Russian Culture

Religion

The exact statistics for religious affiliations in Russia are difficult to summarise since the official census does not record these numbers. However, estimates taken in 2012 indicate that 41% of Russians identify with the Russian Orthodox Church, 25% consider themselves spiritual but not religious, 13% identify as atheist and 5.5% are undecided about their religious affiliation (Sreda, 2012). A further portion of the population identifies with minority religions: Islam (6.5%), other variations of Christianity including Protestant, Evangelist and other Orthodox sects (7.3%), native Slavic faiths, Paganism and/or Tengrism (1.2%) and Tibetan Buddhism (0.5%).

 

One’s language and ethnicity somewhat correlates with their religious affiliation. For example, most Christians are ethnic Russians (russkiye) and Slavic speakers; Buddhists are generally Mongolian-speaking people from the central or eastern regions of the country; and most Muslims are from Turkic ethnic groups (e.g. the Tatars) and from the Caucasus region. However, this is not always a clear relationship. For example, while many Turkic speakers are Muslims, several continue to follow shamanistic traditions and some have converted to Christianity. It is perhaps more accurate to say that Russians are likely to follow the religion relevant to their individual ancestral groups’ regional or cultural tradition. A general trend has also shown that Russians become more religious as they age.

 

The State and Religion

Research confirms that religious affiliations have grown significantly across Russia (Fagan, 2012). This can be explained as a spiritual resurgence and revitalisation since the end of communism in Russia. During the Soviet era, belief or membership in a religious organisation was considered to be incompatible with loyalty to the Communist Party. Therefore, openly professing one’s religious beliefs could hinder people’s opportunities and even put them at odds with the state. Many Russians had to renounce their faith or conceal their beliefs during this time. However, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, it became evident that much of the Russian population had continued to follow their faith in private. Furthermore, researchers believe that in the wake of the collapse of communism as a viable belief system, people looked towards religion en masse as an ideological answer. More than 20 years on, religious authority has regained respect and there has been a growing revival of religious traditions from multiple disciplines across the country. The Pew Research Centre’s poll results showed that Slavic Russian adults identifying as Orthodox Christians rose from 31% to 72% between 1991 and 2008, whilst the share of the population that did not identify with any religion dropped from 61% to 18%.

 

Minority Religions

Although the current government claims to be secular and give all religions equal legal status, this is not the reality. A law drafted in 1997 differentiates the freedom to practise religion based on whether they are ‘traditional’ or ‘non-traditional’ faiths to Russia. Christian Russian Orthodoxy, Islam, Judaism and Buddhism are recognised as faiths traditional to the native people of Russia and are afforded special privileges. All minority religions that fall outside this group of four must register and make themselves formally known to the government (including any Christian church that is not Russian Orthodox). This procedure allows state officials to prevent minority groups from renting buildings to be used for the purpose of worship. Furthermore, as part of an anti-terrorist crackdown in 2016, the government has banned proselytising. This law particularly targets non-Russian Orthodox Christian groups. They cannot share their faith outside of their recognised religious institution’s buildings, including online. Generally, a minority faith’s freedom to practise, proselytise or build its own institutions depends on its members’ relationships with local officials.

 

The Russian Orthodox Church

The Russian Orthodox Church has been the dominant religious institution for almost a millennium and continues to be the most popular religion in Russia. The church lost a lot of its property and power during the communist period; however, it has quickly regained esteem and influence. Today, it is commonly thought of as the most trusted institution in society and a reference point of moral guidance for the government. Connection to the church can be cultural to some extent, as a parallel is often drawn between Russian Orthodoxy and Russian nationhood.

