Female Religious Leadership during Khrushchev’s Anti-Religious Campaign
Keywords:history of religion in USSR; everyday religious life; female religiosity; religious leadership; antireligious campaign
This article considers female leadership in Evangelical Baptist communities in the postwar period. The authors examine the extent to which the division of roles in religious communities was gender-dependent and how contemporaries perceived and described the roles of men and women in Baptist communities. The authors refer to materials from the town of Rasskazovo (a centre of Tambov region); there, the community of Baptists was led by Antonina Terekhova and Anna Zheltova. The documents studied demonstrate that the leaders of the community combined traditional “women’s” roles, such as looking after their children and grandchildren and running a household, with management of the religious community. This practice was heavily criticised and then persecuted by a governmental official, who, while restricting religious life in general, was also concerned about the gender of the community’s leader. The authors refer to such sources as oral accounts they collected, the archive of the Authorised Council for Religious Affairs (Tambov region), the archival collection of A. I. Klibanov’s expedition to Tambov region (1959), and the internal archive of the Russian Union of Evangelical Christian Baptists. The authors conclude that female leadership, often interpreted as “fanaticism”, was not suited for the format of religious life proposed by Soviet secular institutions. The fact that they had families made women more vulnerable to attacks from public institutions but also reduced the likelihood of direct repression.