CIVIL SOCIETY AND CIVIL RELIGION IN RUSSIA:

IMPLICATIONS FOR SOCIAL POLICY

Project Proposal

Pavel Bayov

Background

The concepts of civil society and civil religion are intertwined closely. Moreover, they appear as mutually stipulated phenomena, existing in diachronic relations when one part determines and entails another. One can even say that civil religion, broadly understood as a set of attitudes embracing all social groups in a given society and functioning as a quasi-religious system, may serve as an indicator for the civil or open society. That is, the threat for social openness and plurality or entire lack of such usually means the threat for civil religion or a deficit of such. Regardless of the "civil" character of this system it is not only experiencing constant influence from the side of original religious confessions and denominations, but in fact involves these, relies upon them, and makes use of them in this or that fashion. Thus, the plurality and freedom in ecclesiastical sphere makes possible and ensures the rise and development as of civil religion as of civil society. It is worth to remember in this connection that the First Amendment to the American Constitution concerned just this sphere of social relationships. Certainly, the fathers-founders of the American democracy were aware of this most universal and powerful mechanism for ensuring the democratic shoots.

Seemingly, a danger for just emerging in Russia democratic institutions really exists. But, in the given project, I propose to concentrate not on such almost traditional sources of antidemocratic threat as nationalistic ("right-wing") movements, and authoritarian psychology of the average people. On the contrary, I believe that the real threat to the democratic shoots in Russia comes today, first, from the authoritarian tendencies of the executive which originally was supposed to guarantee the liberal reforms in Russia, and, second, from the ecclesiastical sphere, where one of the main generators of this danger is, unfortunately, the Russian Orthodox Church (its hierarchs, first of all). I dare to say, that the given organization sometimes paradoxically shows bright traces of the Communist legacy, namely xenophobia, having assumed today the form of intolerance towards as "non-traditional" denominations as quite "traditional" ones, within Russia, as well abroad. It is possible to say that regarding all "alien" the ROC aspires to unleash a kind of new Cold War, and to draw new Iron Curtains. The most common argument against the proselytizing efforts of the other confessions, that the ROC makes use of, sounds exactly on a patriarchal manner: "This Land is traditionally our ecumenical territory. Never cross the line!" Thus, the traditional dichotomy "we they", that is intrinsic usually in the underdeveloped societies is revived and being creatively used in today's Russia. It is hard to underestimate in this process the role of the would-be "official" religion. It is evident enough that in the given endeavor this organization too often finds support from the side of national media and the authorities of Russia, both the executive and legislative ones. In this light it is not merely by chance that President Putin clearly and unambiguously demonstrates his religious adherence. I think that if we are condemned to see one day a kind of new authoritarian regime in Russia, would it be a benign or a more rigid one, it inevitably will be engaged with the "most traditional" Church in Russia. In this connection the proposed research should make its feasible contribution to the process of strengthening of Russian democracy, with the primary focus on the sector of religious activity - on the field of expression of your ideas, adherence, world-view, and, more generally, the way of life you consider as most suitable for you. I believe that this sphere is to play the crucial role in saving and developing of young democratic shoots in the Russian society, for a freedom of religious expression is, in my view, prior to any other forms of freedom; in this sphere the people do not play democracy and open society, they simply cannot live in a different form of social organization.

Objectives

I propose to explore the whole structure of social relationships being reproduced in a sample of different churches in Russia. I intend to gather both qualitative and quantitative data on the ideas and values that are spread in Russian society through the religious practices, governmental policy and media, which are shaping future generations. The research questions include: Do these ideas further religious, ethnic, gender, race, and class distinctions? Do they promote tolerance and social equality while supporting aspirations of social harmony? Does any given church reproduce prejudice or kindle a desire to create a society that respects all its groups? Do the religious experiences people have in this or that confession or denomination enhance understanding of "the other" and create a better appreciation of similarities and differences? Or does it produce the opposite effect? What are the efforts in this particular sector which can effectively address the open society deficits inflicting Russian politics and society? Are these efforts successful? How can various stakeholders in this field (churches, NGOs, academe, media) engage the policy sphere in a more inclusive and quitable manner?

