The specter of the “Godless” Soviet Union haunted the United States and continental Western Europe throughout the Cold War, but what did atheism mean in the Soviet Union? What was its relationship with religion? In her new book, A Sacred Space Is Never Empty: A History of Soviet Atheism
, Dr. Victoria Smolkin
explores how the Soviet state defined and created spaces for atheism during its nearly 70-year history.
The Soviet state often found itself devising reactions to religion in terms of belief and practice. Religion, particularly Orthodox religion, was an ideological, political and spiritual problem for the state. The state, particularly during the Khrushchev era, needed to fill the ideological and spiritual void the absence of religion created in the hearts and minds of Soviet people. From the Soviet League of the Militant Godless to a cosmonaut wedding in the Moscow Wedding Palace, Smolkin’s use of primary sources effectively illustrates just how diverse the meaning of atheism could be from Lenin to Gorbachev. Smolkin’s work goes beyond the traditional accounts of Soviet atheism as a symptom of authoritarianism or as a secularization project to show that Soviet atheism’s purpose was fundamentally tied to the fate of religion.
Kimberly St. Julian-Varnon is a History Instructor at Lee College.