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Distrust in religion in post-communist Russia

©2001 Essay 7 Seiten


The distrust of organised religion is a phenomenon of post-Soviet Russia. It is a likely result of developments that characterise the coming of the modern age as introduced to Russia in its full scale by post-communist liberalisation and pluralisation and is therefore comparable to earlier developments in the West. In Russia the specific experience of atheist totalitarianism as well as its collapse has enhanced several aspects of this "modernity factor" in relation to religious institutions. The essay discusses these and other factors that influenced distrust of organised religion in Russia in the 1990s.


'Russians in the post-Soviet era show the same deep distrust of organised religion, religious structures and institutions as is prevalent in the West today.'

What factors contribute to this state of affairs in Russia?

Industrialisation and modernisation have often been regarded as the precursors of a decline of religion in general. In communist Russia, the "remnant of the past" was said to die out as the coming generation would perceive and explain the world on basis of their scientific knowledge, thereby disproving the belief in supernatural powers. In the West, scholars pointed to the ever smaller number of church-goers to illustrate their theories on the secularisation of modern society.

However, the idea of a general decline of religion has been challenged since. Luckmann (1967) was among the first who convincingly showed that it is not religion as such, but institutionalised religion which loses ground in modern society. Since religion is for Luckmann the Weltanschauung linked to the formation of Self and an "anthropological condition", it can neither vanish, nor be measured in terms of belonging to a religious denomination. This idea has caused a new line of research in the West. Its findings also hold for Russia, as I will show, particularly after the collapse of totalitarianism, when Russia experienced a "sudden breakthrough into the plural post-modern world"[1]. My argumentation will start with a brief (and inevitably simplifying) summary of Luckmann's complex theory on the decline of religious institutions in modern society, then show its relevance for Russia, and finally discuss in more detail the particular Russian state of affairs.

The basis of theories of modernity is the idea that increased division of labour leads to growing social diversity. A complex society is likely to develop institutions, one of which may specialise in administering the notion of and relation to the "sacred cosmos", i.e. the "objective and moral universe of meaning"[2] that the individual is socialised into and internalises. Individual experiences are perceived in the frame of this Weltanschauung, but may increasingly differ from it as, on the one hand, institutionalised religion with its "Eternal Truth" tends not to keep pace with social change,[3] and on the other hand, the professionals elaborating on the "sacred cosmos" do not share the "world of everyday life as it is typically encountered by the other members of society"[4]. The "official" model of religion may therefore become a mere lip-tribute paid only in the public sphere, whereas a model based on personal experiences may be held in private. The perceived divergence of the "official"Weltanschauung from everyday experiences deprives the religious institution of its influence on the formation of individual consciousness and personality: "Personal identity becomes, essentially, a private phenomenon."[5]


[1] Agadjanian 1996: 70. Though used in this quotation, I will refrain from using the term "post-modern" myself and side with Bruce when he says: "In so far as my observations about religious change lead me to a view on that debate, my conclusion is that 'post-modernity' in this context is unnecessary and, given the tendentious theoretical baggage associated with the term, best avoided. [... T]he major patterns of change can be explained by the operation of those characteristics which Weber, Gellner and Berger regarded as the essence of modernity" (Bruce 1998: 34).

[2] Luckmann 1967: 50.

[3] I need to stress here that Luckmann does not have the Marxist notion that the mind is determined by its material base, and hence needs to change in accordance with social/material conditions: Luckmann simply emphasises that religion—at least in his understanding of it as a way of giving meaning to the world—cannot exist in contradiction to worldly experiences without causing critical reflection by the individual.

[4] Luckmann 1967: 76.

[5] Luckmann 1967: 97. Another possible outcome for the individual is the "leap of faith" (Luckmann 1967: 86), i.e. the conscious decision in favour of the institutionalised doctrine despite perceived contradictions to daily experiences that follows a thoroughgoing reflection.


ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Buch)
405 KB
Institution / Hochschule
University of Leeds – POLIS
2003 (September)
1.0 (A)
Distrust Russia Religion Post-communism Russland Religionswissenschaft Religious studies

Titel: Distrust in religion in post-communist Russia