A Sacred Space is Never Empty: A History of Soviet Atheism

Lecture | April 11 | 5-7 p.m. | 3335 Dwinelle Hall

 Victoria Smolkin, Assistant Professor of History, Wesleyan University

 Berkeley Center for the Study of Religion, Department of History

When the Bolsheviks set out to build a new world in the wake of the Russian Revolution, they expected religion to die off. Soviet power used a variety of tools — from education to propaganda to terror — to turn its vision of a Communist world without religion into reality. Yet even with its monopoly on ideology and power, the Soviet Communist Party never succeeded in overcoming religion and creating an atheist society. Smolkin’s A Sacred Space is Never Empty presents the first history of Soviet atheism from the 1917 revolution to the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991. She argues that to understand the Soviet experiment, we must make sense of Soviet atheism. Through its engagements with religion, the Soviet leadership realized that removing religion from the “sacred spaces” of Soviet life was not enough. Then, in the final years of the Soviet experiment, Mikhail Gorbachev — in a stunning and unexpected reversal — abandoned atheism and reintroduced religion into Soviet public life.

Victoria Smolkin is Assistant Professor of History at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut.

Co-sponsored by the Department of History.

The Berkeley Public Theology Program invites innovative thinkers and public figures to Berkeley to reflect on the past, present, and future of theological inquiry. Such lectures spark scholarly conversations on campus and place Berkeley at the center of global conversations on religion and public life.

 510.642.1328