Course Description

Course Name

Communism and Religion: From Hatred to Terror

Session: VPGS1124

Hours & Credits

45 Contact Hours

Prerequisites & Language Level

Taught In English

  • There is no language prerequisite for courses at this language level.



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 focuses 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.

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 an 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”

The introductory lecture gives 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?

An Innocent Prelude? Roots of the Communist Movement

The lecture will cover the main aspects of emergence and development of the communist movement in the 19th-century Europe. We will try to trace it in the historical context of industrialization, nationalization and the birth of modern parliamentary democracies. The readings include the two less known precursors of the Communist Manifesto, tracing the early development of the communist thought.

Fathers of Communism: Myths and Reality

In this lecture we will explore thoroughly the lives of the two “fathers of communism” – Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. We will try to shed light on popular myths, lies and propaganda surrounding these communist “heroes”. The readings include the Communism Manifesto and the Contribution to the Critique of the Hegel´s Philosophy of Right, where the infamous thesis on “religion” as “opium of the people” appeared for the first time.

The October Revolution: Some More Lies

The lecture will cover the period of controversial history between the Bolshevik putch in Russia (1917) and the death of its first leader Vladimir Ilyitch Lenin. 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.

Man of Steel, Killer of Nations

The lecture will focus on the political development of the newly formed Soviet Union, Stalin´s rise to power and the two most terrifying events he personally masterminded – the Great Famine and the Great Purge – which left the country at the outskirts of civilized world and the edge of complete devastation. Both rooted in the criminal, irresponsible and exploitative policy of the Soviet leadership, the events left behind millions of victims – believers and non-believers, communists and non-communists, the high-ranking Party members or simple folks.

The Clown with the Atomic Bomb

The era of Nikita Khrushchev is often popularly described as a period of political “thaw” after Stalin´s reign of terror. The lecture aims at providing historical facts and arguments to finally disprove this statement. Beginning with the analysis of Khrushchev´s famous secret speech on the crimes of Stalinism, we will follow Khrushchev´s own career, which launched the new wave of political and religious persecutions.

Brezhnev and After

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

Do We Need Religion?

The lecture focuses on bringing about the definition of religion and its role in human development. It briefly explores the variety of existing religions, denominations, religious groups and a wide variety of human spirituality in the context of big civilizations, thus contextualizing the perception of religion in the world of today. We will seek to answer the question: Why was religion the most prominent target of communist persecution? What role did it play in people´s resistance against the totalitarian regime? And do we need religion today?

*Course content subject to change