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Dukhobors or Doukhobors (both: do͞oˈkəbôrz) [Russ.,=spirit wrestlers], religious group, prominent in Russia from the 18th to the 19th cent. The name was coined by the Orthodox opponents of the Dukhobors, who had originally called themselves Christians of the Universal Brotherhood. They were in doctrine somewhat like the Quakers, rejecting completely priesthood, the sacraments, and the other outward symbols of Christianity. The members came from the lower level of society, primarily farmers; the Dukhobors promoted a communal, absolutely democratic attitude and preached equality. Because they rejected the authority of both state and church, they were persecuted under Catherine II. Alexander I persuaded them to settle near the Sea of Azov. There they built up flourishing agricultural communities. When they did not agree to military conscription, considering it sinful, the government in 1840 forcibly ejected them from their lands and moved them farther east. Again they built thriving communities. In 1887 military conscription was again extended to them and again was resisted. Severe persecution followed and their leader, Peter Veregin, was exiled to Siberia.

Leo Tolstoy befriended the Dukhobors and helped enable them to go to Canada. Over 7,000 of them moved (1898–99) to what is now Saskatchewan. Veregin later joined them. Once more their abilities produced flourishing communities, and they spread after 1908 to British Columbia. Frugal, industrious, and abstemious, the Dukhobors built their own roads and their own irrigation projects. Orchards and farms flourished. The group was small but important in the development of W Canada.

There were internal divisions, however, primarily over the question of communal ownership of land. The Sons of Freedom stressed ascetic practices, most notably nudism. The Dukhobors in later days had much trouble with the government and with their non-Dukhobor neighbors; this occasionally burst into violence but was usually expressed in passive resistance. One of the more remarkable forms was the so-called nudist strikes, in which the Dukhobors stripped off their clothing and marched in revolt against governmental decisions.

The elder Peter Veregin was killed by a time bomb in 1924, and his son, Peter Veregin, came from Russia to lead the group. He died in 1939, recommending that the Dukhobors abandon communal life and adjust themselves to Canadian ways. In 1945 the Union of the Dukhobors of Canada was founded, but immediately afterward the Sons of Freedom made themselves a separate organization. There are a small number of adherents remaining in British Columbia and Russia.


See G. Woodcock and I. Avakumovic, The Doukhobors (1968).

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



(“fighters for the spirit”), members of an extreme Protestant sect. The movement originated in the second half of the 18th century among peasants of Voronezh, Tambov, and Ekaterinoslav provinces, as well as in Slobodskaia Ukraina (Kharkov Province and parts of Kursk and Voronezh provinces, where Ukrainian peasants founded many slobody [settlements]). These were regions in which the khlystovstvo (flagellant sect) was widespread and to which Quaker teachings may have penetrated.

The Dukhobors believe that there is an eternal struggle in the world between the spiritual (the followers of Abel) and the carnal (the followers of Cain, including authorities, unfair judges, and the wealthy). They consider themselves the followers of Abel, the true people, and the chosen nation that has been called upon to build peace on earth and to realize brotherhood in the spirit of god’s truth. In their opinion, their leader is Christ incarnate, who elects his successor. The leader is assisted by a council of elders. The Dukhobors do not recognize any rites, except marriage. They have many special psalms that are sung at prayer meetings.

In order to populate the southern frontiers of Russia, Alexander I gave permission in 1804 to the Dukhobors to settle along the Molochnaia River in Melitopol’ district, Tauride Province. In 1841 they were resettled in Transcaucasia (Akhalkalaki District, the so-called Mokrye Mountains). At this time, a schism developed among the Dukhobors, which led in the 1880’s to the creation of a large and a small (prosperous) party. The latter did not advocate social protest but demanded the punishment of those who opposed the tsar’s will. Between 1898 and 1900 some of the Dukhobors were sent to Canada, where their communities still exist.


Novitskii, O. Dukhobortsy: ikh istoriia i verouchenie, 2nd ed. Kiev, 1882.
Bonch-Bruevich, V. D. Sektantstvo i staroobriadchestvo v l-i pol. XIX v . (collection of articles), vol. 1. Moscow, 1959.
Klibanov, A. I. Istoriia religioznogo sektantstva v Rossii (60-e gody XIX V.-1917 g .) Moscow, 1965.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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