Sarah Riccardi-Swartz is a Ph.D. candidate in Sociocultural Anthropology at New York University. After completing an honors B.A. and M.A. in Religious Studies (American religions) at Missouri State University, she came to NYU to study and research religion and politics in the United States from an anthropological perspective. Along the way, she obtained a graduate certificate in Culture and Media (ethnographic filmmaking) and an M.Phil in anthropology from NYU. Her research interests primarily focus on new forms of conservatism, far-right religious communities, fundamentalism and traditionalism, and the ever-expanding political tensions between Russia and the United States.
Based on twelve months of fieldwork in the Appalachian Mountains with a community of Russian Orthodox Christians, Sarah’s dissertation examines the transnational, political implications of conversion alongside the social imaginaries of practitioners, paying close attention to new far-right, religio-political formations in rural economies. Russian Orthodoxy is often seen as a highly ideological, insular, and ethnically fragmented form of Christianity that rejects many of the socio-political values associated with the United States. Yet, it is attracting American-born, non-Russian converts at a steadily increasing rate, particularly in rural areas of the American South, Appalachia, and the Ozarks. Orthodoxy, often marginalized as a “Christianity of alterity,” is now being taken up by people from regions and communities that are themselves subjected to stereotypes of closure in the American imagination, thereby rendering these places and spaces as sites of global religio-political encounter. Sarah’s research complicates what it means to be a rural Christian, highlighting how long-standing political tensions between the United States and Russia are dramatized in the turn to an eastern faith.
Sarah’s dissertation research has been supported by New York University and the Jordan Center for the Advanced Study of Russia. In 2018-2019 she was a Louisville dissertation fellow for the study of American Christianity. In 2019-2020, alongside the NEH dissertation fellowship from the Orthodox Christian Studies Center, she will also be a Charlotte W. Newcombe Dissertation Fellow through the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation.