THE CHARISMA OF INVENTED TRADITIONS: Religious (and Academic) Communities in the Search for Legitimacy

Центр антропологии религии

The Charisma of Invented Traditions:

Religious (and Academic) Communities
in the Search for Legitimacy

European University at Saint Petersburg
Department of Anthropology
Center for Anthropology of Religion
Committee for the Scientific Planning


For many years traditions have been considered as something that is transmitted from generation to generation, and such view was relevant for various social actors as well as for social theoreticians. Historians, anthropologists, and sociologists had been inspired by Eric Hobsbawm and Terence Ranger’s famous book (1983) and noticed the artificial essence of practices and projects seen as natural and unchanged (or at least posited in this way). The criticism provided by Marshall Sahlins (1999) and Thomas Eriksen (2004) challenged the opposition between “real” (i.e. transmitted beliefs, practices, institutions and the means of their legitimation from generation to the next) and “invented” (invented in recent past or even before our eyes by the political elite) traditions. It is often difficult to identify how properly the process of transmission of some practices is undertaken, but we know for sure that someone invented them for specific political and economic interests. Tradition unites a group of people, legitimising their practices.

The presence of a developed tradition and identity production industries and an appeal to the traditional status of a particular type of social relations made by political and religious leaders enable us to claim that tradition has its charisma. In other words, not only a person or a group may have charismatic qualities, as Max Weber supposed, but also symbols of tradition acquire extraordinary characteristics. There is a large amount of research concerning this issue based on the data collected in the field of ethnic activism. At the same time, the dichotomy of traditional/non-traditional and confessional/non-confessional is not properly problematized in the social studies of religion. Some of the rare exceptions are collections of articles — The Invention of Sacred Tradition edited by James Lewis and Olav Hammer (2007), Carol Cusack’s Invented Religions: Imagination, Fiction, and Faith (2010), and Invention of Tradition and Syncretism in Contemporary Religions edited by Stefania Palmisano and Nicola Pannofino (2017). On the one hand, we would like to continue this discussion of the recent movements and practices that seek legitimacy in an attempt to sustain the connection with the idealized ancient times.

On the other hand, we are interested in the study of invented traditions in well-established religious institutions. In addition, we are going to discuss the advantages and disadvantages of the very concept of the invention of tradition in the context of the social studies of religion. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that there is something misleading in the usage of this concept in many academic texts. It sometimes gives the illusion of an explanation rather than actually explaining anything. The very notion of invention is often reduced to the postulation of “fake” status of certain ideas and practices, while the social context of these inventions is ignored.


Thus, we are interested in the discussion of how traditions acquire their charisma as well as how analytical concepts acquire mystifying qualities in academic texts. Addressing the various contexts of religious life — confessional and non-confessional — we would like to ask the following questions.


• How is tradition lived in everyday life?

• What are the differences between elite projects of tradition and its everyday consumption?

• Does the declaration of the traditional status of certain practices lead to the reinforcement of hierarchies and the restriction of individual autonomy?

• What makes a tradition become one for people practicing or, on the contrary, challenging it?

• What does the study of local theories of tradition contribute to our understanding of this phenomenon?

• How useful is the concept of the invention of tradition for the investigation of religious creativity?


ORGANIZERS: Ekaterina Khonineva (European University at Saint Petersburg / Peter the Great Museum of Anthropology and Ethnography of Russian Academy of Sciences), Andrei Tiukhtiaev (European University at Saint Petersburg)

MODERATOR AND DISCUSSANT: Alexander Panchenko (European University at Saint Petersburg / Institute of Russian Literature of Russian Academy of Sciences)




Friday, June 7th


13:30–15:30 Tradition and Identity (Room 429)

Roman Urbanowicz (University of Helsinki), Traditional Subversions and Tactical Re-inventions: On Hidden Catholic Religiosity in Soviet North-Western Belarus

Sergei Shtyrkov (European University at Saint Petersburg / Peter the Great Museum of Anthropology and Ethnography of the Russian Academy of Sciences), “The Simple-minded Childlike Faith”: Sergei Nilus and Folklorization of Russian Orthodox Identity

Elena Malaia (European University at Saint Petersburg), “Eternal Remembrance” of the Great Patriotic War in the Post-Soviet Village 


15:30–16:00 Coffee break (3d Floor)


16:00–18:00 Invention and Inventedness (Room 429)

Vlad NaumescuOn The Poetics (Not Politics) of Tradition

Danila Rygovskiy (European University at Saint Petersburg), The Invented Russian Old Rite that Has Never Been Invented

Aleksandra Dugushina (Peter the Great Museum of Anthropology and Ethnography of the Russian Academy of Sciences), Denis Ermolin (Peter the Great Museum of Anthropology and Ethnography of the Russian Academy of Sciences), Roman Catholicism in Kosovo: Inherited, Neglected, Invented.


Saturday, June 8th


11:00–12:30 Tradition and Spirituality (Room 429)

Stefania Palmisano (University of Turin), Contemporary Spirituality as a Reinvention of Traditions

Yulia Andreeva (Peter the Great Museum of Anthropology and Ethnography of the Russian Academy of Sciences), “Traditional” in the Russian Intentional Communities


12:30–13:00 Coffee break (3d Floor)


13:00–14:30 Tradition and Place (Room 429)

Agnieszka Halemba (Institute of Archaeology and Ethnology of the Polish Academy of Science), Nation without Nationalism, Religion without Religiosity. Religious Buildings as Contested Sites in Contemporary Eastern Germany

Jeanne Kormina (Higher School of Economics), Namolennoe Mesto: Tradition vs Authenticity in Contemporary Pilgrimage


14:30–15:30 Coffee break (3d Floor)


15:30–17:00 Tradition and Creativity (Room 429)

Ekaterina Khonineva (European University at Saint Petersburg / Peter the Great Museum of Anthropology and Ethnography of the Russian Academy of Sciences), “Tradition as Play?”: Aesthetics and Irony in Russian Catholic Traditionalism

Svetlana Tambovtseva (European University at Saint Petersburg / Institute of Russian Literature of the Russian Academy of Sciences), VseYASvetnaya Gramota as a Conlang: Invented Tradition and Linguistic Creativity

Illustration: Simon Roberts, Motherland