Saturday, August 14, 2021

Syncretism on the Rise among Orthodox Christian and Animist-Shamanist Faiths, Undermining Both Religious and Ethnic Divisions in Russia

Paul Goble

            Staunton, August 9 – Russians have been concerned for some time by their findings that religion in Russia is an ethnic marker rather than about actual faith, with many Russians, for example, declaring they are Orthodox even though they say that they don’t believe in God (

            Now, two events this past week suggest they face another challenge: religious syncretism in which members of several religious denominations increasingly share values and practices, something that genuine believers fear undermines their faiths and nationalists fear may be a threat to the maintenance of ethnic boundaries.

            In the Tuvin capital of Kyzyl, the third all-Russian congress of shamans announced that they want to unite with followers of other traditional (“pagan”) faiths and be recognized as a religion equal to Orthodoxy and Islam by the Russian government (

            To make it more likely that the Kremlin will back them, the shamans denounced Sakha shaman Aleksandr Gabyshev, who has criticized Vladimir Putin and tried so far without success to walk to Moscow to “exorcise” the Kremlin leader and thus save Russia. He is currently being subjected to forced psychiatric care.

            The shaman leadership said that it doesn’t have any problems with Orthodoxy because the Orthodox Church has “many things taken from shamanism,” a view many Orthodox faithful would not welcome or agree to but see as undermining their unique faith. But at the same time, the shamans declared they needed protection from Buddhist activists in Tyva.

            Also last week, an anonymous writer on the Ahilla portal which covers Russian Orthodoxy from traditionalist position, said “one of the consequences” of making religion about civic or ethnic identity rather than belief is syncretism which threatens the faith and these divisions (

            The writer gave as an example of this the opening of a park 120 kilometers from Chita in which Orthodox and shamanistic practices are mixed, with nominally Orthodox believers engaging in ceremonies that are at odds with the Christian faith and, despite this, being supported by the local authorities, who have blocked other religious gatherings during the pandemic.

            He describes a long history of such syncretism in the Transbaikal but suggests that the situation as far as pure Christianity is concerned is increasingly at risk there, with those who declare themselves Orthodox knowing little or nothing about their religion and thus willing to accept ideas and practices from other religions without any problem.

            That not only harms Orthodoxy, the anonymous writer suggests; it harms Russian identity based on Orthodoxy as well.

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