ETHNONYM: Spiritual Christians

The Molokans are a Russian fundamental Christian sect. Numbering perhaps as many as a million prior to the Russian Revolution, about thirty-five hundred Molokans immigrated to the United States between 1901 and 1911 to seek religious freedom and economic opportunity and to escape military service in the Russian Empire. Molokans see themselves as ethnically Russian and are related to and perhaps an offshoot of the Doukhobors, whom they followed to North America. The Doukhobors settled in western Canada, but the Molokans preferred the warmer climate first of Hawaii and then of California. In 1970 there were about twenty thousand Molokans in the United States, mainly in Los Angeles and San Francisco, with some also in the San Joaquin Valley and Arizona and Oregon. Two groups are represented in the United States, the Pryguny (Jumpers) centered in Los Angeles and the Postoiannye (Steadfast) in San Francisco. The groups differ mainly in the conduct of religious services, with the most notable difference being that the Pryguny jump during services and the Postoiannye do not.

In Russia the Molokans were essentially peasants, though they were considerably more capitalistic in orientation and life-style than other peasants, which put them at odds with the tsarist regime. This led to forced relocations and the ultimate emigration of some.

In the United States, they have attempted to retain their Russian ethnic identity and fundamentalist beliefs, though the earlier communities have now largely disappeared or been absorbed into the larger Russian communities. In the 1970s, the community on Potrero Hill in San Franciso was still viable, but the original Los Angeles settlement near Union Station had disappeared. Traditional ways are described as surviving mainly in the church context, in the form of the use of Russian in church services, community dinners ( obed), kin ties, and diet. Economically and politically, they are largely assimilated into American society.


Dunn, Ethel, and Stephen P. Dunn (1977). "Religion and Ethnicity: The Case of the American Molokans." Ethnicity 4:370-379.

Young, Pauline V. (1932). The Pilgrims of Russian-Town: The Community of Christian Spiritual Jumpers in America. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

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Richard Nordgren
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Feb 20, 2017 @ 9:21 pm
The Molokans first came to California. They were drawn to farming but in Los Angeles and San Francisco that was not possible. Nevertheless they were vulnerable to lures which offered the hope they could own land on which to farm. The sugar plantations in Hawaii were in desperate need of laborers. The made promises (which were not kept) and as a result several hundred Molokan men from San Francisco sailed to Hawaii. It was not long afterwards they returned to California. The year 1910 was the peak year of their presence in Hawaii. The US Federal census for that year shows very few Molokan women in Hawaii.

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