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Beyond the ‘Bête Noire’? Keston College and the Cold War

Research output: Contribution in Book/Report/Proceedings - With ISBN/ISSNChapter (peer-reviewed)peer-review

Publication date16/06/2022
Host publicationFreedom of Conscience in (Post)Soviet Space: Michael Bourdeaux and the Keston Archive
PublisherCornell University Press
Number of pages26
<mark>Original language</mark>English


The efforts of those affiliated with Keston College to document the position of religious belief in communist lands is widely noted. Its samizdat archives formed a detailed repository of the situation regarding religious persecution in the Soviet bloc, and its publications offered an essential resource for those in the West concerned with Soviet persecution. These resources were invaluable for activists and policymakers concerned about human rights issues in the Soviet bloc who sought to exert pressure on the communist superpower. By facilitating this flow of information, Keston became a notable thorn in the side of the Soviet authorities’ efforts to suppress dissenting voices. So much so, that it reputedly gained a reputation in the Soviet bloc as a dangerous organisation - the ‘KGB’s bête noire’.

In this context, it becomes all too easy to enmesh Keston’s history with that of the Cold War, and dismiss the organisation as little more than a collection of Cold Warriors. Indeed, Keston’s critics readily noted that the organisation was ‘anti-Soviet’. This, however, fails to capture the nuanced motivations and concerns of the organisation. This chapter challenges the binaries of this reductive position, and seeks to highlight the subtleties of Keston’s relationship with the broader ideological conflict of the Cold War. By taking a more nuanced approach, it argues that although Keston’s efforts were shaped by the Cold War landscape, the personal agency of its leadership, researchers and supporters should not be overlooked. Whilst these efforts were informed by their Cold War context, they also owe much to personal motivation, religious belief and academic interest. Looking beyond the ‘Cold War Lens’ opens the space to assess Keston’s role in a more nuanced fashion, assessing the organisation on its own merits, rather than as solely part of its political environment.