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Visions of the ‘Land of Black Christians’: Ethiopia in Russian Imagination of the Late Imperial Period

This research project intends to investigate the visions of Ethiopia that circulated in late imperial Russia. Here a researcher is confronted with a veritable historical enigma. Why all of a sudden did Russian mass circulation newspapers start focusing their attention on “our black co-religionists”? Why did all things Ethiopian become such a popular issue of discussion in late imperial Russia? What lay behind the interest of Russian conservative statesmen, churchmen, and political thinkers in Ethiopia? And why did this keen interest in the far-away African country prove rather ephemeral and fade away during the twilight decade of the Russian Empire? This project argues that to make sense of the Russians’ fascination with their “religious kin” in Africa one has to appreciate the extent to which this interest in Ethiopia was intertwined with the larger political and ideological issues of the late imperial era. Thus, the Russians’ visions of Ethiopia is going to be explored against the backdrop of the Russians’ growing sense of geopolitical isolation, the rise of anti-Western sentiment, and the emergence of a peculiar version of Russian universal mission that contrasted Russia’s supposedly benign role in Africa to the aggressive colonial practices of Western Europeans.


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