Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Window on Eurasia: Religious Rebirth in Russia May Matter Less than Many Believe

Paul Goble

Vienna, April 3 – The rebirth of interest in religion in post-Soviet Russia may not transform that country in a positive direction as many religious leaders have hoped or threaten secular values as many intellectuals have feared, according to the findings of a massive new survey of religious life there.
That study, conducted by the Moscow Institute of Social Prognostication and involving more than 15,000 respondents, found that believers and unbelievers are not significantly different in terms of their social position or political and economic views (http://www.foma.ru/articles/679/?print_version=1).
But this finding, however disturbing it may be for some or encouraging for others, could be a statistical artifact, a reflection of the fact that relatively few Russians on either side of this religious divide currently take their faith or the lack or it nearly as seriously as many have thought.
On the one hand, the organizers of this survey grouped the roughly 15 percent of Russians who say they are atheists with another 15 percent who say they believe God may exist but that they personally do not see that as the basis for religious faith or practice (http://www.portal-credo.ru/site?/act=comment&id=1189).
And on the other, even though this survey found that 62 percent of the sample identified itself as Russian Orthodox, more than four out of five did so for cultural or political reasons rather than as a matter of faith: only 8.5 percent of the total group actually take part in the life of the Church.
Despite that possibility or even its likelihood, the study’s findings are likely to spark new debate on whether religion will “save” Russia or whether it will do no such thing. And consequently, it is worth recording here some of the data sets the Moscow institute gathered.
The survey found that the only statistically significant sociological difference was between men and women. Men formed 45.6 percent of the total sample, but they made up almost two-thirds of the non-believers – 66.5 percent. However, when it came to age or educational attainment, the differences were minimal within each group.
Other questions involved the attitudes of both groups toward a variety of social, economic and political questions. Both groups had roughly the same percentages of optimists and pessimists, both had similar attitudes toward big business, and both had equal proclivities to engage in entrepreneurial activity.
The two groups had almost identical views on whether Russia could return to the past, whether the Russian state would grow stronger or not in the immediate future, and whether freedom or equality is the more important value. Both believers and unbelievers rated freedom as more important to them than equality by a factor of almost four to one.
Asked who could lead Russia out of its current situation, the two groups diverged, with far more believers – nearly three out of four – saying that a strong state could do so while only one in two of the unbelivers had the same view. At the same time, far more unbelievers than unbelievers said the united efforts of the people could do the trick.
Asked about how the personal values they most admired, the two groups also diverged but only on a few things. Slightly more believers pointed to kindness and good-heartedness than did unbelievers, but the percentage valuing order, responsibility, patience, and a sense of humor were almost identical.

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