Religion in a Changing World: Comparative Studies in Sociology

By Madeleine Cousineau | Go to book overview
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14 Russia's Religious Market: Struggling with the Heritage of Russian Orthodox Monopoly

Jerry G. Pankhurst

The radical transformation of the Soviet Union under the leadership of Mikhail Gorbachev in the 1980s and its breakup into fifteen separate states in 1991 opened the way for one of the most extraordinary periods of societal change that any nation has experienced short of war. While Gorbachev's policy of perestroika (reconstruction) was motivated largely by the desire to improve the economic performance of the Soviet Union, all institutions were deeply affected by the loss of authority of the Communist regime and the widespread social disorganization that such sweeping changes entailed. Religion, coming out of the shadows of Communist atheist control, was no exception.

Many observers have thought that the disruptive societal change itself was cause for the Russian and other peoples of the former Soviet Union to turn to religion to find moral anchorage and national identity. Times of rapid social change entail major sociocultural dislocation, which in turn calls forth cultural patterns of renewal and reintegration that often take religious form. It would seem natural that the people would feel a great loss with the discreditation of the central ideology of Marxism, and they might be expected to seek out a different value system to embrace.

It turns out that, with widespread disillusionment with Soviet Communism, the end of the 1980s was a good time to present religion to the people of Russia as an alternative moral system and a focus for national identity. The process of filling the ideological vacuum, however, was and is not as simple as the replacement of one set of beliefs by another. Just as the overall reform policy of perestroika was stimulated in important ways by global forces in the economic and political spheres, forces of global interrelations and of a new free market in religion added complex factors to the process. These factors have led to cultural change that is taking Russia more and more away from its ancient religious heritage.

This chapter provides an overview of the development of an open market for religion in Russia, the largest of the fifteen new states that were created out of the


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