MOST Journal on Multicultural Societies, Vol. 2, No. 2
ISSN 1564-4901 © UNESCO, 2001

Religious pluralism and national identity in Russia*

Alexander Agadjanian
Russian Academy of Sciences and Arizona State University
Department of Religious Studies
Arizona State University
Tempe, Arizona 85287


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This article deals with the relationship between the Russian Orthodox religion and Russian national identity in the post-Soviet period. After an introductory historical outline, it addresses a number of questions relating to the issue of religious pluralism. It is argued that the "symbolic capital" of Russian Orthodoxy is incorporated in the "formulas of identity" in a number of different ways depending on their respective social and cultural carrier groups as well as on the "model of nation" to which they refer: civic, ethnic or imperial.


L’article porte sur les relations entre la religion orthodoxe russe et l’identité nationale russe pendant la période post-soviétique. Il comprend, en introduction, une partie historique et aborde les différentes questions liées à celle du pluralisme religieux. Le « capital symbolique » de l’orthodoxie est inclus dans la « formule identitaire » de façons diverses, en fonction des groupes sociaux et culturels, et du modèle de la nation auquel ils se réfèrent : le modèle civique, ethnique ou impérial. 


0. Introduction: contemporary nations and religious identity

0.1 The idea of Russia as an "Orthodox nation" has a long history; it ties in with both official definitions and popular perceptions; it is also at the core of the historical and philosophical debates that have aimed to delimit the geopolitical place of Russia and to understand the essence of "Russianness". Russia is by no means unique in this respect. The religious dimension has always played an important role in the self-determination of peoples and nations. The conflicts of ancient and medieval states were conflicts of gods. Religious traditions frequently determined, in one way or another, how cultures and States were divided and united. In Europe, contemporary nation-states developed on the basis of communities that defined themselves partly in terms of their religious affiliation: Catholic, Protestant or Orthodox. Later, in the twentieth century, Islam, Buddhism and Catholicism have played a key role in the formation and legitimation of the new nations of Asia and Latin America (1).

0.2 However, paradoxically, contemporary nations have developed not only by tying into a particular cultural continuity and a given religious tradition, but also by distancing themselves therefrom. Indeed, the civic values that have come to the fore, based on individual freedoms, presuppose that the new "imagined community" transcends "primordial bonds", including ethnic and religious ones. The nineteenth- and twentieth-century nation, composed of "free citizens" and founded on natural law, embodies religious pluralism as a fundamental principle. Thus, while eighteenth-century France could be described as a "Catholic country", the same designation in the twentieth century points to nothing more than the existence of a tradition or the fact of a quantitative predominance of Catholicism over other religions. The United States in the nineteenth century could by the same token regard itself as a "Protestant nation", whereas by the end of the twentieth century such an association of terms had become practically meaningless. And even in countries where, in one way or another, a State religion still exists (as in Great Britain or Sweden), the nation has, in its contemporary form, progressively lost its religious dimension. In Europe, this is linked not only to the need of managing diversity but also to the decline in the influence of traditional religions as such and to the absolute supremacy of secular principles in the life of nations. Even in India, where religion continues to exert a very great influence, the contemporary nation is thought of as a community transcending any particular faith (or ethnic affiliation) (2).

0.3 The dialectical relationship between the identity of contemporary nations and religion can be defined according to the following parameters:

(a) On the one hand, nations have been formed against the background of a dominant religious tradition that has left its mark on values, institutions and national consciousness; the level of influence exerted has depended on 

(i) the degree of pre-eminence of a given religion over the others; 
(ii) the relationship between the dominant religion and the State (whether or not it enjoys the status of State religion), the degree of dependence of religious institutions on the State); 
(iii) the importance of the link between a given religion and the dominant ethnic group; 
(iv) the level of religious sentiment in the society as a whole, and hence of the nation's need for religious legitimation; 
(b) on the other hand, nations have developed within the framework of a new secular and civic tradition; they have progressively freed themselves from religious determination 
(i) by recognizing religious plurality through the assertion of the principle of individual freedoms and equality on the basis of a new conception of "citizenship", and by acknowledging the pragmatic need to manage the diversity of faiths; 
(ii) through the secularization of political power (even when a religion retained its status of "official" religion); 
(iii) through the general decline of traditional religion.

0.4 Starting from this observation, we can go on to ask ourselves how far the image of the "Orthodox nation" is relevant to the analysis of contemporary Russia. We can try to understand to what extent and in precisely what way Orthodoxy has helped to shape national identity in general, and what are the factors that have worked against this influence. We can attempt to see how far this image and this understanding of the "Orthodox nation" are compatible with the reality of religious plurality.

0.5 The last decade of the twentieth century has seen the emergence of a new situation, opening up multiple choices of social and cultural identity, with the religious dimension becoming only one possibility among many. The 1990s were a period marked by the "free creation of identities", at the level of individuals and communities alike, and by the "invention of traditions". They were also a period in which old and new elites waged a fierce struggle for symbolic hegemony. In these circumstances, as in all systemic crises, religion provided an effective symbolic capital for the construction of new formulas of identity, including that of a "collective national identity", which various elites claimed to express in ideological constructions. Religion, mainly in the form of Eastern Orthodoxy as the dominant, traditional form of Russian religion, proved a potential resource, previously underestimated, for the restoration of the historical continuity interrupted by communism. In reality, the images of this continuity, as we shall see, became increasingly varied, reflecting the overall positions adopted by the participants in the debate (3). We shall examine these issues in an historical perspective before considering the current situation.

