Date of Award

Spring 1-1-2012

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

John O’Loughlin

Second Advisor

John O’Loughlin

Third Advisor

Lynn Staeheli

Fourth Advisor

Christoph Stefes

Fifth Advisor

Gerard Toal


This dissertation is about religious practice and belief among Buddhists in the Russian Federation. Using the case studies of Kalmykia and Buryatia, two of Russia’s 21 ethnic republics, I explore contemporary opinion about the relevance of Buddhism through a multiple methods approach. In Kalmykia, I use elite interviews, focus groups, and a small-scale (N=300) survey as the primary methodologies. While religious elites generally view the region’s religious revival as broad but not deep, there is a genuine sentiment that religion is an important component of post-Soviet national identity as expressed by interlocutors in focus groups and in survey responses. These competing discourses around revival complicate a straightforward reading of the role of Buddhism in the republic. To frame this discussion, I also compare responses on the question of attendance at religious services to a 2005 sample conducted in the North Caucasus republic of Dagestan; I find that ethnic pride is an important predictor of frequent attendance at religious services among ethnic Kalmyks, while gender is the key independent variable in explaining higher levels of attendance in the Muslim republic.

In Buryatia, I rely primarily on a cross-national survey (N=143) to compare religious practice and belief among the titular Buryats and ethnic Russians (as well as members of other groups) who live in the republic. The key finding in this chapter is that Buddhism has consolidated its position as a key element of national identity—as measured through self-reported religiosity and attendance—among Buryats in the past two decades; this is specifically true in comparison to ethnic Russians.

Theoretically, the contribution of the dissertation is to explore new paths of research in the discipline of geography along two lines: a quantitative geography of religion that does more than map spatial patterns in religious practice but rather is attendant to the variation in that practice within countries and considers this diversity at the sub-national scale through survey work; and a formalized methodological approach to the geographical idea of context, one which draws on and advocates for the use of multiple methods, specifically surveys, interviews, and focus groups.