Reginald Zelnik Book Prize in History

2014 Citation Recipient

Stephen K. Batalden

The Reginald Zelnik Book Prize in History, established in 2009 and sponsored by the Institute of Slavic, East European, and Eurasian Studies at the University of California, Berkeley, is awarded annually for an outstanding monograph published on Russia, Eastern Europe, or Eurasia in the field of history in the previous calendar year.

Winner: Stephen K. Batalden
Title: Russian Bible Wars: Modern Scriptural Translation and Cultural Authority (Cambridge University Press)

If some books blaze a trail through unknown territory, Stephen Batalden’s, Russian Bible Wars has just built the highway through a desert. This is a superb study of a subject that has received little attention from scholars, a history of the Bible translation and Biblical studies in the Russian empire. The topic offers an unusual perspective on 19th century Russia by discussing the politics and processes of translating the Bible and by showing how seemingly pure theological issues were inextricably connected to the competing secular ideologies and the rise of modern identities.  Batalden succeeds in relating the results of his immense research and theoretical knowledge in clear and lucid prose, making the book a joy to read. This is a truly excellent study of a novel topic that provides a new perspective on the Russian church, society and autocracy, and it does so in a way that may interest many readers from far afield.  Batalden connects to literature on secularization, but ultimately the book is a profound reflection upon the power of language, a holy language of specific formulations, which far from “frozen” or “dead” seemed to have a life of its own.

Honorable Mention: James Mace Ward
Title: Priest, Politician, Collaborator: Jozef Tiso and the Making of Fascist Slovakia (Cornell University Press)

In this balanced and eloquently presented account Ward asks how a Catholic priest could lead a Central European Slavic state to close alliance with Nazi Germany. To do so he takes us back to the days when Slovakia was embedded in Habsburg rule, and his subject, Jozef Tiso, a product of institutions both Catholic and Hungarian. He traces Tiso’s astounding development: from early supporter of Czechoslovakia to a nationalist leader who helped erode the unified state; to “puppet” leader of a fascist regime who occasionally defied Germany but also ordered the destruction of Slovak Jews as well as the bloody suppression of an uprising for Slovak independence. Ward makes sense of a complex figure while resisting temptations to oversimplify, merging probing exploration of a Christian statesman with analysis of a calculating politician, thus contributing a crucial chapter on Central Europe’s recent past, as well as the most revealing study of clerico-fascism we possess. Ward’s command of an enormous literature as well as unexplored archival sources is inspiring for what it tells of the powers of the historian’s craft.