1. Religious pluralism in the history of pre-1917 Russia and of the Soviet Union

1.1 Following the Christening of Russia in 988, and in keeping with the Byzantine conception of the "symphony", the political space of the Russian princes, the tsars and the emperors was coterminous with the area "enlightened by the faith". This is how the ideal identity triad of "religion-state-people", based on the Eastern Christian tradition, originally came into being. The idea of Holy Russia was gradually forged from cultural oppositions: opposition to the "Muhammedan" Tatars, to the "Latins" of the West, to pagan tribes (during the expansion of the Empire), to Jews (especially following the annexation of Poland at the end of the eighteenth century), etc. However, the idea of Holy Russia maintained an ambiguous relationship with Russian ethnicity. On the one hand, it was based on Christian meta-ethnic universalism, on a belief in the "catholic" (universal) mission of the Russian imperium — a mission that had devolved upon Russia after the fall of Constantinople (such a universalist mission, and such supra-ethnicity, were also the attributes of the Holy Roman Empire) (Averintsev, 1989). On the other hand, we witness a gradual merging of two dimensions of "Russianess" — religious and ethnic: the fact that the description "others" applied indifferently to persons of foreign origin [inorodtsy] and people of other religions [inovertsy] is the negative reflection of the "Orthodoxy"/"Russian" duo; broadly speaking, Christianization corresponded at that time to Russification (4). The Orthodox Church was very soon transformed into an autocephalous "national" institution (at least from the introduction of the Patriarchate in1589), while still retaining its universalist claims. In short, there came into being in Russia a whole system of cultural and legal norms, whereby adherence to Orthodoxy was accorded full civic value.

1.2 The provisions of the Code of Laws of 1832, modified in the Code of Laws of 1906, affirm the pre-eminence of the "Eastern Orthodox Church" (see Article 40 of the Code of 1832 or Article 63 of the Code of 1906); the autocrat in power was duty bound to belong to this Church alone (Articles 41 and 63); in accordance with Byzantine tradition, "he is, as Christian sovereign, the supreme protector and guardian of the right faith piety in the Holy Church" (Articles 42 and 64) (cited by Smolic, 1996-1997, I, 120-1, 128). The Holy Synod, the supreme organ of the Church since 1721, was then part of the State apparatus, whereas, at least from the 1830s on, other religions became the specific responsibility of the special bodies within the Ministry of the Interior.The policy as regards persons of other religions (inovertsy) consisted in returning them to the fold of Orthodoxy, whereas calling upon Orthodox believers to convert to another religion was regarded as proselytism and was strictly forbidden (this rule was introduced in the decree on religious tolerance of Peter I in 1702, and has never in fact been rescinded). The institution of marriage remained under the control of the Orthodox Church, and legal restrictions were placed on marriages contracted with believers of other creeds.

1.3 At the same time, a series of historical events and processes cast doubt on the idea of "Orthodox Russia". The first serious blow to this idea was the seventeenth-century Schism (Raskol), and a second came with the rise of religious sects and spiritual movements among both the elites and working classes in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries (5). The religious (as well as ethnic) diversity of the Empire became increasingly obvious. The domination of Western Christian theology and religious training in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries emerged as a major challenge to the Eastern Christian tradition (Florovsky, 1937). The political orientations of the tsars and governments began to change, too: while all the Romanovs stressed to varying degrees their Orthodox identity, more tolerant attitudes were adopted to "other believers" from the reign of Peter the Great onwards, a development that could be taken as de facto recognition of religious diversity within the territory of the expanding Empire. This pragmatic recognition of religious diversity was linked to the liberal and secular ideas then entering the country, ideas that would ultimately be embodied in ideological changes and in legislation, as attested by the Manifesto on the Strengthening of the Principles of Religious Tolerance of 1905. At that time, Russia was becoming an empire as diverse as the Hapsburg or Ottoman Empires, characterized by processes of secularization, with the result that the identification of national consciousness with Orthodoxy no longer appeared so obvious (6). A strong secular current developed, from A. Herzen to P. Miliukov, openly contesting any kind of religious determination of the Russian national consciousness. This current initially coincided with trends towards Westernization, and subsequently encompassed large sections of the intelligentsia, which wavered between a moderate, liberal-style agnosticism and radical anti-religious nihilism (of which Marxism was in part the culmination).

1.4 Nevertheless, there remained within the framework of the synodal system — in which the Church formed part of the State apparatus — an "official" orthodoxy (in the person of the Chief Procurator of the Holy Synod, K. Pobiedonostsev in 1880-1905), close to the "cognitive" orthodoxy of the ecclesial hierarchy (7), which reacted to the pluralization of society with pragmatic concessions while maintaining an invariably hard line for the preservation of the "Orthodox nation". At the same time, major historical and philosophical debates became in the nineteenth and early twentieth century nothing short of intellectual laboratories of Russian identity, intent on constructing a "Russian idea" with the aim of restoring (and in reality inventing) the integral image of Russia, in order to alleviate the crisis and fragmentation to which it was subject and to nurture to some degree the new current of nationalism — along the lines of the nationalism taking shape at that time in Europe. The ideologues of the "Russian idea" restored the myth of Holy Russia (which resurfaced also in its official version) and proclaimed Orthodoxy as the cornerstone of Russian identity (8). In so doing, they fashioned a new kind of speculative Orthodoxy, which became a philosophical and mythological abstraction, lending itself to all manner of interpretations; romantic-Slavophile (I. Kireyevsky, A. Khomyakov), theocratic ecumenical (V. Solovyev), nationalistic (F. Dostoyevsky, K. Leontiev), liberal-conservative (B. Chicherin, N. Berdyayev, S. Frank and others). Later, in the 1920s, the Eurasionist movement, an important philosophical and ideological tendency, integrated Russian Orthodoxy into a composite Slav-Turkish formula of identity, linked to the idea of empire (P. Savitsky, N. Trubetskoy and others).

