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Voice of the Voiceless: Commemorating Keston’s 50th Anniversary

In 1959, British exchange student Michael Bourdeaux received a note from Russian Christians asking for help. While in Moscow, he witnessed religious atrocities first-hand. After a meeting with the women who penned the letter, he took up their call to be the “voice of the voiceless” and in 1969 established the Centre for the Study of Religion and Communism with Sir John Lawrence and others to document the fight for religious freedom by believers behind the Iron Curtain. Bordeaux gathered a team of researchers to collect and disseminate accurate information from the Soviet Union and other countries under authoritarian regimes. The Centre acquired a building in the village of Keston, England, as a base of operations. There they changed the name to Keston College and developed an extensive archive and library.

 

Keston College, also known as the Keston Institute, never took direct action, but instead collected information from those who needed help and disseminated it to the public and others who could exert political pressure. Keston received a wide array of materials, including samizdat (illegal publications), reports, and documents. The Keston News Service (KNS) prepared and published regular KNS Reports detailing religious persecution. Michael Bourdeaux, KNS Director Alyona Kojevnikov, and the research team also dispersed facts through correspondence with political and religious figures, appeared on a weekly BBC Russian language program, and worked closely with Radio Liberty/Radio Free Europe and other entities.

In 2007, the Keston Institute in Oxford transferred its vast library and archives to the newly created Keston Center for Religion, Politics, and Society at Baylor University. Since acquiring the collection, the Keston Center has hosted national and international researchers who, along with Baylor faculty and students, use the Center’s valuable and unique archives in their work. Baylor University history professor Julie deGraffenried has published two books using Keston resources, while Michael Bourdeaux continues to be active and has recently published a new book of his own. The Keston Center will continue supporting researchers in their acquisition and dissemination of knowledge for years to come, thus continuing the work that Michael Bourdeaux began fifty years ago.

 

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