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December 3, 2001

Major project completed: Study on Cossacks and Religion published by Oxford University Press

In November 2001, Oxford University Press (United Kingdom) published a book by the director of the Church Studies Program at CIUS, Dr. Serhii Plokhy, entitled The Cossacks and Religion in Early Modern Ukraine. Publication in North America is expected in December 2001. The release of the book marked the completion of a major scholarly project of the Church Studies Program. Its publication by a major academic press will undoubtedly help introduce Ukrainian history and religious tradition to broader circles of the English-reading public.

The book, which discusses the role of religion in Cossack revolts of the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, also examines the significance of the religious factor in the Khmelnytsky Uprising (1648-54). The Ukrainian Cossacks, often compared in historical literature with the pirates of the Mediterranean and frontiersmen of the American West, constituted one of the largest Cossack Hosts in the Eurasian steppe borderland. They became known to the outside world for their wars with the Tatars, Turks, Poles, and Russians. Following the successful revolt led by Bohdan Khmelnytsky in 1648, they created a polity known as the Hetmanate. Religion played a significant role in Cossack life, although it has been overlooked by modern historians. By and large the Cossacks were Orthodox Christians, and quite early in their history they adopted a religious ideology in their struggles against those of other faiths, initially the Muslim Turks and Crimean Tatars and later the Roman Catholic Poles and Lithuanians. Their acceptance of the Muscovite protectorate in 1654 was also influenced by their religious ideas.

The Cossack revolts have traditionally been viewed in historiography as a species of peasant rebellion, with little ideological appeal beyond that social stratum. By examining the religious discourse of the period and the Cossack attitude toward religion, the book shows that the religious element was no less important in Cossack revolts than the social factor. Without the skillful use of religious ideas, the Cossack uprisings would never have attained their considerable proportions and attracted as many members of the nobility, clergy, and townspeople into the rebel ranks as they actually did. The book breaks significant new ground in several respects. Reinterpreting Ukrainian, Polish, and Russian historical sources, it shows how the confessionalization of religious life in the early modern period affected Cossack attitudes toward religion and how Cossack involvement in the religious struggle between Eastern Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism contributed to the formation not only of Ukrainian, but also Polish and Russian cultural identity. The discussion of Cossack-Jewish antagonism reveals the fundamental significance of the previously overlooked religious dimension, showing how Counter-Reformation ideas shaped the opposing perspectives of Cossack officers and rank-and-file rebels. Thus the book does not focus narrowly on matters of faith and church history, but treats religion as a "cultural system" and uses the religious perspective to shed new light on broader social questions of mentality and identity formation.

Since the Cossacks themselves left no political or religious writings discussing their attitudes to religion, this book reconstructs the attitudes and mentality of the Cossack officers and rank-and-file rebels on the basis of writings of the Orthodox clergy, Cossack correspondence of the period, and reports of Polish, Muscovite and Turkish envoys to the Cossacks. Apart from an extensive study of the published sources, the book makes use of a number of previously unpublished materials from the archival and manuscript collections of Kyiv, Lviv, Moscow, and St. Petersburg.

Mr. Myroslav Yurkevich of CIUS participated in the preparation of the manuscript for publication. He translated into English those parts of the book that were originally written in Ukrainian, edited the text, and helped Dr. Plokhy with bibliographic research. The Rev. Dr. Iurii Mytsyk, Drs. Paul Bushkovitch, Peter Rolland, Frank Sysyn, Zenon Kohut, John-Paul Himka, and Mikhail Dmitriev read the manuscript and submitted their comments and suggestions to Dr. Plokhy. Orders for the book (ISBN 0-19-924739-0) should be sent to: CWO Department, Oxford University Press, FREEPOST NH 4051, Corby, Northlands NN 189ES, United Kingdom (hard cover, 48.00 pounds sterling) or, in North America, to: Order Department, Oxford University Press, 2001 Evance Road, Cary, NC 27513, USA (hard cover, US $74.00).

  

 

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