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In this article we aim to explore how vernacular ideas about spiritual power, words, and silence shape perceptions of religion and witchcraft among the rural Komi people, whose predominant religion is Russian Orthodoxy. In this framework we investigate local ideas of witchcraft, belonging, and strangeness. During our joint ethnographic fieldwork trips to the Komi Republic, Russia, these notions were evoked repeatedly in discussions concerning the Evangelical Protestants who established their mission in a village historically associated with witches. This particular coincidence is reflected in discourses that brand the Evangelicals culturally alien, drawing on both traditional and contemporary categories of otherness. Our analysis shows that ideas about magical power and the usage of words constitute significant aspects of vernacular understanding of faith regardless of formal denominational belonging. We claim that religious practices are switched more spontaneously than feelings of spiritual power and traditionally accepted religious belonging among the rural Komi.

Open Access
In: Numen