RESEARCH PROJECTS

Based on twelve months of fieldwork in the Appalachian Mountains with a community of Russian Orthodox Christians, Sarah’s dissertation examines the transnational, political implications of conversion alongside the social imaginaries of practitioners, paying close attention new far-right, religio-political formations in rural economies. Russian Orthodoxy is often seen as a highly ideological, insular, and ethnically fragmented form of Christianity that rejects many of the socio-political values 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 rendering these places and spaces as sites of global religio-political encounter. Sarah’s research complicates what it means to be a rural Christian, highlighting how long-standing political tensions between the United States and Russia are dramatized in the turn to an eastern faith.

 

Sarah’s dissertation research has been supported by New York University and the Jordan Center for the Advanced Study of Russia. In 2018-2019 she was a Louisville Institute dissertation fellow for the study of American Christianity. In 2019-2020, alongside the NEH dissertation fellowship from the Orthodox Christian Studies Center at Fordham University, she will also be a Charlotte W. Newcombe Dissertation Fellow through the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation. 

East of Appalachia:

The New Russia Turn in American Christianity 

“Holy Things are for the Holy:” Discrimination and the Fight for Women’s Ordination in the Orthodox Church 

Within conservative forms of Christianity, such as Eastern Orthodoxy, women’s roles have historically been monitored and minimized, with institutional hierarchs silencing the voices of women and members of the LGBT community. What does it mean to be a progressive female activist in a church that historically refuses to acknowledge her equality? Through anthropological study and ethnographic filmmaking, Sarah's postdoctoral project will show how Orthodox female activists seek agency in an institution that refuses them access to its holiest rites and practices. Raising questions about female autonomy, the gendering of holiness, and religious purity, her research explores what happens to the socio-theological structures of communities when grassroots initiatives that are seen as synonymous with modernity challenge deep set notions of who can be a priest. How will conservative Christianity be transformed by women who are leading the way to create a new status quo in the Orthodox Church, one that focuses on inclusivity and intersectionality? Sarah's work will reveal how Orthodox feminist activists are pushing back against the hegemony of patriarchal Christianity, seeking not to upend tradition but to transform it, even through socio-religious transgression. 

©2020 Sarah Riccardi-Swartz.