Communism and Religion: From Hatred to Terror

Charles University

Course Description

  • Course Name

    Communism and Religion: From Hatred to Terror

  • Host University

    Charles University

  • Location

    Prague, Czech Republic

  • Area of Study

    European Studies, Government, History, International Affairs, International Politics, International Relations, International Studies, Political Science, Religion

  • Language Level

    Taught In English

  • Course Level Recommendations


    ISA offers course level recommendations in an effort to facilitate the determination of course levels by credential evaluators.We advice each institution to have their own credentials evaluator make the final decision regrading course levels.

    Hours & Credits

  • Contact Hours

  • Recommended U.S. Semester Credits
  • Recommended U.S. Quarter Units
  • Overview


    The course is designed for students with various academic backgrounds who are interested in the history of communism in its relation to religion - both theoretical (philosophical) and practical (historical).

    Beginning with a general analysis of notions of "religion" and "communism", the course turns to the foundations of communism as "Marxism" and the attitude to religion proposed by its founders ("Religion as opium for the people"). We will try to trace the misconception of religion directly in the early communist pamphlets and discuss the scale of possible problems stemming from this misconception.

    The main body of the course is focused on the socialist regime in the Soviet Union and its anti-religious policy, propaganda and terror. We will learn to discern various stages of development of Soviet Bolshevism - Leninism, Stalinism and Post-War Socialism and their attitudes to various religions, religious groups and denominations, as well as to Soviet citizens in general.

    Third part of the course will give the outline of the Czech religious history accenting the persecution of various religious groups during the communist regime.

    By the end of the course students will be able to analyze the nature and development of major shifts in the anti-religious policy of communism and communist governments in their historical context. According to their academic interests, students will research certain aspects of life under communism and present their ideas in a written essay and its oral presentation.

    The reading materials provided for each lecture will be followed by class discussions so that students will have the opportunity to develop their skill at sound argumentation and the use of academic literature as well as primary research sources. The course is based on active participation. Students are expected to bring their interests and opinions to the course - however these are expected to change as the students encounter both the theoretical claims as well as the actual interactions of communism and religion.

    DISCLAIMER: History of communism is a history of the most serious crimes against humanity. As far as the course deals with the issue of Soviet Bolshevism and its historical shapes, it may (and will) openly expose such issues as hatred, violence, oppression, terror, torture and mass murder, which are inseparable from this period of history.


    "Communism" and "Religion": Notions, Concepts, Ideas

    The introductory lectures give a general overview of what is meant by the terms "religion" and "communism". Emphasis is given to Marxism as a "scientific" theory vs. Bolshevism and the "dictatorship of the proletariat" as a historical practice. We will seek an answer to the fundamental question: Is communist ideology and social system essentially antagonistic towards religious (especially Christian) values and practice?

    Foundations of Communism

    The lectures will cover the main aspects of emergence, evolution and development of communism in Europe in the 19th century. The readings trace the precursors of the Communist Manifesto of 1847,

    then it turns to the "mature" form of Marx´s and Engels´s communist doctrine and their view of religion as an "opium for the people".

    Russian Civil War (1917 - 1922)

    The lectures will focus on analysis of the Russian coup d´état (putch) of 1917 and the following war years. The readings reflect the fatal contrast between Lenin´s view of religion in 1905 and in 1922, when he started to call for its total annihilation and illegal confiscation of its property.

    Early USSR (1923 - 1928)

    The lectures will focus on the early development of the newly formed Soviet Union and Stalin´s rise to power. The readings highlight the deep gap between "propaganda" (what was said) and "reality" (what actually happened) and the final collapse of Lenin´s "New Economic Policy", which left the country at the outskirts of civilized world and the edge of complete devastation.

    Pre-war USSR (1929 - 1941)

    The lectures will be devoted to the two most terrifying events in the pre-war USSR: the Great Famine and the Great Terror (or the Great Purge). Both rooted in the criminal, irresponsible and exploitative policy of the Soviet leaders, the events left behind millions of victims - believers and non-believers, communists and non-communists, Party members or simple folks.

    USSR after Stalinism (1953 - 1964)

    The era of Nikita Khruschev is often popularly described as a period of "partial liberation" after Stalin´s reign of terror. The lectures aim at providing historical facts and arguments to finally disprove this statement. Beginning with the analysis of Khruschev´s famous secret speech on the crimes of Stalinism, we will follow Khruschev´s own historical deeds, launching the new wave of political and religious persecutions.

    USSR in 70ies and 80ies

    The lectures give an overview of the final period of Soviet history and aims at drawing conclusions. The readings will reflect Brezhnev´s and Gorbacov´s policies against religion as well as concluding evaluations and effects of the Soviet anti-religious policy in general.

    Religion in the Czech Lands

    The lectures will give the outline of the Czech history and culture with emphasis on religion. It will seek to provide information on Czech religious development, especially the Bohemian Reformation and its outcomes.

    Anti-religious Policy in Czechoslovakia (1848 - 1989)

    Based on the previous exposition of the Czech religious history, the lectures will seek to understand the situation of churches during the communist era in Czechoslovakia.


    The final grade consists of 5 areas of evaluation: (1) attendance, (2) class activity and homework, (3) midterm test, (4) final exam - written essay, (5) final exam - oral presentation