By Paul Goble
The religious mix of the Russian military has not changed over the last decade, according to a new poll, but the same study found that while more soldiers than ever before are prepared to declare a religious affiliation, they overwhelmingly know little or nothing about the faith they supposedly have.
Given that the ethnic mix of the military has changed, such findings by sociologists from Moscow State University suggests that some of the declarations may be politically motivated rather than a reflection of personal reality, a pattern that resembles, albeit with a minus sign, the kind of statements soldiers made about religion in Soviet times.
Nonetheless, the study, some results of which were discussed 10 days ago at a Moscow roundtable on “The Spiritual-Moral Values of Contemporary Russian Society” provide a detailed picture into what Russian soldiers believe – or at least feel they should declare (ruskline.ru/analitika/2011/02/04/religioznost_voennosluzhawih_vooruzhennyh_sil_rossii_duhovnye_cennosti_i_normy_povedeniya/).
Yevgeny Dubogray, one of the sociologists involved in the survey, said that it was taken on the occasion of the third year of the process of introducing chaplains into the Russian armed services and that it involved interviews with 599 people serving in “various categories” of the military.
According to the sociologist, the team of which he was a part reached six basic conclusions. First, he said, “three quarters of those in uniform consider themselves religious believers to a greater or lesser extent,” with 85 percent identifying with Orthodox Christianity and nine percent with Islam.
Second, “the trend of the last few years has shown a growth in the number of religious military personal and a reduction in the share of non-believers.” But the distribution among faiths “continues to remain unchanged.” Third, alongside the growth in religiosity has been an increase in the amount of superstition.
Fourth, “the religious consciousness of the believing soldiers is characterized by a low level of knowledge about the content and structure of the holy books of their religion but altruistic attitudes predominate among the motives for religiosity.”
Fifth, those who declare themselves religious believers nonetheless do not participate in most cases in religious life on a regular basis. And sixth, at present, “the overwhelming majority of believing soldiers do not encounter cases when their religious feelings are offended during their army service,” although “10 percent declared that they were aware of such cases.”
Beyond these broad conclusions are many interesting details. While 57 percent of the sample said that they were “more believers than not,” only 18 percent declared that they “firmly believe in God and attempt to observe all the requirements of their faith,” only slightly more than the total of those who declared they were atheists or “more non-believers than believers.”
In his report as posted on “Russkaya narodnaya liniya,” Dubogray provides a graph showing the change in religious self-identification among uniformed personnel in Russia over the last 20 years. In 1992, 40 percent said they were non-believers, while 25 percent said they were believers. In 2000, those figures were 30 and 26; and in 2010, 75 and 13.
Intriguingly, the sociologists found that Russian soldiers are increasingly superstitious or at least prepared to admit they are. In 2009, only 10 percent said they were superstitious, but last year when this survey was conducted, 17 percent of all soldiers declared that they were superstitious.
Such attitudes carried over into the soldier’s religious practice, the sociologists found. Many soldiers wore crosses or amulets of one kind or another, but most did not pray regularly or at all and many had little knowledge of either the basic doctrines of their faiths or its practices and demands.
One general conclusion which this pattern of the data suggests – but it is not one Dubrogay chooses to draw at least in this report – is that ever more Russian soldiers are prepared to report that they are believers but that such declarations appear to be more a reflection of social conformism than actual belief.