Heather J. Coleman

Canada Research Chair in Imperial Russian History

Tier 2 - 2017-11-01
University of Alberta
Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council


Research involves

Examining the experiences of Russian Orthodox priests and parishioners in the multiethnic diocese of Kyiv from 1800 to 1917.

Research relevance

The research is leading to a better understanding of the role of religion in the formation of modern nation-states.

Religion, Politics, and Culture in Imperial Russia

Ask a high school student what she knows about late imperial Russia, and her answers are likely to be familiar to all of us: revolutionary movements, despotism, economic disparity. Few Canadians would think to include religion among the forces that animated the great changes in Russia between the 19th century and the rise of Soviet socialism. Yet then, as in other times, religion was central to the life of the Russian state. No mere vestige of a pre-modern past, it was a living force - both a bastion of imperial power and, in the hands of missionaries and local priests, a site for negotiation between different nationalities and cultural traditions.

Canada Research Chair Dr. Heather Coleman is examining the role of religion in modern nation-building. She is focusing on the experiences of Orthodox priests in the diocese of Kyiv (then Kiev) in the Russian Ukraine - a centre of Russian Orthodoxy, a hotbed of both Russian and Ukrainian nationalism, but also the home of Polish Catholics and Jewish citizens who maintained close ties to their religious and cultural heritage.

Dr. Coleman is trying to answer such questions as, How did the priests try to deal with these differences? Which of them tried to win local allegiance to the idea of the Russian nation, and why? How did they grapple with ideas of what it means to be "Russian," what it means to be "Ukrainian"? How did they represent themselves, and the Church, to the communities they served? In the process, her study is shedding light on the role of religious feeling in political relations, and revealing more about the ways in which modern identities are shaped.