Sonja Luehrmann

junior fellow
EURIAS cohort 2015/2016
discipline Anthropology
Associate Professor of Anthropology, Department of Sociology and Anthropology, Simon Fraser University, Vancouver

Research project

Sin and Soviet Memory: Mobilizing Tainted Pasts in Russian Orthodox Anti-Abortion Activism


The purpose of the fellowship period is to work on a book manuscript entitled Sin and Soviet Memory: Mobilizing Tainted Pasts in Russian Orthodox Anti-Abortion Activism. Since abortion was the most accessible method of birth control in the Soviet Union, many of the elderly women who form the backbone of any Russian Orthodox congregation had multiple abortions during their reproductive years. Some of them now participate in public outreach and emergent ritual practices as part of a regimen of penitence. While other scholars have noted a retreat from critical memory of the Soviet past during the Putin era, I interpret debates about the status of dead foetuses as a heavily gendered microcosm in which larger questions of how to mourn the dead of the twentieth century are simultaneously occluded and made representable. Drawing on ethnographic research among Russian Orthodox pro-life groups and interviews with lay women and clergy in capital and provincial cities, I trace the theological and therapeutic understandings of memory, social change, and self-cultivation that authorize this form of conservative women’s activism.


As an issue that both the state and the church have identified as a potential area of collaboration, reproductive policy in Russia is a good test case for the extent and limits of the political power of the Russian Orthodox Church. I argue that the ambivalent status of abortion as a commonplace practice that is rarely considered ideal invites ritual mediation, but also undermines the church's attempts to translate its moral expertise into legal or political influence. As a broader theoretical intervention, my work calls for more attention to culturally specific means of dealing with transgression in anthropological studies of morality and social memory.



Sonja Luehrmann is Associate Professor of Anthropology at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, Canada. She received her Ph.D. from the Program in Anthropology and History at the University of Michigan in 2009. Her research focuses on religion and lived ideology in Soviet and post-Soviet Russia, with a special interest in theories of secularism and the role of mediation and the senses in processes of social change and contestation. Her current ethnographic research focuses on anti-abortion activism in the post-Soviet Russian Orthodox Church.

Selected publications


Religion in Secular Archives: Soviet Atheism and Historical Knowledge, Oxford University Press, New York, 2015.


'The Spirit of Late Socialism and the Value of Transformation: Brezhnevism through the Lens of Post-Soviet Religious Revival', Cahiers du monde russe, vol. 54, no. 3-4, 2013, pp. 543-564.

‘A Multireligious Region in an Atheist State: Unionwide Policies Meet Communal Distinctions in the Postwar Mari Republic’, in C. Wanner (ed.), State Secularism and Lived Religion in Soviet Russia and Ukraine, Oxford University Press, New York, 2012, pp. 272-301.


Secularism Soviet Style: Teaching Atheism and Religion in a Volga Republic, Indiana University Press, Bloomington, 2011.


‘The Modernity of Manual Reproduction: Soviet Propaganda and the Creative Life of Ideology’, Cultural Anthropology, vol. 26, no. 3, 2011, pp. 363-388.


‘A Dual Struggle of Images on Russia’s Middle Volga: Icon Veneration in the Face of Protestant and Pagan Critique’, in C. Hann and H. Goltz (eds), Eastern Christians in Anthropological Perspective, University of California Press, Berkeley, 2010, pp. 56-78.


Alutiiq Villages under Russian and U.S. Rule, University of Alaska Press, Fairbanks, 2008.



senior fellow
EURIAS promotion 2017/2018
Helsinki Collegium for Advanced Studies
discipline Law
junior fellow
EURIAS promotion 2014/2015
Helsinki Collegium for Advanced Studies
discipline Philosophy
junior fellow
EURIAS promotion 2012/2013
Helsinki Collegium for Advanced Studies
discipline History
junior fellow
EURIAS promotion 2011/2012
Helsinki Collegium for Advanced Studies
discipline Philosophy