- The Doukhobors are a group of religious dissenters who originated in 18th-century Russia. They drew ideas from other Russian sectarian groups and from Polish Unitarianism. By the 1730s, they had emerged under the leadership of Sylvan Kolesnikoff, who formed the original community in Nikolai, Russia. The name Doukhobor was given to them as a derisive term by a Russian bishop, but they accepted it as denoting "Spirit Wrestlers" struggling against lust and spiritual pride.After periods of persecution, in part because of their pacifism, in 1895 they engaged in a massive demonstration in which they burned their weapons to illustrate their refusal to serve in the army. In 1899, most Doukhobors moved to Canada.The Doukhobors practice a non-Trinitarian form of Christianity that emphasizes Jesus' role as a teacher and exemplar, not a deity. They also dispensed with priests, liturgy, and church buildings. They recognize the symbolic value of bread, salt, and water as the basic elements needed to sustain life, and these elements are prominently displayed at their meetings. At times, Doukhobors have lived communally, but at present most do not. The Bible has largely been replaced by a set of Russian psalms and hymns, compiled over the last two centuries in The Living Book and sung at their meetings.Canadian Doukhobors have had ongoing conflicts with Canadian authorities. They are known for their unorthodox ways of resisting Canadian regulations, including burning their own barns and disrobing in the midst of court proceedings.Today, there are between 30,000 and 40,000 Doukhobors in Canada and some 30,000 in Russia. In Canada, they have divided into several groups, the Union of Spiritual Communities of Christ being the oldest and largest, and the Sons of Freedom, the group most ready to confront government authorities.Further reading:■ Sam George Stupnikoff, Historical Saga of the Doukhobor Faith, 1750-1990s (Saskatoon, Saskatchewan: Apex Graphics, 1992)■ Koozma J. Tarasoff and Robert Klymasz, eds., Spirit Wrestlers: Centennial Papers in Honour of Canada's Doukhobor Heritage (Hull, Quebec: Canadian Museum of Civilization, 1995)■ George Woodcock and Ivan Avaku-movic, The Doukhobors (Toronto, Ontario: McClelland & Stewart, 1977).
Encyclopedia of Protestantism. Gordon Melton. 2005.