjects. Beyond being another example of the trials faced by immigrants in a new land, this examination of Old Believer settlement in Oregon asks why American interlocutors became fascinated with the Russian religious group and how this fascination led to investigation and self-affirmation of American modernity.
- Dissertations 
- History Dissertations and Theses 
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