Old Believers in North America


About This Bibliography

This bibliography aspires to list and describe every dissertation, thesis, book, article, film, recording, museum, archive, website and newspaper which deals with Russian Old Believer life in North America. At publication (November 2007) about 150 individual items are listed, not counting 30-odd museums, archives and newspapers. Many items are scholarly -- dissertations, scholarly books, journal articles. Many items are not scholarly -- local histories, memoirs, magazine articles, and films. All have been included because they (1) add a substantial piece to the record and (2) are publicly available.

Some items have been intentionally left out. You will find no directory of Old Believer churches or prayer halls here, as many congregations prefer to keep such information under their own control. I have listed only such active Old Believer institutions (prayer halls, churches, monasteries) as already maintain a public presence in print or on the web. Those looking for such information are welcome to contact me, and I will do what I can to make legitimate connections.

In order to make this collection useful to a wide range of researchers ( middle-school students, school teachers, college students and established scholars) I have sorted the materials in various ways. The basic presentation is arranged by format, but indices allow easy searching by author, discipline/subject, and sub-group. Most items are repeatedly cross-listed. Young researchers will find a section designed especially for them.

This is an on-going project. Additions, corrections and comments are very welcome! You may email the bibliographer, Margaret McKibben, by inserting mmck before @sccd.ctc.edu in the email address line.


Articles in reference works are typically concise essays in specialized encyclopedias (encyclopedias of music, of ethnic groups, etc.). Such encyclopedias are widely available in public as well as academic libraries. Scholarly monographs are dissertations, theses, senior projects, and the like, along with printed books aimed at a scholarly audience. While copies of dissertations can often be purchased through UMI, obtaining the lower level scholarly works typically requires an inter-library loan request to the university which hosted the author. Shorter scholarly works include journal articles, book chapters, abstracts, and conference papers.

Popular books are published books accessible to a general audience. Some are cross-listed under scholarly monographs. Popular articles have appeared in magazines intended for the general public. The reports section encompasses such things as meeting minutes, government documents and a few field reports housed at the Randall V. Mills Archives of Northwest Folklore. Film & audio is just that. The list of museums & archives describes relevant museum, archive and library special collections, and presents some advice on search strategies. Links listed under websites were all functional as of November 2007.

Listing all the newspaper articles which discuss Old Believers in North America is beyond the scope of this bibliography. Instead, under newspapers of interest I have listed local and national newspapers which have historically covered Old Believer communities, along with information about availability and indexing. All of the currently publishing newspapers have active web sites -- however, few have online indexing or archives.


The author index allows scholars to easily review the accuracy of their own listings (and to count coup!).

The discipline/subject index lists scholarly works according to the academic discipline of the author. It further lists all works according to the major subject areas covered. Thus, a linguist writing about terminology used for clothing will find her work listed under both "linguistics" and "textiles and costume".

The group index lists all materials according to the Old Believer population group they describe. In identifying "groups" I have relied on history rather than current confessional or settlement patterns. Thus, the "Pennsylvania", "Alberta" and "Oregon" groups are comprised, respectively, of the Pomortsy who settled in Pennsylvania in the 1890s, the Popovtsy who settled in Alberta in the 1920s, and the (mostly) Chasovennye who arrived in Oregon in the 1960s, plus their respective descendants, regardless of current religious affiliation or place of residence.

About Russian Old Believers

In the 1660s Patriarch Nikon, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, instituted reforms in Russian Orthodox ritual and usage. These included such things as the wording and number of prayers, the configuration of the hand when making the sign of the cross, the spelling of Jesus' name, and the like. Nikon's stated purpose was to bring the Russian Orthodox Church into closer alignment with the usages of the Greek Orthodox Church of his day, as he believed the Greeks surpassed the Russians in preserving ancient Orthodox tradition.

Whatever the merits of Nikon's position, it was opposed by millions of Russian believers. In the resulting Great Schism Nikon, most of the clergy, the Tsar and many common folk accepted the reforms, resulting in what is today commonly called the Russian Orthodox Church. Other clergy, along with millions of believers, rejected the reforms, sometimes choosing martyrdom rather than abandoning the old ways. For their adherence to the "old ritual" they became known as "Old Believers" or "Old Ritualists", and became subject to fluctuating levels of persecution over the life of the Russian empire and that of the Soviet Union.

The Great Schism was the single most cataclysmic event in the history of Russian Orthodox Christianity, weakening it severely shortly before the drastic political and social reforms under Peter the Great. Generations of scholars have sought to explain the motives and especially the astonishing zealotry of the people involved, variously citing honest scholarly disagreement, international politics, blind superstition, limited literacy, abrasive personalities, the influence of the Antichrist, or popular resistance to enserfment and political centralization.

While most of the above doubtless played a role, a more subtle understanding points to the central role of the image in Orthodox Christian theology. A holy image (and by extension a ritual gesture or the wording of a prayer) is not a "symbol" in the Western sense-- not a construct invented by humans which humans are free to change at their convenience. It is more like the imprint of a holy seal carved by God Himself. To change the image is to lose sight of the prototype, to cut oneself off from God and sacred history -- in short, a spiritual disaster. Under these circumstances, choosing the correct images and usages is a question of eternal life and death.

Over the course of time, millions of Old Believers fled to the outskirts of the Russian Empire in search of greater religious freedom. Many crossed borders, or stayed put as borders moved around them, and as a result ended up in modern Poland, Ukraine, Romania, Bulgaria, Turkey and China. Some fled the country with the advent of Soviet power. Others stayed. Some groups adopted modern ways in everything but liturgical matters. Others maintained traditional dress, hairstyle, and folkways as part of their Old Believer practice.

This bibliography documents the three groups of Old Believers who moved to North America.


Leonid Leonidovich Kasatkin and Rozaliia Frantsevna Kasatkina generously provided a lengthy list of sources published in Russia. Yoshikazu Nakamura was an invaluable guide to the Japanese language liturature. Tatiana Butterworth designed the logo. I gratefully acknowledge the cheerful assistance of all three, and that of innumerable interlibrary loan librarians.

About the Bibliographer

I hold a BA in Russian Civilization from the University of Chicago and an MLS from the University of Washington. Between 1975 and 1987 I spent a total of nine years working with the Oregon Old Believers as a translator in various government offices. I currently hold the position of faculty librarian at North Seattle Community College. I count my time with the Old Believers as the most illuminating years of my life.

Margaret McKibben