1.5 Thus, even though the evolution in this domain remains ambivalent, one observes, from Peter the Great to the Revolution, a certain secularization and a gradual decline in the influence of Orthodoxy on society and the State — a trend largely determined by two factors: a growing diversity of faiths (linked in part to ethnic diversity) and the development of a secular current of thought, particularly within the liberal movement. This trend did not however prevent a whole series of legal privileges from remaining in force (9). It was with the Revolution, in particular the Decree of Sovnarkom "on freedom of conscience, religious and ecclesial societies" from 20 January 1918, that the Orthodox Church became separated from the State (Art. 1) and that "all forfeitures of right linked to a religious affiliation of any kind or to the absence of religious affiliation" (Art. 3) were abolished. So it was that all the debates on "Russian Orthodox identity" seemed to come to an end (10).

1.6 Although the Bolshevik regime endeavoured, in a paradoxical and extreme manner, to embody certain elements of "Holy Russia" (the existence of a "symbol of the faith", a doctrine of the chosen "Soviet people", a messianism commensurate with the new empire, a series of pseudo-religious rituals, etc.), the break with tradition was nonetheless radical in two respects: Orthodoxy and "Rus" were both rejected. An important shift nevertheless took place during the Second World War: the idea of Orthodox identity was included in official propaganda for purposes of mobilization, and the regime even went so far as to restore the Patriarchate in 1943. This is implicit proof of a certain persistence in the Russian mind, despite the years of antireligious indoctrination, of the archetype of the "Orthodox nation". And it is interesting to note that, at the same time that it officially accepted Orthodoxy, the regime began to exalt Russian national culture and traditions, thus rehabilitating the old "Russian-Orthodox" duo. To be sure, this shift in doctrine was at odds with "internationalism" and with the concept of the "Soviet people". In the course of time, the ideological rhetoric began to exhibit a tendency to consider ethnic Russians (representing scarcely more than half the population of the Union) as the main standard-bearers of the "international idea" and, more generally, of the communist project (11). Veiled Russian nationalism and the half-concealed cult of the Orthodox heritage persisted alongside the official discourse on internationalism, and up to the end of the 1980s was part of the symbolism of the regime in power (12).

1.7 "Semi-official", ethnically determined Orthodoxy had an essentially decorative significance, and was not linked to any significant rebirth of religious sentiment; post-war religious practice remained, as previously, alien to the Soviet habitus and incompatible with the history of the "ordinary Soviet man". In a prevailing nonreligious context, religious affiliation was a wholly marginal phenomenon. The religious revival of the 1970s in urban areas (mainly Moscow and Leningrad) was very limited, and occurred, it must be stressed, quite unrelated to any ethnic identity, in mostly cosmopolitan groups.

1.8 The decline in religious practice concerned not only Orthodoxy but also all the other faiths whose activities were strictly controlled by the government. But it is important to note that Orthodoxy alone, among all the faiths scattered throughout the empire, enjoyed the ambiguous protection described above. The Christian Churches of the Republics that did not come under the jurisdiction of the Moscow Patriarchate (Georgia, Armenia and the Baltic countries), while retaining a symbolic capital, never enjoyed such protection, either at the central or the local level. The same was true of Islam (in the Caucasus, in Central Asia and in the Volga region) and of Buddhism (in Buryatia, Tuva and Kalmykia). The Old Believers and so-called sects (including those of the Protestant persuasion) found themselves, as in the Russia of the tsars, on the fringes or beyond of legal existence. The effect was to reproduce in part a pre-Revolutionary type of "religious pluralism", with a dominant faith that stood quite apart from the others and was recognized as having a symbolic link with the dominant ethnic consciousness in the Empire. And the clearest evidence of this may be seen to be the national celebrations that took place in 1988 to mark the millennium of the Christianization of Russia.

2. The problem of the nation and of religious pluralism in post-Soviet Russia

2.1 The rapid dislocation of the Union and of the Communist regime was accompanied by a major crisis of identity and the search for new points of reference. The young nations then wavered between ethnic nationalism and civic nationalism, between "traditional" self-determination and "modern" self-determination. To be sure, ethno-nationalism emerged as the force that caused the break-up of the Union, and provided the social cement for the new countries. But the anti-Communist "democratic project" also imposed recognition of "universal values", of pluralism and of individual and communal freedoms. The old question then arose of how far ethnic rationales were compatible with modernity, how a dominant ethnic group could fit into a "modern society", particularly a plural society, how its capacities for social consolidation could be used and how, at the same time, its potential of particularism and anti-liberal feeling could be neutralized.

2.2 The religious question arose in the same terms. The cultural capital of religion was initially turned to active account in the democratic (anti-Communist) movement. But it subsequently found itself caught between the rationales of a growing ethno-nationalism, requiring added religious legitimation, and the need to construct a modern pluralistic society. Because of the low incidence of religious belief and practice, the lesser development of specifically religious culture, and because religion had long survived in an "ethnographic ghetto", the revival of religious identity in all its post-Soviet scope was no more than a manifestation, or a feature, of a rebirth of ethnic identity. However, in relatively homogenous societies such as Catholic Lithuania or Armenia, the "national" religion could be seen as a significant force for symbolic consolidation. At the same time, relatively heterogeneous countries had to introduce a system of "diversity management", that corresponded not only to purely pragmatic objectives but also to the liberal image of religion as a "spiritual force" for anti-totalitarian emancipation. Ukraine proves to be a complex example, involving an attempt by the nation and the political regime to find a balance between two kinds of religious legitimation: on the one hand, displaying evidence of a specific ethno-religious consciousness (by placing the emphasis on the Graeco-Catholic Church or autocephalous Orthodoxy, as opposed to the Orthodox Church under the jurisdiction of the Moscow Patriarchate), and on the other, through a policy of religious plurality, ensuring the democratic orientation of the country while reducing the likelihood of conflicts (13).

