Victoria Smolkin is Associate Professor of Russian History at Wesleyan University (Middletown, Connecticut). She completed her Ph.D. at the University of California Berkeley in 2010. Her publications include: “The Confession of an Atheist Who Became a Scholar of Religion”: Nikolai Semenovich Gordienko’s Last Interview,” Kritika (Summer 2014), and “The Ticket to the Soviet Soul: Science, Religion and the Spiritual Crisis of Late Soviet Atheism,” in Russian Review (April 2014). Smolkin's research has been supported by Princeton University's Shelby Cullom Davis Center for Historical Studies; the Social Science Research Council Eurasia Post-Doctoral Research Award; the Sherman Emerging Scholar Lectureship; the Newcombe Dissertation Fellowship in Religion and Ethics; and the Fulbright-Hays Doctoral Dissertation Fellowship, among others. Smolkin-Rothrock’s forthcoming monograph is titled A Sacred Space Is Never Empty: The Spiritual Life of Soviet Atheism. In 2014-2015, Smolkin was a Title VIII Research Fellow at the Kennan Institute of the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington D.C. 

Project Summary

A Sacred Space Is Never Empty: The Spiritual Life of Soviet Atheism is the story of the confrontation between scientific atheism and lived religion in the Soviet Union. While the Soviet state waged several antireligious campaigns—most notably during Stalin’s Cultural Revolution and under Khrushchev—the state never actually managed to “overcome” religion. Indeed, religion and believers preoccupied the Soviet leadership for the country's entire history. What role did atheism play in the Soviet project? How did the experience of “scientific atheism” affect the elite’s understanding of the state’s role in spiritual life? The book challenges the common perception that Soviet religious policy was solely destructive. Over the course of Soviet history, the battle against religion became the battle for atheism. In this sense, the book is the story of the unprecedented attempt to transform atheism into its opposite: a set of positive beliefs and practices with a spiritual center.

Previous Terms

Short-Term Scholar, Kennan Institute. Assistant Professor, Department of History, Wesleyan University. "A Sacred Space is Never Empty: Scientific Atheism, Socialist Rituals, and the Soviet Way of Life (1954-1999)." July 2011 - Aug 2011.