Friday, June 14, 2013

Window on Eurasia: Some Surprising Answers on Who Goes to Church in Moscow and What They Think

Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 14 – An admittedly unrepresentative poll of Russians attending Orthodox services on Palm Sunday conducted by the Sreda Sociological Service, the results of which were released this week, found that many of the most widespread assumptions about who goes to church in Russia and why are not justified.
           The sociologists asked people attending 12 churches in the center of Moscow on Palm Sunday to answer 28 questions.  According to Alina Bagrina of Sreda, 313 did so and thus provided an unusual glimpse into the attitudes and motivations of church goers ( and          

           Bagrina said that her organization had chosen to carry out this survey on Palm Sunday because it was one of the church holidays most likely to attract many who might not attend church on a regular basis, but she indicated that at least among those who were prepared to fill in the questionnaire, most attending were regulars.     

           Seventy-five percent said they attended church services more often than once a month, and just under half said they did so on a regular basis. Moreover, the majority did not consist of elderly women but rather working age adults and many young people. Indeed, those who said they attended church weekly tended to be men under the age of 45.     
           The survey found that 58 percent of those attending Palm Sunday services had higher educations, and another 22 percent had incomplete higher educations, and most had incomes at or above the average for Moscow, thus dispelling the widespread notions that church attendees are older, female and less educated than the population as a whole.      

           An especially intriguing finding of this survey concerned the difference between those who viewed themselves as “Orthodox Russians” and those who said they were “Orthodox Christians.”  Approximately 48 percent identified with the former, while 44 percent said they were the latter, setting many apart from the way in which Russian officials identify them.

            This distinction, between those who view Orthodoxy as an equivalent to Russianness and those who see is as a religious one, has some political consequences.  The former, the “Orthodox Russians,” almost unanimously say that their religious feelings can be offended and believe that the government should punish those who do so.

            Those who define themselves exclusively in religious terms, on the other hand, again almost unanimously said that no one could offend their religious feelings and that consequently no one should be in the business of punishing those who may seek to do so. It is simply wrong, they suggested, to punish people for their opinions.

             Asked whether they had encountered a growth in negative attitudes toward the Orthodox Church over the past year, more than half said that they either had or had heard about such a trend. But a quarter said that they were certain that attitudes toward the Church had remained unchanged, with another 15 percent saying that favorable attitudes had increased.

             Those who answered the survey’s questions overwhelming said they knew the Church’s position on the Pussy Riot case, abortions, attitudes toward sexual minorities, euthanasia, juvenile justice, and the Soviet past. Approximately, half said they knew the Church’s views on universal identity cards.

              But many indicated that they did not always share the views of the Church hierarchy on these or other issues and even said that they did not accept all teachings of the Church on matters of faith. Twenty-four percent said they did not believe in the resurrection of the body, and many  more said they at least occasionally had doubts about that doctrine.

               Finally, approximately half of those who responded  – some 45 percent – said that parishioners should be responsible for supporting their churches financially, while only 22 percent said the government or 28 percent indicated that the Patriarchate should provide such funding.

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