“… traders. The accommodation and defense of Alaska Natives and their traditions provides a model for churches struggling with issues of diversity. ”
In the field of American religion, the story of Russian Orthodoxy in Alaska is unusual and, in some ways, unique. First, it is one of the few religious traditions that took root in the New World as part of a political entity, Russian Alaska, that only later came under the jurisdiction of the United States. Second, unlike the Puritans and other European settlers, Russian Orthodoxy in America migrated from West to East. Finally, and this qualifies as unique, Orthodoxy in Alaska has survived in large measure because of its proven ability to incorporate Native American peoples and cultures into the fabric of its religious life. Stated in other terms, were it not for its success among Alaska Natives, Orthodoxy would be moribund. The Orthodox Church in Alaska provides a model for inclusiveness and diversity; the preponderance of both parishioners and clergy are Alaska Natives, and Bishop David Mahaffey, head of the Dioceses of Sitka and Alaska, aspires to be succeeded by an Alaska Native.
I’m applying for funds to complete the production of an hour-long television documentary on Orthodoxy in Alaska, similar to Helen Whitney’s program on the Mormons (though without dramatic reenactments), that will have a tertiary life as a pedagogical tool, both for my own classroom and for my colleagues in the field (most of whom treat Russian Orthodoxy in a cursory way, if at all) as well as for community and religious institutions (adult education, for instance).