Russians Return to Religion, But Not to Church

Russians Return to Religion, But Not to Church

Pewforum.org

Over the past two decades, since the collapse of the Soviet Union, there has been an upsurge in affiliation with Orthodox Christianity in Russia.1 Between 1991 and 2008, the share of Russian adults identifying as Orthodox Christian rose from 31% to 72%, according to a new Pew Research Center analysis of three waves of data (1991, 1998 and 2008) from theInternational Social Survey Programme(ISSP) – a collaboration involving social scientists in about 50 countries. During the same period, the share of Russia’s population that does not identify with any religion dropped from 61% to 18%. The share of Russian adults identifying with other religions, including Islam, Protestant Christianity and Roman Catholicism, rose in the 1990s and then leveled off. (Estimates of the size of Russia’s Muslim population vary. The most recent ISSP survey finds that Muslims make up 5% of Russia’s population, but other surveys and studies have somewhat higher estimates. For more information, see “Sochi Olympics shine spotlight on Russia’s Muslim population.”)

There also has been a modest increase in some measures of religious commitment. For example, the share of Russian adults who said they are at least “somewhat” religious rose from 11% in 1991 to 54% in 2008. And the portion of adults who said they believe in God rose from 38% to 56% over the same period.2

But for most Russians, the return to religion did not correspond with a return to church. Across all three waves of ISSP data, no more than about one-in-ten Russians said they attend religious services at least once a month. The share of regular attenders (monthly or more often) was 2% in 1991, 9% in 1998 and 7% in 2008. This suggests that although many more Russians now freely identify with the Orthodox Church or other religious groups, they may not be much more religiously observant than they were in the recent past, at least in terms of attendance at religious services.

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