WiP: “Hybrid Cults and Sacred Places of the Northwestern Caucasus and Central Caucasus: Field Research Experience”

CRRC and ARISC are pleased to announce the 12th talk of the Spring 2024 Tbilisi Works-in-Progress series!

“Hybrid Cults and Sacred Places of the Northwestern Caucasus and Central Caucasus: Field Research Experience”

Vitaliy Shtybin

This talk focuses on the rituals and traditions of the peoples of the Northwestern and Central Caucasus, based on the results of field expeditions conducted in the fall of 2018, spring of 2020, and spring of 2022. These studies were part of work on a PhD thesis, which was suspended due to the author’s emigration and cessation of contact with his academic institute. The research aimed to identify active or recently remembered cult practices among selected ethnic groups in the region. The findings allow for a general conclusion about the existence of various strategies among participants of cult practices and local authorities regarding sacred sites, cults, and their mutual relationships. Practices range from closed veneration of sites by individual families to mass participation in cult practices by broad layers of the population, regardless of age. In the latter case, differences may lie in attitudes toward sacred sites and cults, combinations of New Age culture and reinterpreted folk traditions, and the use of archaeological sites. Relationships with authorities and the clergy can take confrontational as well as constructive forms, including neutrality and cooperation. The research was conducted among ethnic groups such as the Adyghe-Shapsugs, Greeks, and Circassians of the Krasnodar region, Adygeans of the Republic of Adygea, Circassians and Abazins of the Karachay-Cherkess Republic, Kabardians of the Kabardino-Balkar Republic, Mozdok Kabardians, and Ossetians of the Republic of North Ossetia-Alania.

Vitaliy Shtybin is an historian, sociocultural anthropologist, and expert in Caucasian studies, holding a Master’s degree in History from Kuban State University. He was formerly a postgraduate student at the Institute of Ethnology and Anthropology of the Russian Academy of Sciences (until 2024). He also served as assistant to PhD candidates Azamat Kumykov and Khatuna Gveradze at the University of Cambridge (UK) on the “History of Circassia and Europe in the 19th Century” international research project led by Hubertus Jahn. Since 2017, the author has been the host of the popular science YouTube channel “Ethnographica” covering the history and culture of the peoples of the Northwestern Caucasus, and since 2022 also the Telegram channel “Field Diary of an Ethnologist”. The author has the book Dances, Mountains, and Chestnut Honey about the culture and history of the Circassian (Adyghe) people, and has created and taught a “Course on the Northern Caucasus: History and Culture” and “Colonial History of Russia” on GetCourse.

Photograph by Vitaliy Shtybin

Works-in-Progress is an ongoing academic discussion series based in Tbilisi, Georgia, that takes place at the CRRC office at Chavchavadze Ave. 5 and online. It is co-organized by the Caucasus Research Resource Centers (CRRC) and the American Research Institute of the South Caucasus (ARISC). All of the talks are free and open to the public.

In observation of the spirit of the Chatham House Rule, the talks will not be recorded, and we courteously request that the other participants refrain from recording and/or distributing recordings as well. The opinions expressed in WiP talks are those of the speakers alone, and do not necessarily reflect the views of CRRC or ARISC.