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Dukhobors

Dukhobors or Doukhobors (both: dōˈkəbôrz) [key] [Russ., = spirit wrestlers], religious group, prominent in Russia from the 18th to the 19th cent. The name was coined by the Orthodox opponents of the Dukhobors, who had originally called themselves Christians of the Universal Brotherhood. They were in doctrine somewhat like the Quakers, rejecting completely priesthood, the sacraments, and the other outward symbols of Christianity. The members came from the lower level of society, primarily farmers; the Dukhobors promoted a communal, absolutely democratic attitude and preached equality. Because they rejected the authority of both state and church, they were persecuted under Catherine II. Alexander I persuaded them to settle near the Sea of Azov. There they built up flourishing agricultural communities. When they did not agree to military conscription, considering it sinful, the government in 1840 forcibly ejected them from their lands and moved them farther east. Again they built thriving communities. In 1887 military conscription was again extended to them and again was resisted. Severe persecution followed and their leader, Peter Veregin, was exiled to Siberia.

Leo Tolstoy befriended the Dukhobors and helped enable them to go to Canada. Over 7,000 of them moved (1898–99) to what is now Saskatchewan. Veregin later joined them. Once more their abilities produced flourishing communities, and they spread after 1908 to British Columbia. Frugal, industrious, and abstemious, the Dukhobors built their own roads and their own irrigation projects. Orchards and farms flourished. The group was small but important in the development of W Canada.

There were internal divisions, however, primarily over the question of communal ownership of land. The Sons of Freedom stressed ascetic practices, most notably nudism. The Dukhobors in later days had much trouble with the government and with their non-Dukhobor neighbors; this occasionally burst into violence but was usually expressed in passive resistance. One of the more remarkable forms was the so-called nudist strikes, in which the Dukhobors stripped off their clothing and marched in revolt against governmental decisions.

The elder Peter Veregin was killed by a time bomb in 1924, and his son, Peter Veregin, came from Russia to lead the group. He died in 1939, recommending that the Dukhobors abandon communal life and adjust themselves to Canadian ways. In 1945 the Union of the Dukhobors of Canada was founded, but immediately afterward the Sons of Freedom made themselves a separate organization. There are a small number of adherents remaining in British Columbia and Russia.

See G. Woodcock and I. Avakumovic, The Doukhobors (1968).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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