community. At the centre of Slavophile idealism were the family, the church and the village commune that brought people together in their common goals. Westernisers and their successors have taken up an opposing position, arguing at times that Russian peasants suffered as a result of the village commune and that Orthodoxy provided a ritualistic practice absent of religious understanding. At the heart of these debates lay fundamentally different interpretations of the western-inspired reforms of Peter the Great and whether or not they adhered to Russia's true character or betrayed it.3
By the mid-nineteenth century the political, social and cultural landscape of Russia was on the verge of radical transformation. The emancipation of the serfs in 1861 brought expectation and hope in the areas of economic development that were predicated upon the spread of primary schooling, basic literacy and improved communication (both transportation and information) under the rubric of the Great Reforms. Among the consequences of the enormous changes introduced under the Tsar Liberator, Alexander II, were, on the one hand, the diversification of society and culture and, on the other, the intensification of isolation among Russians, depending on their educational levels, their proximity to major urban centres and their political loyalties. Urban-educated teachers travelled in considerable numbers to every corner of the empire. They went equipped with textbooks and illustrations that supported the latest scientific paradigms of the natural world and of human civilisations, but they also took with them prevailing stereotypes about religion and superstition, which underlined the disadvantages of folk belief and practice. Many well-intended educators came from a clerical background and sought nothing less than to lift their fellow countrymen out of their eternal poverty and to lead them along the path to lasting prosperity through economic, and quite often political, self-sufficiency.4
Notions of self-sufficiency went hand in hand with church leaders' belief that emancipation should not be limited to the peasantry, but also applied to
3 A. Walicki, The Slavophile controversy: history of a conservative utopia in nineteenth-century Russian thought (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1975); and Walicki, A history of Russian thought (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1979).
4 A splendid overview of Russian history in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries can be foundin G. Hosking, Russia: people and empire, 1552-1917 (London: HarperCollins, 1997). On the educational initiatives and changes in the church that followed the emancipation of the serfs, see B. Eklof,Russian peasant schools: officialdom, village culture, and popular pedagogy, 1861-1914 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1986); G. L. Freeze, The parish clergy innineteenth-century Russia: crisis, reform, counter-reform (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1983), chs. 5-10; A. Sinel, The classroom and the chancellery: state educational reform in Russia under Count Dmitry Tolstoi (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1973).
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