The gift in the policy and practice of Siberian non-Orthodox people christianisation (based on materials for Western Siberia in the late 16th18th centuries)

Konev A.Yu., Poplavskiy R.O. (Tyumen, Russian Federation)


              page 165–174


In almost all societies, the rites of passage are accompanied by the ritual of gift giving. Baptism is one of the key transition rites in the Christian tradition. At the first stages of the Russian conquest of Siberia, the conversion of heterodox believers from the indigenous population into the Orthodox faith involved two intersecting processes, with the first being aimed at religious conversion itself and the second at making the indigenous population to be further rooted in the Russian allegiance. In this article, we set out to approach these processes using the gift theory pioneered by M. Mauss and elaborated by contemporary economists and social anthropologists. Since M. Mauss developed his theory using the example of stateless societies, our research was based on findings achieved by N.V. Ssorin-Chaikov. His research into the phenomenon of gift relations between the state and its citizens is mainly based the Hobbesian concept. We found out that, until the first decades of the 18th century, the process of conversion into the Orthodox Church not only concerned the religious aspect, but also played an important role in turning a yesterday’s «non-Orthodox» into a fully valid subject of the Russian Tsar. By allowing a non-Orthodox believer to be baptized, the state sought to establish or strengthen its sovereignty over a new convert. As early as at the proclamation stage, new converts accepted a free gift from the state a «new time», and, a new quality of allegiance, which implied their loyal service. In return for the Christianisation, the state gifted new subjects with money and new clothes. In the second half of the 18th century, the gifts were substituted by privileges in tribute payment. The baptized representatives of the Siberian native elite could gain acceptance and prolong their status of «volost strongmen». The quality and amount of gifts presented by secular authorities and godparents were intended to mark the status of both the donator and the gifted, building up a system of hierarchical relations and incorporating newly baptized people into a particular social group.


Key words: christianization, gift theory, non-Orthodox («inovertsy»), Siberia, conversion, allegiance.


DOI: 10.20874/2071-0437-2018-43-4-165-174




A.Yu. Konev

Tyumen Scientific Centre of Siberian Branch RAS, Malygina st., 86, Tyumen, 625026, Russian Federation



R.O. Poplavskiy

Tyumen Scientific Centre of Siberian Branch RAS, Malygina st., 86, Tyumen, 625026, Russian Federation