This goal is subdivided into the following particular tasks:

            Analysis of a legislation of the Russian Federation regulating the relations in religious sphere, and the actual day-to-day legislative practice concerning this sector;

            Studying the role, significance and the character of social activity of the different churches in Russia since 1985 till our days;

            Analysis of specific features of origin and development of pluralistic religious/social environment in Russia since 1985 till our days;

            Studying the specifics of the authoritarian challenges in this sphere, and the responses of the main stakeholders inside it;

            Analysis of the character of interrelations among the religious communities, federal and local governments, and the broad public in today's Russia; establishing of political, ethnic, racial, and economic connotations of such interrelations;

            Analysis of the participants' images as they are represented in the newspapers, media reports, and mass opinion.

Methodology

Theoretical background: In present research I intend to make use of the ideas formulated by M. Weber regarding the religious activity and its implications for the development of other spheres of a society. I consider also as a crucial for my own approach the concept of "civil religion", developed by R. Bellah, and, later, by A. Shanks. Besides, it should be noted that the spectrum of interactions, which I propose to study, is symbolic to a significant degree. I mean, the character of those interactions, in which the actors of this social field (denominations and confessions, government, media, broad public) participate is determined hugely by the symbolic elements. By these elements are meant: mutual apprehension, perception and apperception, images and concepts, which are dependent ontologically and historically. These elements function both on the conscious and subconscious levels of our mind. In this light, it would be reasonable to attempt to reconstruct such symbolic complexes - vis-à-vis. A methodology of such formal reconstruction is comprised of some statements of the symbolic interactionism (G.H. Mead, H. Blumer), phenomenological sociology (A. Schutz, P. Berger), and the theory of expressive symbolism (T. Parsons).

Settings and participants: As a geographical setting of research will be used Irkutsk, and Irkutsk Region. Eastern Siberia is in a certain sense a unique region of Russia, especially concerning the topic of proposed research. Historically the population of Irkutsk is comprised of many ethnic, racial, and, consequently, religious groups, each of whom on the one hand is eager to preserve its traditions and culture, but, on the other hand, is inseparable part of the whole society. Such a plurality has created rather specific and unique system of social relationships, which one can hardly meet in other parts of Russia. The largest and most influential religious communities in Irkutsk are the Russian Orthodox Church, Buddhism, and Catholicism. Besides, there are rather a large number of adherents of Islam, Judaism, and the Russian Old-Believers. Also, there are a lot of so called "non-traditional" denominations here, from the Christs Church till the Jehovah's Witnesses. That is, an ecclesiastical sphere in Siberia is rather promising for research and policy analysis.

Data collection:

1. Critical analysis of a legislation of the Russian Federation regulating the relations in religious sphere, and legislative practice. (What kind of relations is presupposed in this sphere according to The Law on Freedom of Religion (1997)? What kind of relations actually exists in Russia among authorities, religious communities and the public? What are the criteria a voluntary organization must meet in order to be registered as a church? Are there any impediments in accessibility of church status? If so, what are the main sources and origins of these obstacles?)

2. Analysis of newspapers (local and national). (What were/are the dynamics, volume of attention, and the context of valuation regarding different religious communities, which were/are spread through the media in the USSR/ Russia since 1985 through the nowadays? What kind of images of authority in relation to religion, and of confessions and denominations were/are intrinsic in the Soviet/ Russian society?)

3. Public opinion poll. (What kind of images, and what sort of perception, regarding different religious communities are intrinsic now in different social groups and among the religious communities towards their "counterparts"?)

4. Interview of experts. To these I attribute clergymen, governmental officials, and scholars in the field of religion. (What kind of perception of each other exists among the leaders of different confessions and denominations in Russia? How do they treat the governmental policy in the field of religious relations? How do governmental officials treat different religious communities? What are the most crucial problems in the sphere of religious life in Russia, from the standpoint of academicians? How can a certain church influence on the political decisions? Is the autonomy of churches possible in today's Russia, and if so, what are the advantages and shortcomings of this "independence"?)

Outcomes of research and the audience

As the outcomes of research the following is envisaged:

             A series of articles in Russian as well as international journals, and/or

             A book, devoted to the problems of state-church relations in today's Russian society;

             Policy papers, to provide recommendations to the policy practitioners and developers in the field of religious activity in Russia;

The primary audience of these deliverables consists, first of all, of public policy practitioners, an academic community teachers, administrators, students, and of religious communities. At the same time, given the nature of the issue I consider as crucial an attempt to create the wide public involvement in discussion. Actually, churches can help promote civic education, the rule of law, human rights, and the peaceful resolution of conflicts. Providing there is a reflexive and focused social policy aimed in this direction. The given research is to provide a solid and comprehensive empirical and theoretical background to such an urgently needed in Russia policy.

 

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