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Transconfessional Mobility. The Russian Orthodox Mission and East Syrian Christianity in Iran, 1898–1918

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the Russian-Iranian-Ottoman border region became a contact zone of supra-regional importance. This trans-imperial space was characterised not least by the fact that the power-political dispute over influence in Central Asia was fought out there, in which several European actors were involved at the same time. Closely connected to this is a phenomenon in the history of religion that has hardly been researched so far: the establishment or intensification of contacts between the local Oriental Christianities and the churches of European provenance. The fact that Protestant, Roman Catholic and later also Russian Orthodox mission stations were established in the region had a decisive influence on the dynamics of this interaction. Since missionary work among the Muslim population was prohibited by law in both Iran and the Ottoman Empire, the European missionaries directed their efforts towards the Christian minority, which was considered heterodox. The resulting entanglements and Christian reformations form the subject of the research project.
The research focused on the case study of the interaction between the Russian Orthodox Church and the Apostolic Church of the East, the church rooted in the East Syriac theological tradition (and often erroneously referred to as "Nestorian"). For the first time, the negotiations of religious difference between Russian Orthodoxy and East Syriac Christianity as well as their mutual interactions were analysed. The period under investigation covers the period of direct activity of the "Russian Spiritual Urmia Mission" (named after the city in north-western Iran) from its foundation in 1898 until its dissolution in 1918 in the wake of massacres of Christian minorities in the Ottoman-Iranian border region. Of central importance for the research project was the question of how mobility and change in self-attributed as well as foreign-attributed religious affiliation are connected. In this way, the project aimed to specify the analytical concept of "conversion" and to develop a methodological toolkit to conceptually expand the more recent approaches to mission history, taking into account Orthodox and Oriental Christian history.