2.3 Of all the post-Soviet countries, Russia stands out clearly as an even more complex instance of the relationship between secularism and the assertion of religious identity. From the start of perestroika, and in particular following the official celebrations in 1988, religion (up to then quite irrespective of creed or affiliation) figured in liberal, anti-communist rhetoric as a symbolic alternative opening the way to a rediscovery of universal values. In this context, religion thus conferred legitimacy on a certain democratic myth, which itself presupposed a secular social model and absolute religious pluralism. This model corresponded also, in a pragmatic way, to the existence of a diversity of faiths. Totally new in Russian history, the model was enshrined in the new legislation of 1990.

2.4 However, this model was from the outset contested, being regarded as utopian and not in keeping with Russian traditions and specificities by those who attached major importance to the ethnic and religious dimension of national identity. Opposition to the civic model grew stronger during the 1990s and was reflected in trends in local and federal legislation (14). In public debates, which indeed were sometimes somewhat reminiscent of pre-revolutionary discussions or those held by emigrants on the "destiny of Russia", the old idea of the "Orthodox nation" and even that of "Holy Russia" reappeared, among other variants of national identity.

2.5 Three important factors converge in this process: the State is in search of legitimation, the Orthodox Church seeks to reassert its pre-eminence, and society is in search of forms of social and cultural identity.

2.6 Although the liberal elite exerted for a certain period a decisive influence on politics in post-Soviet Russia, the State apparatus as a whole — particularly the army and the other ministries concerned with law and order, and above all in the provinces — maintained its conservative stance and showed itself disinclined to accept the pluralist civic model. The semi-official nationalism of the Soviet era maintained its hold; moreover, irrespective of any adherence or opposition to liberalism, this trend was largely dictated by pragmatic considerations, new forms of legitimation being sought, while those associated with anti-Communism, "market reforms" and "democracy" gradually lost their mobilizing power. The governing elite could no longer ignore the fact that ethnic Russians made up over 80% of the total population of the new Russia (15), and that an almost equally overwhelming majority affirmed its adherence to Orthodoxy — at least in the cultural sense of the term. The pre-revolutionary model of a "national faith" and of limited pluralism (even if, as distinct from the Russia of the tsars, it coexisted with a secular principle of nation-state building) seemed to the State both natural and appropriate (16).

2.7 The Russian Orthodox Church, fully aware of its clear pre-eminence, equally naturally regarded itself as the sole interpreter of the national historical tradition and as the essential vehicle of the new, post-Soviet Russian identity. The Moscow Patriarchate, which would seem to be a conservative organization not only by tradition and nature but also because of its forced social isolation during the Soviet era, has tried simultaneously to discover a new modus vivendi within the context of a secularized society and to restore, at least in some respects, the pre-revolutionary variant of a limited pluralism, bestowing on Orthodoxy the status of "dominant religion". The idea of a "canonical territory" of Russian Orthodoxy, corresponding more or less to the area covered by the former empire, has provided the basis for the attacks directed by the Patriarchate against foreign missions and the other Orthodox denominations and sects, in a manner wholly reminiscent of the bans on evangelism and the anti-sect legislation of pre-Revolutionary days (17). And it is the rapprochement between Church and State, in line with the classical model, that has appeared to be the guarantee of this pre-eminence. At the same time, the model of an "established" State Church has been rejected in favour of the old conception of the "symphony" (of Church and State), which can be interpreted as a flexible form of cooperation situated midway between total dependence, based on the synodal model, and total independence along the lines of the secular model (18).

2.8 Let us now turn to the third factor — central to our argument — namely, the problem of the search for a new national identity. Russian society was plainly suffering from a lack of the symbolic resources required to forge its identity: communist or liberal values, despite their clear opposition, were confined to close-knit, relatively limited sections of society. It was the growth of ethnic awareness that characterized the majority of the population during the 1990s. This trend represented the continuation of what had been observed at the end of the Soviet period, albeit in a more diffuse, veiled manner (cf. Tishkov 1997; Byzov 1996, 47). The new stress placed on the ethno-cultural dimension of Russianness represented moreover a reaction against the anti-Russian character of most of the post-Soviet forms of ethno-nationalism, and against the precarious situation of the Russian ethnic minorities (both within the Russian Federation and in the independent New States). This somewhat late — compared with others — emergence of Russian ethnocentrism is not a matter of chance: initially, the Russians had to overcome their consciousness of being an imperial metropolis, and re-evaluate the disappeared Union (as well as the Russia of the Romanovs) as an ethno-Russian polity par excellence. The self-appellation "rossianin", which seemed a felicitous innovation and corresponded to a "European" type of national identity, fairly quickly gave way to the ethnic self-appellation "russkui" (19).

2.9 It is against the background of a shift in Russian identity, from the imperial meta-ethnic to the ethnic pure and simple, that the pattern of religious self-determination is becoming transformed. Orthodoxy is increasingly seen as a complementary source of ethnic affirmation, as the Russian ethnic religion. Consequently, and insofar as the new Nation-State is widely perceived as the "nation of the Russian ethnos", identification with Orthodoxy constitutes another mode of national macro-identity. Thus we find that, in response to a question on "religious affiliation" in an enquiry conducted in areas where ethnic Russians are in the majority, 75% of those questioned replied that they were Orthodox (whereas the choice of answers included the option "I do not belong to any religion"). It goes without saying that this figure in no way reflects the level of religious practice, inasmuch as only 40% of people in the same sample (admittedly in response to another question) considered themselves "believers", and only some 6% went to church not less than once a month (Kaariaïnen and Furman 2000a, 38-39). Clearly, this figure of 75% indicates that Orthodoxy serves rather, in this case, as a symbol of ethnic consciousness (and to a much lesser degree as a normative value) (20). This is why it is considered that Orthodoxy, as the national religion of Russians, forms part of the national identity (21).We shall now consider how this idea was reflected in the public debates of the 1990s.

