God Save the USSR: Soviet Muslims and the Second World War

ISBN : 9780190076276

Jeff Eden
320 Pages
156 x 235 mm
Pub date
May 2021
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During the Second World War, as the Soviet Red Army was locked in brutal combat against the Nazis, Joseph Stalin ended the state's violent, decades-long persecution of religion. In a stunning reversal, priests, imams, rabbis, and other religious elites-many of them newly-released from the Gulag-were tasked with rallying Soviet citizens to a "Holy War" against Hitler. To the delight of some citizens, and to the horror of others, Stalin's reversal encouraged a widespread perception that his "war on religion" was over. A revolution in Soviet religious life ensued: soldiers prayed on the battlefield, entire villages celebrated once-banned holidays, and state-backed religious leaders used their new positions not only to consolidate power over their communities, but also to petition for further religious freedoms. Offering a window on this wartime "religious revolution," God Save the USSR focuses on the Soviet Union's Muslims, using sources in several languages (including Russian, Tatar, Bashkir, Uzbek, and Persian). Drawing evidence from eyewitness accounts, interviews, soldiers' letters, frontline poetry, agents' reports, petitions, and the words of Soviet Muslim leaders, Jeff Eden argues that the religious revolution was fomented simultaneously by the state and by religious Soviet citizens: the state gave an inch, and many citizens took a mile, as atheist Soviet agents looked on in exasperation at the resurgence of unconcealed devotional life.


Introduction: Debating the Wartime Religious Revolution
1. The Setting: From the Years of Repression to Stalin's New Deal
2. Praying with Stalin: Soviet Islamic Propaganda of the Second World War
3. Negotiating Stalin's Tolerance: Muslim Institutions in Wartime
4. Red Army Prayers and Homefront Lyrics: Glimpses of Soviet Muslim Life in Wartime
5. Bureaucrats Bewildered: Monitoring Muslims in Postwar Kazakhstan
Appendix: Soviet Religious Propaganda and Wartime Documents: A Selection

About the author: 

Jeff Eden is Assistant Professor of History at St. Mary's College of Maryland. His previous books include Slavery and Empire in Central Asia (2018) and Warrior Saints of the Silk Road: Legends of the Qarakhanids (2018).

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