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The Americans and “Sleeper Cells” of Russian Intelligence in America

A Story Behind the TV Show

Sergei I. Zhuk

Abstract

In June of 2010, a Canadian couple, Donald Heathfield and Tracey Lee Ann Foley, was arrested in Cambridge, Massachusetts, as the KGB “sleeper agents.” These KGB agents (Andrei Bezrukov and Elena Vavilova) lived in Canada since 1992, and in the United States since 1999, working for the Russian intelligence as “a sleeper cell” of the Russian spies. This story became an inspiration for the American TV show The Americans (2013–2018). Using the reviews of this TV show from the United States and Russia, the interviews with the real participants of the events of 2010 and with the retired KGB officers, the KGB documents from the SBU Archive in Kyiv, Ukraine, this article is an attempt to study how the special KGB/FSB operations in the USA, portrayed in one American TV series became an object of fascination and “fictionalization” on the both—American and Russian—sides of the geo-political conflict.

Open access

Becoming an Abla

Homemaking and the Shaping of an Ethical Self among Women in a Turkish Muslim Community in Brazil

Liza Dumovich

Abstract

This article analyses the performance of homemaking and religious practices of six Turkish Muslim women who made hicret (migration) to Brazil, focusing on the domestic space of their shared apartment. Their reasons to migrate combine personal motivations and a sense of responsibility to spread the world view of the Turkish Islamic movement of which they are participants. Drawing on ethnographic fieldwork, I explore their everyday practices in the production of an ideal Muslim self and the making of a home in order to understand the effects of the community's domesticities on their individual trajectories. The analysis shows that the performance of those everyday practices produces a moral and affective bond to the movement and its religious leader, conditioning home to a specific spatial and moral structure.

Open access

Charlatans and Fraudsters

Spiritual Healing and the Discourse of Piety and Order in Egypt

Sohayla El Fakahany

Abstract

This article delves into the intricate interplay among state institutions, belief systems, dominant discourses and alternative spiritual healing practices in Egypt. It scrutinises the challenges encountered by individuals seeking spiritual healing within a societal framework shaped by educational and religious institutions, social norms, media and the law. Employing a multidisciplinary approach that integrates social anthropology, discourse analysis and cultural studies, the research sheds light on the regulations and limitations imposed on individuals by state-generated discourses, compelling adherence to prescribed rules and belief systems. The analysis explores how power hierarchy and dominant institutions, which categorise certain practices as disordered due to their ritualistic nature, are challenged by practitioners persisting in their work and seekers continuing to pursue these services.

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Civilizing Russia's “Barbarous Kingdom”

Gender and Violence in Hulu's The Great

Marjorie Hilton

Abstract

The Hulu series The Great, an ahistorical satire of the eighteenth-century Russian Empire, set at the courts of Peter III and Catherine II, doubles as a critique of contemporary politics and culture. Created for Anglophone audiences with little knowledge of history, but aware of stereotypes of Russia as a despotic, dysfunctional backwater, the show's appeal rests on the love-hate relationship between Peter the bro-emperor and the “girlboss” empress Catherine, as well as the expectation that Catherine, ultimately, will “have-it-all.” This article examines the gender dynamics structuring Peter's and Catherine's narrative arcs and argues that Catherine's trajectory from naïve, self-declared enlightened European princess to skilled, pragmatic ruler undermines Peter's attempt to liberate himself from an outdated model of masculinity.

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Far from Tranquility Base

Gender and Russianness in For All Mankind's (Not So) Alt Cold War Universe

Roshanna P. Sylvester

Abstract

The Apple+ television series For All Mankind imagines an alternative history in which the Soviets beat the United States to the moon and the Cold War space race never ends. Gender politics and associated dynamics are central to the action. This article explores plotlines involving two fictional cosmonauts: the first woman on the moon and a male crew member stationed at the Soviet's lunar base. It finds that FAM reinforces Cold War tropes, anxieties, and “us vs them” formulations. FAM's writers miss the opportunity to probe the complexities of gender and personhood in the late Soviet era. Instead of encouraging more nuanced thinking about “the Russians,” FAM's universe perpetuates Cold War sensibilities that promote competition and conflict on Earth and in space.