3. Models of nationhood and formulas of identity in the public debates of the 1990s

3.1 Summing up the results of a competition published in the highly official Rossijskaya Gazeta for the forging of a new conception of the nation, the commentator came to the conclusion that Orthodoxy was at the basis of all the projects submitted (22). However, it would be incorrect to say that there was no exception to this rule. Moreover, the level and mode of participation of Orthodoxy in the "formula of identity" can vary considerably depending on the "model of nationhood" adopted as a reference point.

3.2. There exist, although overlapping and fluid, three major models of the nation that are at stake in Russian debates: the civic, the ethnic and the imperial (see Figure 1). 

Figure 1: Formulas of identity within the discursive space of Russian public debates

Explanation: This figure maps out the discursive space of formulas of identity (ovals) by distinguishing their underlying models of nationhood and their degree of religious references. In addition it highlights the emphasis on the State inherent to the respective formulas of identity (shadowed ovals).

The model of the civic, or European, nation prevailed in the anti-Communist ideology of the end of the 1980s, and Orthodoxy was at that time virtually ignored in the new "formula of identity". This trend formed part of the legacy of the Constitutional Democratic party dating from the beginning of the twentieth century, to which was added the influence of the 1960s intelligentsia, shaped by Soviet atheism and generated by the thaw of the Khrushchev era. If mention was made of religion at that time, it was simply in order to affirm (irrespective of any denominational or historical expression) the "universal values of democracy", Orthodoxy in its concrete and historical form being rather in contradiction with this kind of religion. The model of religious pluralism of the early 1990s enjoyed indirect social support as a result of the largely secularized character of the population and the anti-totalitarian and, above all, anti-dogmatic spirit then dominating Russian society. In this context, Orthodoxy was still perceived as an "ideology" and as a "totalitarian dogma" whose relevance to the "new Russia" was strenuously denied.

3.3 More than ten years later, that state of mind has not disappeared, but its importance has diminished; the secularized "formula of identity" has progressively proven less and less in tune with society's expectations (while the legislative model regulating the religious sphere has also undergone change). The secular position has accordingly assumed an increasingly defensive form, consisting of warnings against the "threat of clericalism", against the danger of restoring of the "symphony" (i.e. State religion) in any form whatsoever and against the hidden resemblance between Communism and Orthodoxy, seen in both cases as forms of the Russian national ideology (23).

3.4 With the passage of time, many supporters of the "European nation", influenced by this general revival of interest in "Russian specificity" (24), have gradually distanced themselves from thoroughgoing secularism and have tried to integrate religion, in one way or another, into their "formula of identity". As a result, we find ourselves reading speculations on the subject of "spiritual and social harmony" or on the "crucial role of religious denominations" (but once again without any specific reference) (Skrypnik 1997, 34-35). Society - according to the participants in a round table on religion and society in contemporary Russia (NG-Religii 1998, No. 1) - needs a "vertical dimension of the sacred", a "shared concept of civilization". Some speak of Christianity (rather than Orthodoxy): the national idea cannot be other than Christian, declared the leader of the Russian Christian Union (Nezavisimaja Gazeta 1996, 11 December). It would thus seem possible to distinguish a specific Christian "formula of identity". Although this current is by and large a continuation of the liberal-conservative line developed by the Russian religious philosophers of the beginning of the last century, some important divisions are apparent: alongside the Christian democrats, who are truly liberal in the Western sense of the term and are generally open to ecumenism (25), another more conservative strand declares that, in accord with Western democratic traditions (and not in opposition to them), Russia should choose Orthodoxy as its symbolic foundation insofar as it is the religion of the majority (NG-Religii 1997, No. 11). Thus it is claimed that the project to build a civil society (i.e. a Western-type liberal society) "has failed" in Russia, and that the country should "develop organically" (that is to say, basing itself on Orthodoxy and other national traditions) (26). The "Orthodox intelligentsia" is therefore encouraged to create a political movement that is "attuned to Russian civilization", and "Orthodox journalists" are urged to "prepare society for the adoption of a truly Orthodox Weltanschauung" NG-Religii 1988, No. 1; 2000, No. 5). As one publicist has written, this tendency can be defined as a "liberal-conservative synthesis" - an ideology that is "pluralist and secular", but "Orthodox in its content" (27).

3.5 As can be seen from these different quotations, the ideological spectrum is very broad, the positions held varying in accordance with the meaning given to "Orthodoxy", namely, to what extent Orthodoxy is "ecumenical", that is to say, more or less receptive to a global Christian paradigm. Generally speaking, one is close to the "speculative" Orthodoxy of the pre- and post-Revolutionary debates, characterized by a relative degree of flexibility in dealing with a changing social and cultural reality. Nevertheless, religious pluralism already appears problematic in this context, given the tendency to develop Orthodoxy "in all its fullness" (which places in jeopardy the secular principle) and having regard to the somewhat ambiguous situation in which the other denominations then find themselves.

3.6 If, moving through this spectrum, we step back from the model of the "civic" nation, we approach a model of a quite different kind: the ethnic Russian model. As we have seen above, it gradually comes to occupy the centre stage. This model includes Orthodoxy as one of its key components in its "formula of identity". But here again we are dealing with a broad spectrum and a number of variants. The ethnic model, in principle, can be conceived, similar to the civic model, without an obvious religious component: some adherents of the strong Russian ethno-centric state are, to use Max Weber's phrase, "religiously unmusical". However, the ethnic accent naturally requires a more clear religious overtone. The stress is here placed on the reconstruction of the archetypes of "Russian Orthodoxy" and of "Orthodox Russia". I. Ekonomtsev, for example, puts forward the idea that the (Orthodox) religious element is a "ferment of ethnogenesis", and that the Orthodox Church is the "leaven of ethnogenesis" (Ekonomtsev 1991, 536-7). In the same area, albeit with quite different overtones, A. Solzhenitsyn, in his writings in the 1990s, criticized contemporary atheism and, taking up Slavophile arguments, called for a local form of democracy based on the revival of the Russian zemstvos and for a very specific national isolationism (28). Close to the position of Solzhenitsyn, A. Saveliev developed a more radical and overtly religious programme for an "Orthodox civic movement", calling for the "restoration of the historic heritage of the Russian way of life" and for a "spiritual nationalism" (NG-Religii 1998, No. 1). Another position, comparable to that of Solzhenitsyn but stripped of all democratic rhetoric, is that of the inheritors of the semi-official strain of "literary nationalism" dating from the Soviet period (to be found, for example, in the reviews Nash sovremennik and Molodaia gvardiia), marked by a nostalgia for a traditional, popular and Orthodox way of life, in line with the tradition of I. Kirievsky and tending likewise towards Slavophilia (29).

