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October 18th 2012

2012 Post-Doctoral Fellow Victoria Smolkin-Rothrock Gives Lecture on Soviet Atheism

The Bolshevik Revolution in Russia unleashed a confrontation between scientific atheism and traditional religions. Yet even with its embrace of secularization, the Soviet Union never became an officially atheist state or a society of mass atheism. While the Communist Party waged several aggressive ideological campaigns, most notably during Stalin's Cultural Revolution, it never managed to "overcome" religion. Indeed, as Dr. Victoria Smolkin-Rothrock argues, religion and believers continued to preoccupy the leadership until the Soviet Union's collapse. For Communists, the propagation of scientific atheism was not simply about the destruction of churches and the persecution of clergy; it was also about the creation of a Soviet "sacred space," filled with a distinct atheist cosmology. Communism, moreover, sought to create not just an enchanted public culture, a "political" religion, but also compelling private beliefs and rites that, by giving order and meaning to individual life, bound citizens to the state. Dr. Smolkin-Rothrock will tell the story of an unprecedented attempt to transform atheism into its opposite: a robust worldview with a coherent spiritual center. About the Sherman Lecture Series: Since 2002, the UNCW History Department has hosted an annual lecture series established to honor two life-long learners and friends of the department, Virginia and Derrick Sherman. Each spring, the department selection committee announces the topic of the upcoming lecture and conducts a national competition among junior scholars to select our Emerging Scholar. The lecturer visits campus during the third week of October and delivers a major lecture on the Thursday closest to United Nations Day. Each year, lecturers visit classes, provide interviews to the local press and meet with faculty. The Sherman lectures are published by the UNCW Publication Laboratory and distributed to UN Repository Libraries.

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