Staunton, October 9 – Despite campaign by the Moscow Patriarchate, Russian parents have selected for their children courses in secular ethics or the history of religions twice as often as they have chosen to have their offspring study Orthodox culture, according to preliminary figures from the experimental introduction of such courses in 19 federal subjects.
Yesterday, the Moscow radio station Ekho Moskvy published on its website “Statistical Reports from the 19 Subjects of the Russian Federation Taking Part in the Trial of [Such] Modules] for the 2009/2010 academic year,” findings that are likely to spark debate in the coming weeks (www.echo.msk.ru/blog/echomsk/716694-echo/).
While the results cannot simply be extrapolated to the country as a whole, they do suggest that Russian parents, who make these choices, are far less interested in having their children study Russian Orthodoxy than the Moscow Patriarchate has claims, somewhat more interested in studying Islam relative to population, and mostly interested in more secular courses.
Of the 237,939 students taking part, 27.84 percent studied “Foundations of Orthodox Culture” and 10.3 percent “Foundations of Islamic Culture, but 17.09 percent took classes in “Foundations of World Religious Cultures” and 43.97 percent in “Foundations of Secular Ethics.” Those studying Buddhism and Judaism made up the other 0.8 percent.
Those figures suggest that more than 60 percent of the pupils taking part were in classes without a specifically religious profile, more than twice as many as the share – slightly fewer than 28 percent – taking the course on Orthodoxy, a pattern that reflects the secularization of Russian society in Soviet times and since.
And this pattern not only calls into question the routine claims of the Russian Orthodox Church that the share of Orthodox in Russia is the same as the share of ethnic Russians but also indicates that some of the fears of secular or even atheist groups about the impact of religious courses in the schools may be overstated.
Not surprisingly, figures from the 19 regions varied widely. In many predominantly ethnic Russian oblasts and krays, a far higher share of the pupils studied the Orthodox course, although in Penza, students were offered courses only in world religions and “Foundations of Secular Ethics.
Meanwhile, in Chechnya, 99.5 percent of the pupils were enrolled in the “Foundations of Islamic Culture,” a share greater than the percentage of Muslims in the population. In Karachay-Cherkessia, nearly 40 percent of the students were studying Muslim culture. And in Kalmykia, a Buddhist republic, slightly more than half were studying their traditional national faith.