Graduation Date

12-2019

Document Type

Master's Thesis

Emphasis

Religion

Degree Name

Master of Arts

Program Name

Humanities

Program Director

Judy Halebsky, PhD

First Reader

Philip Novak, PhD

Second Reader

Chase Clow, PhD

Abstract

Between 1741, when Russians first entered the Aleutian archipelago, to 1867, when Russia sold Alaska to the United States, virtually the entire Aleutian indigenous population, the Unangan peoples, having been minimally missionized and influenced only by traders, had subsumed their ancient religious beliefs and practices into a new framework and converted to Russian Orthodox Christianity. This, despite the fact that by 1800, murder, disease and forced labor at the hands of the Russian traders were major causes of a near-extinction-level Unangan population decline of eighty percent.

This thesis will argue that, despite the injustices suffered by the Unangax at Russian hands, a major contributing factor in their conversion to Orthodox Christianity was their perception of impressive similarities between the two outlooks. This thesis will explore in detail four major points of correspondence that the Unangax likely perceived between their religiosity and that of Russian Orthodoxy, namely: 1) their cosmologies; 2) the ritual uses of Unangan masks and Orthodox icons; 3) the roles of water in rituals of purification; and 4) their practices of prayer. This thesis will conclude that because of these similarities, the Unangax found Orthodox beliefs and practices far from alien, and thus adoptable without an emotionally prohibitive abandonment of their own spiritual sensibilities.

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