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RVS member Liudmila Nikanorova defended her PhD thesis "Religion and Indegneity at Yhyakh" at the Artic University of Norway (UiT) on 9 September 2019.

Lidumila has done fieldwork in the Sakha Republic in Russia, exploring an event called yhyakh which attracts hundreds of thousands of people each year. In her thesis she explore the far-reaching effects of categorizing- both for those who categorize as well as for the one being categorized. For more on her thesis see below.

Her project is part of a larger NFR-funded comparative project on indigenous religion and global networks, the INREL-project.    



Religion and Indigeneity at Yhyakh

Each summer in the Sakha Republic (Russia), hundreds of thousands of people celebrate an event called yhyakh. This dissertation explores articulations, performances, and translations of the concepts ‘religion’ and ‘indigeneity’ at and around contemporary yhyakhs. It focuses particularly on how yhyakh is understood and performed by its participants, on the motivations of the actors who promote different yhyakhs, and on a wide variety of circulating narratives. The study is ethnographic in method and based on fieldwork at and around the Tuymaada Yhyakh and the Olongkho Yhyakh from 2016 to 2018. Using articulation theory and heuristic models of religion-making and indigenous-making, the analysis unpacks how ‘religion’ and ‘indigeneity’ appear as descriptors, aspects, and parts of yhyakh. Yhyakh has attracted scholarly interest since the 17th century. This attention has only increased after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, as the celebration of yhyakh has expanded rapidly and become a major rallying point of the Sakha revitalization movements. In both historical and contemporary contexts, scholars have categorized yhyakh as, for example, a ‘shamanic ceremony’, a ‘religious ritual’, the ‘Sakha national day’, and an ‘indigenous festival’. My ethnographic material reveals much broader variety of understandings of yhyakh, including ‘healing’, a ‘family holiday’, and a ‘day when Sakha feel Sakha’. By exploring how yhyakh and its practices are translated towards and away from ‘religion’ and ‘indigeneity’, not only by scholars but also by a wide range of other actors, I show how categorizing are powerful acts with far-reaching effects both for those who categorize and for that which is categorized.

Key words: yhyakh, Sakha people, religion, indigeneity, articulations, translations, performances.