Abstract

This article draws on field research conducted by the author in 2011-2013 in three districts of the Altai Republic. Among the Altai-Kizhi, a group of southern Altaians, there is a confrontation between supporters of jan-Altai (Altai faith), which is a mixing of the “old” Burkhanism and shamanism, and a group of Altai-Buddhists, interpreting a revival of Burkhanism as a return to the Buddhist religion. The author shows how these two views on Burkhanism form different scenarios of national and cultural-historical development: one is original, relevant to the conservation of a pantheistic worldview, the other embeds Altai ethnicity in the cultural space of world Buddhism. For the latter, the supporters of Buddhism are those who see in the religious choice a political means for the Altai people consolidation. The author identifies the process of reinterpretation by Altaians of their traditional beliefs that led to the formation of new religious practices, focused on a figure of man, the head of the sanctuary. Finally, the author defines the social status and organizational and ritual functions of the new actor.

Keywords: religious identity, the Altai-Kizhi, Burkhanism, religious revival, Altaian faith, Altaians-Buddhists, ethnographic method