Orthodox clergy during Holy Mass © L'osservatore
Religion is experiencing a new flowering in Eastern and Central Europe. A Pew Research Center study finds a correlation between recovered faith and national identity in the Orthodox world.
In the successor states of the former Soviet Union, religion experienced an unimagined upswing barely 30 years after the imposed atheism. Denominational confession has become an important part of individual and national identity in majority Orthodox countries. This is the finding of a wide-ranging study by the Washington-based Pew Research Center. Basis are surveys in 18 countries of East-Central Europe.
Orthodoxy: religious confession determines national consciousness
The authors of the study were not only interested in religious aspects of everyday life. They also confronted the respondents with questions about democracy, the economy and social ies. The remarkable results show how closely the religious confession among Orthodox Christians determines national consciousness.
This is particularly clear in the former USSR. The percentage of Russians who now call themselves Orthodox Christians is 71 percent. In 1991, just 37 percent identified themselves as Orthodox Christians. The trend was similar in Ukraine and Bulgaria.
The situation is somewhat different in the classical Catholic countries of East-Central Europe. Since the end of socialism, the "catholicity" of societies in Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary has declined somewhat, but is still at a high level.
Mass Attendance – Tradition among Catholics
However, these findings are not reflected in participation in religious rituals. The renaissance of Orthodoxy in the East is not necessarily reflected in increased worship attendance. Only six percent of devout Russians say they attend church at least once a week. Catholics, on the other hand, strongly adhere to the tradition of attending mass on Sundays. Among Poles, 45 percent are weekly churchgoers.
About 70 percent in Orthodox majority countries consider their faith to be particularly important when it comes to the question of national identity. For Catholics, the connection between faith and nation is less important. Almost inevitably, 69 percent of Orthodox Christians consider themselves culturally superior to others – something only 46 percent of Catholics claim for themselves.
Demand for state protection
The actual or perceived proximity of religious affiliation and national identity also affects the question of whether the state should actively promote and financially support the majority religion. Here, too, Orthodox demand significantly more protection by the respective state than Catholics.
Differences also emerge with regard to general questions of democracy and society. Orthodox define themselves more strongly as conservative compared to Catholics. This becomes clear in the stronger rejection of homosexuality. The majority of Orthodox Christians also regard abortion as illegal.
Contradictory acceptance of democracy
According to the Pew study, Catholic abortion opponents are found in lower numbers in East-Central Europe than Orthodox ones. Interesting also this: In the world of the Eastern Church, a larger proportion of people adhere to traditional social and gender norms. For example, the fact that women should obey their husbands.
A striking feature of the post-communist world of the former Soviet Union is also the widespread nostalgia for the then multi-ethnic empire. A visible sign of this is the even greater popularity of Stalin today compared to Mikhail Gorbachev, who is blamed for the end of the USSR.
Acceptance of democracy is correspondingly contradictory. It is not universally appreciated as the best of all forms of government. Considerable proportions of the Orthodox population, according to the study, consider an undemocratic, i.e. authoritarian, government to be better than a pluralistic system of government under certain circumstances.