Vienna, March 18 – New statistics show that except in the North Caucasus where almost all fourth grade pupils will be studying Islam, Russian young people elsewhere will be taking courses on secular ethics or the history of world religions rather than being instructed in Russian Orthodoxy at least at anything like the numbers the Moscow Patriarchate had predicted.
These figures, which concern only the 19 federation subjects where these courses will be offered beginning later this spring, thus represent a major disappoint for the Russian Orthodox Church which pushed hard for religion courses -- despite Constitutional bans and opposition from many rights groups --and which regularly claims 80 percent of the population is Orthodox.
But even more than that, the statistics suggest that Russian society as a whole, both as a result of Soviet anti-religious efforts and the forces of modernization, is far less religious than the leaders of any of the major faiths have suggested and that Russian parents, who in most cases made the choices, prefer not to have their children receive religious instruction.
Yesterday, Gazeta.ru published official government statistics on how many children will be taking such courses beginning later this spring by federal district. Only in the Central Federal District, the paper said, will a majority be studying “the foundations of Orthodoxy” (www.gzt.ru/addition/-pravoslavie-ili-svetskaya-etika---vybor-detei-i-/296263.html).
In that district’s Tambov oblast, local education officials reported, 55 percent of the students taking such courses will be studying Russian Orthodoxy, 37 percent will be studying ethics and seven percent will be instructed in the history of world religions. Only 0.2 percent of the pupils there will be studying Islam.
In Tver oblast, 62.3 percent will be studying the foundations of Russian Orthodoxy, 31.6 percent; ethics, 5.9 percent, the history of world religions; and again 0.2 percent the foundations of Islam. And in Kostroma oblast, 75 percent will be studying Orthodoxy; 16.8 percent ethics, and eight percent world religions. Eleven pupils there will study either Islam or Buddhism.
In the Northwest Federal District, the situation is similar. In Vologda, 57 percent will study Orthodoxy, 25.4 percent ethics, 17 percent world religions, and 0.07 percent Islam.”No one chose Buddhism or Islam” there, officials at the local educational department told the Moscow newspaper.
Meanwhile, in Kaliningrad oblast, 57 percent of the pupils and their parents chose to study ethics, 34 percent to be instructed in Orthodoxy, 8.6 percent to attend classes on the history of world religions, and 0.4 percent – a total of about 30 pupils in all – elected to attend classes in Islam, Buddhism, or Judaism.
In the Siberian Federal District, the Moscow paper continued, the situation is different. There, “parents demonstrated strong secular preferences.” In Krasnoyarsk kray, 58.2 percent of the pupils will study ethics, and 21.5 percent history of world religions, with only 19.1 percent studying Orthodoxy and a scattering of others.
Likewise, in Novosibirsk oblast, 67 percent will study ethics, 18.5 percent the foundations of Orthodoxy, and 15.5 percent the history of world religions. Only one percent will study the foundations of Islam. There will be no courses in Buddhism or Judaism there. “Gazeta.ru” said that Tomsk oblast, another of the trial regions, had not offered any data.
Elsewhere east of the Urals, the pattern varied. In the Jewish Autonomous Oblast, parents chosen to have their children study Russian Orthodoxy, while in Kamchatka, they elected to have them attend classes in ethics, and in Kurgan oblast, 60 percent will take courses in ethics. In Udmurtia, more will take courses in ethics and world regions (79 percent) than religious courses.
In the Volga Federal District, the online paper continued, “the majority of parents of Penza and Udmurt pupils [also] chose secular subjects,” with 100 percent doing so in Penza and 79 percent doing so in the Udmurt Republic. In Chuvashia, roughly a third each will study history of world religions, Orthodoxy, and ethics.
But in the Southern Federal district, “the majority of fourth grade pupils in Chechnya and Karachayevo-Cherkessia will attend sessions on the foundations of Islam,” in Kalmykia, they will take courses in Buddhism, and in Stavropol, they will attend courses on the foundations of Orthodoxy.
The statistics from these areas are striking. In Chechnya, 99.64 of the students will study Islam, with only 73 pupils taking courses in Orthodoxy. In Karachayevo-Cherkessia, 37 percent of the pupils will study Islam, 22.9 percent ethics, 20 percent Orthodoxy, history of world religions and ethics.
In Kalmykia, 51 percent of the pupils will study the national religion, Buddhism, but 30percent will study Orthodoxy, 18 percent ethics, 18 percent history of world religions, and one percent each Islam and Judaism. But in Stavropol kray, “more than 60 percent” of the pupils will study the foundations of Orthodox culture.