History in the Soviet Union was a political project. From the Soviet perspective, Buryats, an indigenous Siberian ethnic group, were a "backwards" nationality that was carried along on the inexorable march towards the Communist utopian future. When the Soviet Union ended, the Soviet version of history lost its power and Buryats, like other Siberian indigenous peoples, were able to revive religious and cultural traditions that had been suppressed by the Soviet state. In the process, they also recovered knowledge about the past that the Soviet Union had silenced.
Borrowing the analytic lens of the chronotope from Bakhtin, Quijada argues that rituals have chronotopes which situate people within time and space. As they revived rituals, Post-Soviet Buryats encountered new historical information and traditional ways of being in time that enabled them to re-imagine the Buryat past, and what it means to be Buryat. Through the temporal perspective of a reincarnating Buddhist monk, Dashi-Dorzho Etigelov, Buddhists come to see the Soviet period as a test on the path of dharma. Shamanic practitioners, in contrast, renegotiate their relationship to the past by speaking to their ancestors through the bodies of shamans. By comparing the versions of history that are produced in Buddhist, shamanic and civic rituals, Buddhists, Shamans and Soviets offers a new lens for analyzing ritual, a new perspective on how an indigenous people grapples with a history of state repression, and an innovative approach to the ethnographic study of how people know about the past.
Buddhists, Shamans, and Soviets: Rituals of History in Post-Soviet Buryatia; Justine Buck Quijada; Oxford University Press; Paperback; 258 pp; $35.00
Justine Buck Quijada is Assistant Professor in the Department of Religion at Wesleyan University, where she teaches courses on shamanism, secularism, and ritual. She is co-editor of Atheist Secularism and its Discontents: A Comparative Study of Religion and Communism in Eurasia.