3.7 Close to these traditionalist currents, one finds a very large group of Orthodox organizations, such as the Sretensky (Hypapante) Monastery, the Radonezh brotherhood, and news agencies and publishing houses such as "The Russian House" or "The Russian Messenger", which are much more ideologically and politically active; the focus of their concerns is not so much the shaping of national identity as such as the question of the construction of the Russian Orthodox State. Historically, this position is close to the integralist stance of the official synodal orthodoxy of the nineteenth century. The influence of this group and the impact of its views on public opinion continued to grow throughout the 1990s (30). Close to this group, one finds the "Union for the Moral Rebirth of the Motherland", which calls for an Orthodox State in the form of a classical Russian monarchy — and in that form and no other. Others, such as V. Aksyuchits, place even greater stress on the statist dimension of the "formula of identity", speaking of an "Orthodox cosmism" and of a "spirituality" that can be promoted only by a strongly authoritarian State (31).

3.8 In the context of this ethnic model of nationhood, one finds a number of other variants that introduce a religious component into their "formula of identity". One of them (which became somewhat fashionable at the end of the 1990s) focuses on the Old Believers as the authentic expression of "Holy Russia" (32). Another stresses the idea of Slav Orthodox unity, with direct references to the tradition of Tyutchev and Dostoyevsky; its impact on public opinion was particularly great after the war in Bosnia and Kosovo (33). Close to this Slav idea is the broadly acknowledged position of Solzhenitsyn on the natural union of the "three fraternal peoples" (Russian, Ukrainian and Byelorussian). And this ethnic model is also shared by part of the new Russian Communists, who replace classical Marxist internationalism and atheism with a Russian nationalism tinged with egalitarianism and authoritarianism (34).

3.9 There can be no doubt that all the ideological positions represented on this ethno-nationalist spectrum are at variance with the model of religious pluralism: Orthodoxy is seen as the sole expression of Russianness, and it is the State's role to strengthen these reciprocal links, and even to be their embodiment, the missing element, the third in fact, in the classic trilogy "people-religion-power". The other denominations appear to be naturally somewhat superfluous in this scheme of things. Some articles make a point of underlining the fact: "The idea of a religious free market, which was unfortunately enshrined as the cornerstone of the 'Law on Freedom of Conscience' of 1990, has from the start been in total contradiction with the historical specificity of Russia and with the interests of the spiritual and moral health of its people" (35). One Church hierarch has raised his voice in even stronger condemnation: "The honeyed lie of 'pluralism' and 'freedom' (understood as moral arbiter and as libertarian worldview) conceals within itself a deadly poison that destroys the spirit of conciliarism (sobornost') of the Russian people as well as the power of the State" (Ioann 1994, 5-6). 

3.10 If we move even further along the ethno-nationalist spectrum, we arrive at more authoritarian statist formulas of identity (they may be termed "ethnarchic"), and we pass imperceptibly into the realm of the third model — one dominated by the concept of empire-state (36). We have seen previously how, in certain writings, the ethnic conception of the nation is not easily contained within the context of an isolated "Russianness", how the nation constantly conceived itself as transcending strictly Russian ethnic frontiers; in the same way, Orthodoxy, as it becomes, within the classic triad, the religion "of the Russian people constituting itself as a State" (V. Aksyuchits), tends to metamorphose, like the Russia of the Romanovs, into a religion whose scope is coterminous with the area of domination of the Russian ethnos. By the same token, the old messianic argument is strengthened, legitimating Russian ethnic domination.

3.11 The links with the imperium here appear as essential element. When Russian identity is associated with Old Believer currents that claim to transcend any State, there is no possibility of any imperial claim taking shape; on the other hand, when one speaks, for example, of Eastern Slav unity (with Ukraine and Belarus), the imperial archetype dictates that Russian Orthodoxy should be seen as constituting, by its nature, "the spiritual centre of many ethnic groups and peoples" (37), which corresponds to what the hierarchy of the Russian Orthodox Church calls its "canonical territory". It is interesting to note that whereas the Russian State has renounced its imperial claims beyond its internationally recognized territorial limits, the Russian Orthodox Church, by virtue of its "meta-ethnicity" and its "extraterritoriality" within the boundaries of the old empire, is becoming a kind of imprint of the imperial tradition, a witness to its break-up, that is to say, in some of its more extreme expressions, a reminder to the State of its lost imperial power (38).

3.12 One thus observes in discussions on Russian identity an interesting turnaround in public opinion, involving a swing from an imperial outlook to ethnocentrism and then back to the former outlook; more specifically, one sees how Russian ethnocentrism itself engenders imperial claims that are legitimized by religion (39).

