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More Russians have qualms about religion, poll reveals
Russians' views on whether religion benefits them and their society are changing, and not for the better, a new poll from a state-controlled researcher reveals. - photo by Mark A. Kellner
Russians' views on whether religion benefits them and their society have changed dramatically over the past 25 years, a new poll from a state-owned research firm reveals.

In 1990, shortly after the collapse of communism, 61 percent of Russians believed "the strengthening of religious beliefs" benefitted society, The Moscow Times reports. Today, that number is down to 36 percent. Only 33 percent of Russians surveyed believe strengthened religious beliefs benefit them personally, down from 41 percent in 1990.

Moreover, 23 percent of Russians surveyed say increased religiosity harms society, up from 5 percent in 1990. Eighteen percent of respondents said a strengthening of religious beliefs "harms (them) personally," a six-fold increase over 3 percent in 1990.

Religious tolerance also appears to have taken a hit. Some 20 percent of survey respondents said they would try to prevent the opening of a religious building "not of their faith" located near their home. That's up from 9 percent in 1990, the research firm said.

But there is some good news in the numbers: Twenty-six percent of respondents said faith "constantly" helps them in daily life, a more than five-fold increase over 1990.

The concepts of "faith" and "church" have become detached from one another for many Russians, and "the Church as an institution has met with public criticism on a number of points" in the 25 years since the 1990 survey, said Alexei Firsov, communications director for the Russian Public Opinion Research Center, known by the Anglicized acronym WCIOM, in a news release (viewed using Google Translate). Firsov also cited a rise in consumerism as a factor in changing attitudes, the statement said.

WCIOM surveyed 1,600 respondents in 46 Russian regions in mid-July on these questions, and the data from the organization said the margin of error in the survey was 3.5 percent, according to the Moscow Times. (WCIOM describes itself as a research firm having "full state ownership" of its shares.)

Other research has found similar patterns. Last year, the Pew Research Center, summarizing 2008 research from the International Social Survey Program, recorded that while membership in the Russian Orthodox Church has risen from 31 percent of the population to 72 percent in the 1991-2008 period, it hasn't resulted in a rush to worship services.

"No more than about 1-in-10 Russians said they attend religious services at least once a month," Pew noted. "The share of regular attenders (monthly or more often) was 2 percent in 1991, 9 percent in 1998 and 7 percent in 2008."

The Pew report added, "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."

The disconnect between Russians' professions of faith and formal church connections has been traced for some time. In 2011, The Christian Science Monitor noted that while 82 percent of Russians said they were "religious believers," only 50 percent identified as being members of the Russian Orthodox Church.

"It would be correct to describe Russia as a land of believers, but it cannot be called a country of religious people," Mikhail Tarusin, head of sociology at the independent Institute of Public Projects in Moscow, told the newspaper at that time.
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