Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Nominal Believers in Russia Less Likely to Take Part in Politics but Active Ones are More So

Paul Goble

            Staunton, July 28 – Those in Russia who identify with a religion because of their ethnic ties – such as Islam among Tatars or Orthodoxy among Russians – but are not involved in religious activities are less likely to take part in political life, but those who are active in religious affairs are more likely to become involved in politics, according to a new study.

            Using data from polls taken in 2008, 2010, and 2012, Anna Kulkova, a researcher at the Laboratory of Political Research at the Higher School of Economics, draws these and other intriguing conclusions in a new study, “Religiosity and Political Participation: The Role of Politics in Russian Religious Communities” (publications.hse.ru/preprints/151058955).

                She says that it is typically the case in Russia that “the number of respondents who identify with this or that confession exceeds the number of genuine  believers by 20 to 30 percent” because people are “ethnic Muslims” or “ethnic Orthodox” and view religion as a component of their national identities. Thus self-declarations of religiosity can be misleading.

            By drilling down in the data and measuring religious affiliation by frequency of attendance of religious events, Kulkova says, one is in a better position to say who is a believer and who is not and thus to explore more accurately the relationship between actual faith and political activity.

            Compared to atheists, self-identified Muslims vote less often, and self-identified Orthodox “more rarely participate in party work or public organizations, more rarely sign petitions or wear badges or the like with political symbols. Attachment to the Orthodox religious tradition lowers the chances that the respondent will be involved in party work by 44 percent compared with atheists.”

            Russia’s self-identified Muslims “turn out to be even less inclined to work in social organizations than self-identified Orthodox: in comparison with atheists, such Muslims have 73 percent fewer chances of cooperating with public organizations,” according to the data, Kulkova says.

            Those Orthodox residents of the Russian Federation who actively participate in religious life on the other hand, are more likely to take part in political activities. Those who attend religious services regularly are 50 percent more likely to participate in public organizations, parties, and demonstrations.

            As far as Muslims are concerned, Kulkova continues, “the positive effect of religious participation on political participation” is also in evidence. “The low levels of political participation of Muslims as a whole” – both actual and “ethnic” – reflect the focus of members of that community “on religious life and not political activism.”

            Kulkova speculates that one of the reasons for this is that many Muslims live far from their native places and thus do not feel as directly involved in the political life around then than do Orthodox believers who are less likely to live outside their historical areal.

            To supplement her polling data, the scholar interviewed Russian Orthodox priests and Muslim mullahs.  Among the priests, attitude toward politics and political activity varied widely with some wanting their parishioners to take a more active role, even to engage in protests, but most opposed to any protest actions.

                Historically, Orthodox priests and their parishioners have “highly valued military victories,” and the ones with whom she spoke unanimously greeted “the reunification of Crimea as ‘the return of former greatness’” and welcomed what they saw as the religious rebirth of the post-Soviet period.”

            “Members of Muslim communities also on the whole had a positive attitude toward the present-day Russian authorities and support them,” Kulkova says. But “as far as the return of Crimea is concerned, Muslims are more restrained. For them, more important is ‘the opportunity for dialogue between religious communities and the state’ which appeared after the collapse of the USSR.”

            As far as democracy as a political system is concerned, she says, both Orthodox and Muslim religious leaders are restrained in their enthusiasm: “as a form of rule, democracy is a bad thing, but so far there is no alternative’ and therefore believers must be responsible and take part in politics.”

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