Sunday, February 23, 2014

Russians Changing Attitudes on Church Attendance, Religious Beliefs

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1991 marked the collapse of the former Soviet Union. During the Soviet period many Christian clergy were sent to prison, churches were closed, and professing Christians faced significant persecution.

Surveys from the Pew Research Center’s Religion and Public Life Project indicate more of Russia’s population has affiliated with Orthodox Christianity. According to an analysis of information gathered between 1991 and 2008, the number of Russian adults who call themselves Orthodox Christian rose from 31 percent to 72 percent. This data was gathered from the International Social Survey Programme (ISSP). The organization of social scientists in around 50 countries did research that indicated the share of Russia’s population that does not identify with any religion dropped from 61 percent to 18 percent. The ISSP says other religions (Islam, Protestant Christianity and Roman Catholicism) did show an increase in adults, but then plateaued.

ISSP data reveals a return to religion among Russians, but not a corresponding return to church. The ISSP compiled the data in three waves (1991, 1998 and 2008).

According to the Pew Forum, the change might not be limited only to the collapse of the Soviet system. Pew Forum researchers speculate that Russians felt much freer to express religious identities than during the Communist regime. Pew researchers cite the ISSP data that indicates the share of Russians identifying with a religion rose almost as much between 1998 and 2008 as it did from 1991 to 1998.

The ISSP data indicates that in 1991 six-in-ten Russian adults (61 percent) identified as not affiliated with any religion, while an estimated one-third said they were Orthodox Christians. According to the ISSP, by 2008 around seven-in-ten Russians identified themselves as Orthodox Christians while around one-in-five were religiously unaffiliated.

The ISSP data indicates increases in identification with Orthodox Christianity among both younger Russians (up 43 percent among Russians ages 16-49 (and older Russians (up 39 points among Russians ages 50 and older). The ISSP says affiliation with Orthodox Christianity has grown especially among Russian university graduates.

Recent news reports also indicate that the Russian government is becoming more and more allied with the Russian Orthodox Church on many social issues.

During the Cold War, many Western leaders made reference to the Soviet Union as a “godless nation” as it was officially an atheist state.

But as the Washington Times reported last month, the Kremlin and Russian Orthodox Church officials are making the same allegations at the West.

The Washington Times quotes Russian President Vladimir Putin as saying “Many Euro-Atlantic countries have moved away from their roots, including Christian values,” Putin also stated that of these countries are putting policies in place on the same level a multi-child family and same-sex partnership, a faith in God and a belief in Satan. Putin calls this “the path to degradation.”

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