Herman of Alaska. A Saint at the Heart of Multiple Claims

This project develops further one aspect of the previous IPEV program entitled “Orthodox Christianity and Indigenous People in Contemporary Alaska and Chukotka” (OCIP, 2015-2018). It aims to document ethnographically and analyze anthropologically the ways in which Orthodox actors at various scales (local, national, transnational) make claims with reference to the figure of Saint Herman of Alaska. The monk Herman (1751 or 1760 to1836 or 1837) was one of the first Russian Orthodox missionaries sent by Empress Catherine II to Alaska in 1794. Canonized in 1970, Saint Herman is a central figure in Alaskan and North American Orthodox Christianity: he is regarded both as the patron saint of Orthodox Christians in America and the protector of Alaskan indigenous people. Recently, a new interest in Herman has emerged in Russia, where he is presented as the “baptizer”, exemplifying the missionary role of the Russian Orthodox Church. Thus, Herman is a saint deeply rooted locally, in Alaska, but he also displays international dimensions. To facilitate understanding of his significance from all relevant points of view, research will be conducted in Alaska and in Russia. Funding is requested for two field studies (in Kodiak and in the Karelia region); a third field study will be done with another source of funding. Research will be conducted by two anthropologists with complementary expertise and field experience: M.-A. Salabelle and V. Vaté. First, in August 2020, both Salabelle and Vaté will document the celebration of the 50th anniversary of the canonization of Saint Herman during the pilgrimage devoted to him every year in the Kodiak region, usually from 7 to 9 August. Research in Russia will be aimed at investigating the ways in which representatives of the Russian Orthodox Church are integrating the history of Herman of Alaska into its practices of veneration, in particular by constructing churches and chapels devoted to the saint. For this, two fieldsites have been chosen: Kadom/Riazan Region (in March 2021) – where Saint Herman was born and grew up – and Valaam monastery/Karelia region (in August 2021) – where Herman lived before he was sent to Alaska. Both Salabelle and Vaté will conduct research in Valaam monastery. Vaté’s fieldwork in the Riazan region will take place and be funded in the framework of the project “Marking the space with the religious” (2019-2021, FMSH/RFBR). The results of the three fieldwork campaigns will be integrated into a book in progress by Vaté and Salabelle, entitled, tentatively, Herman’s Contested Heritage.