3.13 How, in the context of the imperial variant of the model of nationhood, can the issue of denominational and ethnic diversity be resolved? One solution is provided by the concept of Eurasia. This "formula of identity" revives to some point the ideas of the Eurasianist movement of the 1920s, and also make an attempt to incorporate Turkic-Muslim minorities. This is a peculiarly imperial, resolutely anti-Western formula. The Opposition to the West becomes increasingly marked as one moves further from the "European" model and culminates in Eurasianism. In the religious sphere, Neo-Eurasianism proposes a rapprochement between Orthodoxy and Islam, taking up the thesis of the early Eurasianists on the spiritual proximity of the two religions and developing the idea of the uniqueness of their union (40). The framework of the Muslim-Orthodox and Slavo-Turkish union can be extended to all the other ethnic groups and faiths of Eurasia. V. Aksyuchits thus gives the title of "Russian nation" to the "political and spiritual gathering (sobor) of the Russian peoples, whose core is represented by the strategic union of the Slav and Turkish peoples, of the Orthodox and Islamic civilizations" (NG-Religii 1996, 23 July). The theoretician of culture, A. Panarin, writes of a synthesis of the "great monotheistic traditions" in a future Eurasian State (41). The occultist philosopher A. Dugin contrasts Atlantic civilization (meaning Western civilization) with the Eurasian empire in which is achieved the "Slav Christian destiny", and puts forward the idea of a "typological resemblance" between Orthodoxy and "fatalistic, anti-individualistic Islam" (Dugin 1997). At the same time, E. Stroyev, President of the Upper Chamber of the Federal Assembly, the third-ranking member of the Russian constitutional hierarchy, speaks of Russia as "the core of Eurasian civilization, the point of anchorage of the unique synthesis of Eastern Christendom and Islam" (42). Thus Neo-Eurasianism likewise represents a vast spectrum, one that does not however correspond entirely to the spectrum of the ethno-nationalists, who have imperial pretensions.

3.14 Another "formula of identity" of the Russian ethnos, less significant but no less noteworthy, is that of the pagans who either reject "cold Byzantine Christianity" in favour of a return to the pre-Christian "Indo-Aryan cultural substratum" or who regard Russian Orthodoxy as a particular manifestation of Russian paganism (43). The pagan groups and movements may focus on their common European roots or proclaim a "pure" Russian ethno-nationalism, but in most cases they show similarities with the Eurasianist groups inasmuch as Russian ethnic identity absorbs, in their ways of thinking, other cultures to be found on the vast expanse of the continent: Islam and Buddhism may quite simply be regarded as two branches of the Russian ("Vedic") religion (Kandyba 1996, 212). Like Eurasianism, paganism in its most ideological forms links national culture to the categories of empire (44). The ambiguous attitude of the "neo-pagans" towards Christianity, their anti-liberalism and their anti-Semitism mean that their views are unlikely to coincide with the principle of religious pluralism.

3.15 Eurasianism is rejected by another section of Russian ethno-nationalists who fear the growth of Islamic fundamentalism in Russia, who speak of the "Muslim threat" — for example, with regard to the aspirations of the Wahhabis to integrate themselves into the "very heart of Russian civilization" — or who readily agree with R. Karadjic in asserting that the main confrontation in the war in Bosnia "lies in the spiritual field … between Islamic expansionism and the Orthodox faith" (45). Finally, Eurasianism is also rejected by those who believe that it encourages expansionist ambitions of the Turkic elites throughout Eurasia (46). "Russian power" (derzhava) is brutally confronted not only in the West, but also in the East, and here the rupture with Eurasianism becomes striking. However, despite this important difference on the question of Islam, it is often difficult to draw a line between Russian ethno-centric imperialism and Eurasianism on a whole series of other issues: they both link the "formula of identity" to a strong, imperial-style State, to "traditionalism" (as opposed to the liberal western model) and, finally, to some or other form of "ideocracy", i.e., to the predominance of a particular "national idea" having "official" backing and a religious stamp.

3.16 The official Social Doctrine of the Russian Orthodox Church that has been developed since 1994 and was approved by the Council of the Church in August 2000 deals with questions of identity in Chapter II entitled "The Church and the Nation". The Doctrine seeks to achieve a balance, maintaining its distance from both virulent Orthodox nationalism (very severely criticized (47)) and from secular positions. While reaffirming the foundations of Christian universalism on the basis of well-known quotations from the New Testament, the Doctrine stresses the idea of a national Christian culture, of a national Christian "identity and expression", and of "Christian patriotism", all deeply rooted in a particular Fatherland. In conclusion, the doctrine states: "when a nation, in civic or ethnic terms, is fully or mainly a mono-confessional Orthodox community, it may, in a certain sense, be regarded as a community united by faith — as an Orthodox people". Here, despite an attempt to put forward a moderate point of view by confusing the terms "ethnic" and "civic", and through the use of the expression "in a certain sense", the idea of an ethnocentric Orthodox identity tending to be extended to the whole of the Russian nation seems to predominate (48).

4. A hierarchical pluralism of religions

4.1 The three factors in question (the State in search of legitimacy, the Orthodox Church in search of pre-eminence, and society in search of social and cultural identities) have worked in one and the same direction: the trend towards religious pluralism that emerged at the beginning of the 1990s, stemming from a basic indifference on the part of the new nation towards any form of denominational determinism, was replaced towards the end of the decade by a much more complex and unstable hierarchical organization of religions, instituted by the new law of 1997 and by social practice. This hierarchy represented a compromise between various positions, but was mainly the result of deeper processes at work within Russian society. The religious policy of the State has indeed evolved: whereas at the beginning of the 1990s it might have seemed that the complete equality of religions was the best means "of managing diversity", a decade or so later the policy has shifted in favour of a hierarchy of religions (see Figure 2).

Figure 2: The hierarchy of religions: a scale of national identity as reconstructed from public discourse.

[On this hierarchy, professor Agadjanian did not specifically show the old Russian religious movements, the Molokan and Doukhobor sects. It is not clear as to where to put them. In church politics they are at the bottom of the list. They are heretics according to the Russian Orthodox Church worse than "Occultism and Paganism" without religion, damned to hell. But Molokans and Doukhobors consider themselves to be among the "Non-Orthodox Christians", and in many territories of Russia, they are given that respect. But in Moscow, Molokans and other non-Orthodox religions have not been able to get land for churches which is legally guaranteed for them. See: "Moscow Mayor Cheats Molokan Church".]

