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Keirouz ’22 Examining Russian Émigré Communities


Inspiration can be found in any number of places. For John Keirouz ’22, it was right at home. The son of a Lebanese immigrant, Keirouz described how he took interest in his father’s desire to stay in touch with his homeland. “He’s always reading [Lebanese] news, seeing what’s happening there in terms of internal affairs,” Keirouz said. “He wants to let me and my brother know what’s going on.”

This led Keirouz to ask the question that would eventually inspire his Emerson grant research project: How do people relate to their homelands after they no longer live there? And after taking a two-semester Russian history course with Professor Shoshana Keller, Keirouz found a group on which to focus. “I wanted to look at the millions of people who left Russia as a result of the Russian Civil War,” he said.                              

John Keirouz ’22

Major: History

Hometown: Stowe, Mass.

High School: Nashoba Regional High School

read about other student research 

However, Keirouz quickly realized that this topic would have to be specified further. “These Russian émigrés ended up everywhere,” he explained. “[The project] would be so general it wouldn’t do anything.” So, he turned to religious communities, ultimately landing on the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia (ROCOR) and the Orthodox Church of America (OCA).

“I wanted to look at these Russian religious communities and how their different experiences affected the way they related to the United States and the way they tried to organize and run their churches,” Keirouz said. 

Keirouz argues that the differences in how ROCOR and the OCA operate can be traced back to how the churches conceptualize themselves. ROCOR came to the United States to take refuge, Keirouz noted, having been expelled from Russia and Yugoslavia in years prior. For this reason, ROCOR tries to keep alive “what makes Russia special” and maintain the unique practices of Russian Orthodoxy, he said. 

Jordanville, NY Holy Trinity Monastery
Jordanville N.Y. Holy Trinity Monastery Photo: John Keirouz '22

Somewhat differently, the OCA views itself as an immigrant church, Keirouz explained, adding that this perception made the OCA more “willing to change elements of its liturgical practice for the sake of an American audience.” In this way, the OCA would appeal to both Americans who might want to join their church and others of Eastern Orthodox faith but of different ethnic groups, such as Greeks, Bulgarians, and Arabs.

Keirouz began his research looking at more general sources on Russian emigration and the churches before moving on to more “argumentative” sources. “I would read people in ROCOR justifying its canonical position, for example … I would read people in the OCA arguing why, say, there ought to be only one diocese in one city,” he said. “These [sources] are where I’m getting more into the weeds of actual opinions and disagreement.”

As with all Emerson grant projects, Keirouz’s work will culminate in a paper and presentation. In terms of post-Hamilton plans, he has his eyes set on academia. “I’d like to get into a competitive history program, earn a Ph.D., and then see if I can actually become a professor,” he said.

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