Tag Archive for Smolkin-Rothrock

Battle for the Future: Smolkin-Rothrock on the Spiritual Life of Soviet Atheism

(Story contributed by Jim H. Smith)

Victoria Smolkin-Rothrock

Its official name was the Century 21 Exhibition, but it was better known as the Seattle World Fair, and it seemed to be an unambiguous statement about America’s aspirations for its future. Boasting a futuristic monorail and an iconic Space Needle whose elevators were piloted by female attendants wearing excessive blue eye shadow and costumes out of a Hollywood sci-fi feature, it came to hold totemic significance for a nation whose philosophical differences with the Soviet Union were being sorted out against the majestic backdrop of outer space.

One of the first visitors to the 1962 fair was Soviet cosmonaut German Titov, the second Soviet man in space after Yuri Gagarin, the youngest spaceman (a record that stands to this day), and the first to orbit the Earth repeatedly. In his homeland Titov was nothing less than a demi-God.

During a news conference in Seattle, Titov was asked whether his adventures in the cosmos had altered his worldview. “Up to our first orbital flight by Yuri Gagarin no God helped build our rocket,” said the cosmonaut, who perceived the subtext of the question. “The rocket was made by our people. I don’t believe in God. I believe in man, his strength, his possibilities and his reason.”

It was, says Victoria Smolkin-Rothrock, assistant professor of history, assistant professor of Russian and Eastern European studies, a statement that bespoke the essence of the Soviet Union’s long, strange struggle to supplant traditional religions throughout the empire with “scientific atheism.” If it provoked an outcry across America, well, that was Titov’s intent.

During the 1960s, as Smolkin-Rothrock notes, Titov and his fellow cosmonauts “were the public face of Communism on the world stage, and their triumphs and charisma put forward a confident image of a Communist state that could solve all problems and answer all questions, material and spiritual.”

On Oct. 18, Smolkin-Rothrock delivered this year’s prestigious Sherman Emerging Scholar Lecture at the University of North Carolina-Wilmington. Her address, which began with the Titov story, offered an analysis of Communism’s little-known efforts to manage the collective spiritual life of the Soviet people.

Smolkin-Rothrock Receives Grant from the SSRC

Victoria Smolkin-Rothrock, assistant professor of history, assistant professor of Russian and Eastern European studies, received a $30,000 grant from the Social Science Research Council (SSRC) to support her research on “Soviet Scientific Atheism and Socialist Rituals” through Aug. 31, 2014.

Smolkin-Rothrock Delivers Lecture on Soviet Atheism

Victoria Smolkin-Rothrock

Victoria Smolkin-Rothrock

Victoria Smolkin-Rothrock, assistant professor of history, assistant professor of Russian and Eastern European studies, tutor in the College of Social Studies, delivered the Sherman Emerging Scholar Lecture titled “A Sacred Space: The Spiritual Life of Soviet Atheism” Oct. 18 at the University of North Carolina-Wilmington.

Paul Townsend, chairman of the History Department at N.C. Wilmington, said Smolkin-Rothrock was chosen because her work “explored the connections between art, culture and history.”

A native of Ukraine, Smolkin-Rothrock studied at Sarah Lawrence College and received her master’s and Ph.D. degrees from the University of California at Berkeley. She has published articles on “scientific atheism” and the Soviet space program.

 More information on her talk appeared in the Oct. 15 StarNews. Read more about Smolkin-Rothrock in this December 2010 Wesleyan Connection article.

2 Essays by Smolkin-Rothrock Published

Victoria Smolkin-Rothrock, assistant professor of history, assistant professor of Russian and Eastern European studies, is the author of two essays published in 2011. They include: “Cosmic Enlightenment: Scientific Atheism and the Soviet Conquest of Space,” in Into the Cosmos: Space Exploration and Soviet Culture in Post-Stalinist Russia, published by the University of Pittsburgh, pages 159-194; and “The Contested Skies: The Battle of Science and Religion in the Soviet Planetarium,” in Cosmic Enthusiasm: The Cultural Impact of Space Exploration on the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe Since the 1950s, published by Palgrave/Macmillan, pages 57-78.

 

Smolkin-Rothrock Authors Publications on Soviet Space Exploration

Victoria Smolkin-Rothrock, assistant professor of history, instructor of Russian and Eastern European studies, has several forthcoming publications: “The Voices of Silence: The Death and Funeral of Alexander Blok” in Petersburg/ Petersburg: Novel and City, ed. Olga Matich (University of Wisconsin Press, 2010); “Cosmic Enlightenment: Scientific Atheism and the Soviet Conquest of Space” in Into the Cosmos: Space Exploration and Soviet Culture in Post-Stalinist Russia, eds. James T. Andrews and Asif A. Siddiqi (University of Pittsburgh); and “The Contested Skies: The Battle of Science and Religion in the Soviet Planetarium” in Cosmic Enthusiasm: The Cultural Impact of Space Exploration on the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe Since the 1950s (Palgrave/Macmillan).