Julia Lerner

junior fellow
EURIAS cohort 2016/2017
discipline Social Anthropology
Senior Lecturer, Department of Sociology and Anthropology, Ben Gurion University of the Negev

Research project

Belonging and Un-Belonging through Religion: The Case of Religious Transformation among Post-Soviet Immigrants


How is it possible that a graduate of the Soviet educational system would become in Israel an ultra-orthodox practicing Jew, or an ardent messianic evangelist? Based on an ongoing research project, Julia Lerner takes up the challenge of explaining the dramatic religious transformations occurring among Russian-speaking post-Soviet immigrants in Israel.


Religiosity and belonging are natural bedfellows. However, some religious notions and practices counter lines of loyalty demanded by the citizenship code, home and host state's national or cultural ethos. Hence, belonging on one side can appear as un-belonging on another. Understanding belonging and un-belonging through religious affiliation and practice in the context of global contemporary migration and transnational networks sheds light on the meanings of modern forms of religiosity in the condition of cultural change. Taking a close look at the phenomenology of newly developed religiosity among one immigrant group, this book segues neatly into the most prominent current inquiries in the wider social science research on global religiosity and post-nationalist and post-secular quest for belonging.


The study joins a small body of literature on post-immigration religious transformations of previously non-religious immigrants. Ex-Soviet immigrants’ emerging religiosity is constituted by three major global and local factors: the universal immigrant condition and the particular immigrant's positioning towards the host state; the post-Soviet condition and the religious revival in post-Socialist spaces; and the global contemporary boom of new religious movements. The book brings ethnographic evidence of Russian speakers' participation in religious communities in Israel, and explores the origins, meanings and practice of this religiosity.


The particular novelty of this study is the exploration of the religious trajectories within the same immigrant collective, which is simultaneously "attracted" to two religions: Judaism and Christianity. In this sense, the study looks at how the newly acquired religiosity counters the commonly accepted integration thesis, which views religiosity of immigrants as a device of adaptation. It reveals the role of the home and host national ideologies and the cultural repertoires in the constitution of the new religious self and practice. Moreover, the comparative analysis of different religious trajectories enables us to learn how religious doctrine impacts on the immigrants' identity, social networks and their attitudes towards the home and the host societies.


Echoing the classical Weberian sociology of religious ideas and social actions, this study applies a cutting edge, tripartite approach to comprehending the mechanisms of cultural and political transformation through religion: ethnographic focus on everyday practice, phenomenological analysis of lifeworld narratives, and close reading of discursive linguistic and rhetorical forms of emerging religiosity.




Julia Lerner is Senior Lecturer at the Department of Sociology and Anthropology of Ben Gurion University and Research Fellow at the Van Leer Jerusalem Institute. She holds a Ph.D in Sociology and Anthropology from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Her research interests are in the fields of anthropology of knowledge and migration. At the intersection of these fields, she explores the relocation of ideas and people, and studies cultural change both in post-Soviet Russia and in the Russian speaking collective in Israel.


Selected publications


''Russians' in the Jewish State: Blood, Identity and National Bureaucracy', Ethnologie Française, vol. 45, no. 2, 2015, pp. 363-374.


'The Changing Meanings of Russian Love: Emotional Socialism and Therapeutic Culture on the Post-Soviet Screen', Sexuality & Culture, vol. 19, 2015, pp. 349-368.


'Adapting the Therapeutic Discourse to Post-Soviet Media-Culture: The Case of Modniy Prigovor', with C. Zbenovich, Slavic Review, vol. 72, no. 4, 2013, pp. 828-849.


'Vospitanie - eto rabota: Intercultural Encounters in Educational Communication within Russian-Speaking Families in Israel', with C. Zbenovich, Russian Journal of Communication, vol. 5, no. 2, 2013, pp. 119-140.


''Russians' in Israel as a post-Soviet Subjects: Implementing Civilizational Repertoire', Israel Affairs, vol. 17, no. 1, 2011, pp. 21-37.



senior fellow
EURIAS promotion 2011/2012
Helsinki Collegium for Advanced Studies
discipline History
senior fellow
EURIAS promotion 2014/2015
Helsinki Collegium for Advanced Studies
discipline Islamic studies
junior fellow
EURIAS promotion 2018/2019
Helsinki Collegium for Advanced Studies
discipline Linguistics
junior fellow
EURIAS promotion 2012/2013
Helsinki Collegium for Advanced Studies
discipline History