Now Available from Princeton University Press

Vicotira-Smolkin-A-Sacred-Space-Is-Never-EmptySmolkin’s book, A Sacred Space Is Never Empty: A History of Soviet Atheism, is the first history of Soviet atheism from the Russian Revolution of 1917 to the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991.

When the Bolsheviks set out to build a new world in the wake of the Russian Revolution, they expected religion to die off. Soviet power used a variety of tools—from education, to propaganda, to terror—to turn its vision of a Communist world without religion into reality. Yet even with its monopoly on ideology and power, the Soviet Communist Party never succeeded in overcoming religion and creating an atheist society.

Drawing on a wealth of archival material and in-depth interviews with those who were on the front lines of Communist ideological campaigns, Victoria Smolkin argues that to understand the Soviet experiment, we must make sense of Soviet atheism. Smolkin shows how atheism was reimagined as an alternative cosmology with its own set of positive beliefs, practices, and spiritual commitments. Through its engagements with religion, the Soviet leadership realized that removing religion from the “sacred spaces” of Soviet life was not enough. Then, in the final years of the Soviet experiment, Mikhail Gorbachev—in a stunning and unexpected reversal—abandoned atheism and reintroduced religion into Soviet public life.

A Sacred Space Is Never Empty explores the meaning of atheism for religious life, for Communist ideology, and for Soviet politics.


“Among the Disbelievers.” Commentary. September, 2018. Reviewed by Gary Saul Morson. Read Now

“Everyone is a savage: The persistence of Christian belief in Soviet Russia.” Times Literary Supplement. July 24, 2018. Reviewed by Catriona Kelly. Read Now

“Why the Soviets’ greatest mistake was getting religion wrong.” The Telegraph. September 27, 2018. Reviewed by Simon Ings. Read Now

Interview on BBC4 “Beyond Belief” Program (9/25/17) 

“Belief and Unbelief in Russia”:

“A century after the October Revolution Ernie Rea and guests discuss the role of Belief and Unbelief in Russia. Ernie Rea’s guests are Victoria Smolkin from Wesleyan University, Connecticut, Felix Corley from Forum 18 and Vera Tolz from the University of Manchester.”