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Howdy Comrade

Continuity/Familiarity of Cold War-Era Tropes of Russian, East European, and Soviet Womanhood in Early Twenty-First-Century Popular Culture Artifacts

Linda Beail and Lilly J. Goren

Abstract

American and Western audiences have long come to understand Soviet and Russian womanhood, and thus US womanhood, from representations in popular televisual texts. While there is a long history of popular culture presenting the “othered” women of Eastern Europe, for example as temptress “Bond girls” during the Cold War, these narratives have continued onscreen into the twenty-first century. We examine the myriad representations from both the Cold War and post-Cold War period, noting the typical narrative constructions that focus on femme fatales, psychological and sexual trauma, and economic precarity, and how these have continued in contemporary popular culture to shore up notions of Western cultural and political superiority. The characters and the situations in which they find themselves, as spies, assassins, and double agents, continue to send messages about danger and dominance regarding both gender and geopolitics.

Open access

Introduction: Ritual Performance and Religious Identity

Reshaping Traditions in Contemporary MENA and its Diasporas

Paulo G. Pinto and Liza Dumovich

Abstract

Tradition is a multifaceted concept and a term with contested meanings. It is usually understood as an unchanging collection of artefacts passed down from generation to generation, where continuity between past and present is expected and assumed. Scholarly studies, however, have shown that tradition is continuously produced and ‘invented’ in order to cope with the present and to imagine a possible future. The articles in this special issue explore different ways in which tradition is imagined, articulated and produced in different religious contexts, in which Islam serves as a focus for reference or contrast. They show that a specific Islamic tradition can undergo profound transformations to the point of losing its connection with Islam, both at the individual and at the social or communal levels.

Open access

Islam as the Problem, Christianity as the Solution

Rupture and Continuity as Missionary Method for the Conversion of Iranians

Ana Maria Gomes Raietparvar

Abstract

This article analyses Christian missionaries working on converting Muslim Iranians to Christianity. Their methods are based on a logic of rupture and discontinuity with Islam, presenting Christianity as the solution to a moral-political crisis of Iranians in the Islamic Republic. Anti-Islam is the focus of this conversion discourse. In a transnational Christian network formed by Iranians and non-Iranians, the evangelical missionaries work with methodology that breaks and dialogues with society and the local culture of their target audience, presenting evangelical Christianity as an alternative for Iranians. This research was carried out based on participant observation in missionary groups and Christian churches for Iranians, via digital media and face-to-face, contributing to the understanding of the conversion of Muslims to evangelical Christianity.

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Lion of Love

Representations of Russian Homosexuality and Homophobia in Netflix's Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga

Catherine Baker

Abstract

Alexander Lemtov, the Russian antagonist of Netflix's 2020 musical comedy Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga, embodies and dramatizes contentions over Russian homophobia, disavowals of homosexuality in Russian entertainment, and the construction of LGBTQ+ equality as a defining value of ‘European’ space which have surrounded the real-life Eurovision Song Contest since the mid-2000s. An assertively-heterosexual sex symbol in public, Lemtov in private exemplifies the trope of the closeted gay entertainer whose performances of machismo allow him to hide his admiration for the male body in plain sight. His depiction could potentially open space for exploring how other queer male Russian entertainers have historically negotiated homophobia but is constrained within a liberal sexual geopolitics that demands further recontextualization following Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

Open access

Mehir (Dower), Gifts of Gold, and Intimate Economies of Marriage in Istanbul

Burcu Kalpaklıoğlu

Abstract

Islamic mehir practices (dower) and other financial arrangements during a marriage reveal how marriage, gender and religion are understood and reconfigured in Istanbul today. Drawing on religious women's narratives of mehir and gifts of gold, this article examines the complex interplay between economic transactions and intimate marital relationships in Istanbul, as well as the relation between my interlocutors’ practices of mehir and wedding gifts and their sense of propriety. It suggests that women's ways of understanding and practising economic marriage transactions are ambivalently shaped by intimate entanglements of religion, nuclear family, conjugal love, secular civil law, and reputation and honour. Women uneasily navigate the ambivalences of the intimate sphere as they make decisions and engage in practices related to economic marriage transactions.