 

Most people who identify with Russian Orthodox Christianity do not practise it formally. However, church attendance is not the most accurate reflection of observance. While only 5.4% of Orthodox Russians claim to attend church services weekly, 27.9% say they pray outside of religious services every day (World Values Survey, 2006). Other researchers have said this figure is lower. Nevertheless, it is normal to see visible signs of faith in public. People wear crosses around their necks, have religious icons in their houses and ritually perform prayers throughout the day, blessing themselves. Some older Russians (women especially) may say ‘Hail Marys’. This involves crossing themselves by using their index and middle finger to touch their forehead, followed by their chest, right shoulder and left shoulder.

 

Traditional Beliefs

Traditional religions are still followed by many Russians. While they are especially common among rural populations, many urbanised intellectuals and working class people also continue to hold beliefs centred around spiritual ideas of the forest, house spirits and healing practices. A number of behavioural prohibitions continue to reflect old beliefs. Some include:

  • You can prevent bad luck by spitting over your left shoulder three times (similar to the idea of knocking on wood). People may imitate the spitting by just saying “tfu-tfu-tfu”.
  • Do not sit down at the corner of a square table if you are not married. Doing so will prevent you from getting married for seven years.
  • If you forget something and must return to collect it, look in a mirror and smile before leaving again. This prevents bad luck.
  • Whistling indoors is thought to summon bad luck and indicate that you will lose all your money soon.
  • Lighting a cigarette from a candle brings bad luck.
  • Pouring wine backhanded implies you will “pour” away your money”.
  • Accidentally spilling salt onto the table brings bad luck.
  • Complimenting children can cause discomfort as it is thought to potentially summon the evil eye.


Tengrism has also experienced a revival in parts of Central Russia. This is a pagan, animistic and shamanic religion originating from the Turkic and Mongol populations of Central Asia.

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Russia
  • Population
    142,355,415
    [July 2016 est.]
  • Languages
    Russian [official] (85.7%)
    Tatar (3.2%)
    Chechen (1.0%)
    Other (10.1%)
    [2010 census]
  • Religions
    Russian Orthodox Christianity (15-20%)
    Islam (10-15%)
    Other Christianity (2%)
    [2006 est.]
    Note: These estimates are of practicing worshipers only. Russia has large populations of non-practicing believers and non-believers.
  • Ethnicities
    Russian (77.7%)
    Tatar (3.7%)
    Ukrainian (1.4%)
    Bashkir (1.1%)
    Chuvash (1%)
    Chechen (1%)
    Other (10.2%)
    Unspecified (3.9%)
    [2010 census]
    Note: There are nearly 200 national and/or ethnic groups are represented in Russia.
  • Cultural Dimensions
    93
    39
    36
    95
    81
    20
  • Australians with Russian Ancestry
    85,657 [2016 census]
Russians in Australia
  • Population
    20,425 [2016 census]
    This figure refers to the number of Australian residents that were born in Russia. However, it should be that there are many people who were born in other republics of the former Soviet Union who also identify as Russian. According to the 2016 census, the number of Russian-speakers in Australia is 50,314.
  • Average Age
    42
  • Gender
    Male (37.3%)
    Female (62.7%)
  • Religion
    Eastern Orthodox Christianity (42.3%)
    No Religion (26.3%)
    Judaism (12.7%)
    Other (14.1%)
    Not Stated (4.5%)
  • Ancestry
    Russian (79.3%)
    Jewish (5.9%)
    Ukrainian (1.7%)
    Other (10.9%)
    Not Stated (2.1%)
  • Language Spoken at Home
    Russian (79.8%)
    English (13.7%)
    Polish (1.2%)
    Greek (0.8%)
    Other (4.5%)
    Of those who speak a language other than English at home, 80.8% speak English fluently.
  • Diaspora
    New South Wales (37.5%)
    Victoria (33.2%)
    Queensland (12.9%)
    South Australia (6.8%)
  • Arrival to Australia
    Prior to 2001 (54.4%)
    2001-2006 (19.8%)
    2007-2011 (21.6%)
Country https://dtbhzdanf36fd.cloudfront.net/countries/138/ru.svg Flag Country Russia