[email protected] (Jan 2011)

The Christian Environmental Ethic of the Russian Pomor

  • Stephen Brain

Journal volume & issue
Vol. 2, no. 2
pp. 60 – 82


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This article revisits Lynn White's famous 1967 article that placed the blame forenvironmental problems in the Western world on the Judeo-Christian belief system, anddiscusses the case of the Pomor, a Russian sub-ethnicity who settled on the shores ofthe White Sea in the twelfth century. Although maintaining their Orthodox faith aftermigrating to the edge of the Slavic cultural zone, the Pomor adopted an entirely newway of life suited to the climate of the far north. Rather than concentrating onagriculture, which proved unreliable at the extreme northern latitude, they turned theirattention to the exploitation of marine resources: fishing, sealing, and whaling.Contending with the harsh elements on a daily basis, the Pomor developed a worldviewcalled "sacral geography," which fused animism with Christian eschatology. Sacralgeography, in addition to providing an interpretive system for the natural world, alsoobligated the Pomor to observe and respect the natural world by limiting their economicstrategies. The result was a unique environmental ethic. In the late nineteenth centuryand early twentieth century, the Pomor environmental ethic came under direct criticismfrom larger social forces-first the local business community and then the Soviet statebecauseof its low productivity. Ultimately, Stalin's aggressive economic and politicalpolicies succeeded in eliminating the Pomor environmental ethic as an effective curb onresource exploitation.