East of Appalachia: The New Russian Turn in American Christianity

“… the conversion of Appalachians to Russian Orthodoxy, and what that might mean for the changing political ethos of small-town American Christianity. ”

Team Members/Contributors

Sarah Amy Riccardi-Swartz New York University Contact Me

About this dissertation fellowship

Russian Orthodoxy is often seen as a highly ideological, insular, and ethnically fragmented form of Christianity that rejects many of the socio-political ideals associated with the United States. Yet, it is attracting American-born, non-Russian converts at a steadily increasing rate, particularly in rural areas of the American South, Appalachia, and the Ozarks. Orthodoxy, often marginalized as a “Christianity of alterity,” is now being taken up by people from regions and communities that are themselves subjected to stereotypes of closure in the American imagination, thereby rending these places and spaces as sites of global religio-political encounter. My work asks how Russian Orthodoxy is transforming American Christianity in rural Appalachia, and in turn how the traditional culture of the region is being taken up by Orthodox Christians in order to reimagine their own place in an American religious landscape. Crucial to my research are notions of regionalism and transnational politics, as they play a vital role in how believers in this area understand themselves in relation to broader American spiritual ways of being. In this way, my work complicates what it means to be a rural Christian, highlighting how longstanding political tensions between the United States and Russia are dramatized in the turn to an eastern faith.