Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Window on Eurasia: Practicing Muslims May Now Outnumber Practicing Orthodox in Russia, Studies Show

Paul Goble

Vienna, October 10 – In today’s Russia, the number of practicing Muslims may now exceed the number of Orthodox Christians who accept the full discipline of their church, according to a survey of recent sociological research by ana nalyst who argues that religion plays a far less significant role in the life of the country than many believe.
In an essay posted on the Siberian news portal, Vladimir Alabugin says that the increasingly public roles of Orthodox hierarchs, Muslim leaders, and clergy from other faiths cannot obscure the fact that most Russians are only passively attached to their respective faiths (
The Russian Orthodox Church regularly claims a the adherence of up to 80 percent of the country’s population, and many leaders of the Muslim Spiritual Directorates (MSDs) suggest that Muslims in Russia now make up 15 percent of the population or just over 20 million in all.
But the leaders of these two faiths, Alabugin continues, acknowledge with regret that these figures reflect only the number of what many call “ethnic Orthodox” and “ethnic Muslims” – that is members of ethnic communities, which were historically Orthodox or Islamic.
The actual number of those who take an active part in the life of the church or the mosque is much smaller, as all survey data suggests. Indeed, Alabugin says that at present, only 2.5 to 3 percent accept Orthodox discipline, although as many as 7 percent attend church regularly, while three to four percent attend mosques and follow Muslim rules.
If Alabugin’s summary of the data is correct – and it is certainly within the range of the current survey research – then that means there are 3.5 to 5.2 million “churched” Orthodox as compared to 5.2 to 5.7 million practicing Muslims – certainly the first time that there have been more practicing Muslims than practicing Orthodox in Russia.
But in his thoughtful article, which carefully specifies what is known and equally what is not known. Alabugin points out that “it is worth noting that for Muslims, the transition from passive religiosity to active faith is significantly simpler than it is for the Orthodox.”
That difference in turn could mean, although this is not a point that Alabugin makes in this article, that the commitment by practicing Muslims to their faith may on occasion in fact prove to be less and less long-lasting than the commitment of the practicing Orthodox to theirs.

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