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Abstract

This article examines the sociological and historical context of an important legal case which took place in 1997 in Moscow and involved so called "sects and cults" operating in Russia. The case was a libel action brought against Alexander Dvorkin, a functionary of the Moscow Patriarchy of the Russian Orthodox Church, who had published some extremely damning material about a number of newer and smaller faiths in Russia. The plaintiff was the Committee for Protection of Human Rights, headed by noted Soviet dissident, Father Gleb Yakunin. The article discusses the court proceedings in a wider socio-historical context, showing the ways in which this case revealed some important aspects of the contemporary religious situation in Russia, and in particular the controversies over legitimacy of new religious phenomena. This involves an analysis of ideological and socio-political resources available to the competing sides, types of evidence presented by them to the court, and the impact of these on the judiciary. Finally, the discussion and conclusion show that the development of religious pluralism in Russia is an outcome of a complex relationship between the country's sociohistorical legacy, including its legal culture, the present political and cultural trends, and the contradictory impact of the West.

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