The Christian Environmental Ethic of the Russian Pomor

  • Stephen Brain Mississippi State University

Abstract

This article revisits Lynn White's famous 1967 article that placed the blame for environmental problems in the Western world on the Judeo-Christian belief system, and discusses the case of the Pomor, a Russian sub-ethnicity who settled on the shores of the White Sea in the twelfth century. Although maintaining their Orthodox faith after migrating to the edge of the Slavic cultural zone, the Pomor adopted an entirely new way of life suited to the climate of the far north. Rather than concentrating on agriculture, which proved unreliable at the extreme northern latitude, they turned their attention to the exploitation of marine resources: fishing, sealing, and whaling. Contending with the harsh elements on a daily basis, the Pomor developed a worldview called "sacral geography," which fused animism with Christian eschatology. Sacral geography, in addition to providing an interpretive system for the natural world, also obligated the Pomor to observe and respect the natural world by limiting their economic strategies. The result was a unique environmental ethic. In the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century, the Pomor environmental ethic came under direct criticism from larger social forces-first the local business community and then the Soviet state-because of its low productivity. Ultimately, Stalin's aggressive economic and political policies succeeded in eliminating the Pomor environmental ethic as an effective curb on resource exploitation.

 

 

Este artículo se propone revisar el famoso artículo de Lynn White de 1967, en el que culpa al sistema de creencias judeocristiano de los problemas medioambientales en el mundo occidental, y analizar el caso de los Pomor, una sub-etnia rusa asentada a orillas del Mar Blanco en el siglo XII. A pesar de mantener su fe ortodoxa después de migrar a la orilla de la zona cultural eslava, los Pomor adoptaron una nueva forma de vida adaptada al clima nórdico. En vez de concentrarse en la agricultura, que resultó ser poco fiable a tal latitud, centraron su atención en la explotación de los recursos marinos: la pesca, la caza de focas y la caza de ballenas. Al lidiar con unos elementos tan duros diariamente, los Pomor desarrollaron una visión del mundo llamada "geografía sagrada," que aunaba el animismo con las creencias cristianas. La geografía sacra, además de proporcionar un sistema de interpretación de la naturaleza, también obligaba a los Pomor a observar y respetar el mundo natural mediante la limitación de sus estrategias económicas. El resultado fue una ética del medio ambiente única. A finales del siglo XIX y principios del XX, la ética del medio ambiente de los Pomor fue criticada por fuerzas sociales más grandes, primero por la comunidad empresarial local y luego por el estado soviético, debido a su baja productividad. En última instancia, los agresivos principios económicos y políticos de Stalin lograron acabar con la ética medioambiental Pomor como freno eficaz a la explotación de los recursos.

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Author Biography

Stephen Brain, Mississippi State University

Stephen Brain received his Ph.D. from the University of California-Berkeley in 2007 and is now assistant professor of history at Mississippi State University. He is the author of the recently published book Song of the Forest: Russian Forestry and Stalinist Environmentalism (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2011), which examines the survival of romantic, pre-revolutionary approaches to environmental management through the Soviet era, and his works have also appeared in the journals Russian Review and Environmental History.  His current project, from which the essay in this issue of Ecozon@ is drawn, will examine the environmental impact of Stalin’s collectivization program throughout the Soviet Union, including not only large scale agriculture, but also fisheries management, animal husbandry, and truck farming. He can be reached at scbrain@history.msstate.edu.

Published
2011-12-19
Section
Ecospirit: Religion and the Environment