Revisiting Red October: Power, Propaganda & Persecution

In 1959, Michael Bourdeaux, one of the first British exchange students to the USSR, received a note from Russian Christians asking for help. In Moscow, he witnessed and learned of religious atrocities firsthand. After a divine meeting with the very women who penned the letter, he took up their call to be the voice of the voiceless and in 1969 established the Keston Institute "to make known the needs of all religious believers and to uphold religious freedom in every case.”

Most notably, Keston documented persecution and the fight by believers behind what we then called the Iron Curtain. A vast library and unique archive formed Keston's core, and the Institute’s flagship Keston News Service produced well-documented reports about religious persecution and thus served as “an important [and often successful] tool for [exerting] political pressure.”

In 1991, perestroika and the break-up of the Soviet Union under Mikhail Gorbachev caused people to believe persecution had ended, and Keston experienced a significant decline in donations. The Keston News Service ceased operations for financial reasons in 2003. Shortly thereafter, the Institute began searching for a location for its “stunning collection on religious persecution and religious freedom”—arguably the largest artificially assembled in the world.

Wallace Daniel, a Soviet scholar and former Dean of Baylor’s College of Arts & Sciences, was instrumental in crafting Baylor’s proposal to obtain the materials, and in 2007, the Institute passed its collection to the newly created Keston Center for Religion, Politics, and Society at Baylor University to preserve the resources and promote research on religion under Communism and in other totalitarian societies. Today, the Center both welcomes researchers from undergraduates through international scholars and hosts lectures on Keston-related topics.

The current online and physical exhibit is entitled “Revisiting Red October: Power, Propaganda, and Persecution.” This exhibit highlights propaganda in the persecution of religion during the political and social upheaval following the 1917 Revolution, specifically how anti-religious rhetoric, suppression, and atheism reinforced, solidified, and extended Soviet rule. It also tells the story of Saint Benjamin of Petrograd, analyzes various propaganda forms used by the Soviets, and shows images of destroyed churches that reveal the extent to which the government feared and then suppressed religion in post-revolution Russia.

Visit the Keston Center on the third floor of Carroll Library to visit the Revisiting Red October exhibit. Experience the online exhibit by clicking here.