4.2 Let us rapidly examine this hierarchy. It would seem that there has been a gradual return to the pre-revolutionary binary hierarchy, which drew a distinction between the inorodtsy and the inovertsy, although nowadays other terms are employed ("national minorities", "peoples of Russia", "other faiths") and the context is different (as a result of the general decline in the influence of religion). In any event, a certain affinity between ethnicity and religious faith is now generally acknowledged. The division into two groups — "traditional faiths" and "other faiths", a form of limited pluralism — is a new phenomenon in the hierarchization of religions. Each of the two groups is in turn subdivided. This dual and multi-layered classification would seem in fact to reflect the varying degrees of proximity of religious identities to what is regarded as the true Russian identity; it mirrors not only changes in public opinion, but also the debates described above.

4.3 The "traditional faiths" are classified in the following order: Orthodoxy, as the dominant religion, the historic religion of the Russians and the religion closest to the new "formula of national identity", comes first. It is followed by Islam and Buddhism, which are linked to specific peoples, but partly included in the "formula of identity" through the concept of Eurasianism (49). Then comes Judaism, which is a little lower still in the hierarchy, but present in the "formula of identity" as an isolated element (50). Further on, we find other Christian denominations: Roman Catholics and Protestants (but only the established Protestant churches); according to the former system of classification they are the denominations that are regarded as non-Slav and not really wholly Russian, and which have to justify their place in the new "formula of identity" in the face of the public rhetoric that is overall unfavourable towards them (51).

4.4 A second group covers the "other faiths" or "sects" and includes some of the Protestant denominations and the new religious movements. These groups have been refused recognition as "traditional" and are, therefore, deprived of some degree of historical legitimacy. Even though the sects have always been part of Russian religious life, they have always symbolized heterodoxy and dissidence and have remained outside the law. Likewise, under the current legislation, they are by definition deprived of certain rights, although they are not prohibited. The sects may be subdivided according to their degree of exclusivity, their structure and their origin — whether of Russian origin or Western (and in some cases Eastern) origin. The published texts describe them as "destructive" and "totalitarian" (these terms are used in a wider sense than, for example, in other European countries) (cf. the fairly long list in Novye religioznye organizacii 1997); and their ordering within this second group is based on the extent to which the religious movement is "dangerous" (the less exclusive and the more Russian the movement is the less it is considered "dangerous" and the higher it is placed on the scale. The more "dangerous" it is, the more it is regarded as remote from the formula of identity (52)).

4.5 Thus everyday language no less than the language of public debate and, indeed, the language used in legislation coincide in putting forward a particular classification of religions, which is clearly different from the purely pluralist model. This hierarchical pluralism is based on a view of Orthodoxy (that of the Russian Orthodox Church, Moscow Patriarchate) as the norm of religious life, corresponding to both the aims of the State and the expectations of the nation (53). All the other forms of religion are evaluated in terms of their degree of proximity to this norm or their possibility of interacting with it, constituting a hierarchy of faiths behind which lies the hierarchy of symbolic congruence with national identity.

5. Conclusions: in what sense may Russia be said to be an Orthodox nation?

5.1 The idea of an "Orthodox nation" reappeared in Russia during the 1990s; the pre-revolutionary past was then brought into play, even though the contemporary situation in Russia differs fundamentally from the situation in the nineteenth century. The Orthodox "nature" of society and of the State was then a reality; Orthodoxy formed part of the popular consciousness, of daily behaviour and of State practice; contemporary "Orthodox identity", on the other hand, is rather a mythological idiom that appeared in response to a need for a new identity. Pre-revolutionary society had gradually evolved towards a secularized and pluralist "formula of identity"; contemporary society already seems to be secularized and pluralist (as a legacy of the post-Communist period) and is seeking ways of gradually including the elements of Orthodoxy within its "formula of identity". "Orthodoxy" in pre-revolutionary Russia was a religious reality permeating the whole of society, while "Orthodoxy" in present-day Russia is only a reality within the religious "field" and is essentially a kind of a cultural symbol, used as an important ideological construct.

5.2 It nevertheless seems undeniable that we are seeing to some extent a repetition of the past — particularly as regards the relationship between the question of "national identity" and the practice of inter-religious relationships. Russia at the beginning of the twenty-first century, like the Russia of the beginning of the twentieth century, is very heterogeneous and, now as in the past, manifests a comparable. In both cases, this model is based on the idea of a (predominant) national religion and a (dominant) national church, on the inclusion — consciously or unconsciously (secretly or declaredly, on ideological or pragmatic grounds) — of Russian Eastern Christianity among the cultural and political symbols, and on a tendency on the part of the Russian nation to identify itself with the "Orthodox people", (as is clearly apparent in the Social Doctrine of the Russian Church).

5.3 This enlisting of Orthodoxy in the shaping of the "new nation" seems natural in Russia (if we take as our starting point the criteria set out in the introduction), given its dominant position and its clear links with a dominant ethnos. Consequently, the model of pluralism described — despite its instability, the absence of strict legal and semantic norms, and a certain arbitrariness in the relations between the organs of the State and the various faiths — persists in Russia and could even receive a constitutional consecration at some future date. There is no doubt that this has hampered the development of a civic and political nation of the European kind or, in any event, has changed the nature of that process (54), but it has not called into question the principle of limited tolerance, nor the secular nature of the State nor, above all, the secularized nature of society.

5.4 In spite of Orthodoxy's ubiquitous presence in public and political debates, the real impact of religion on political culture, state institutions, or social life in general remains relatively weak. This situation, inter alia, makes a large-scale extreme religious nationalism or overt religious intolerance hardly possible. We may call Russia "Orthodox", so to speak, phenomenologically, but not substantially. The discrepancy between these two planes makes the Russian case unique and certainly different from, for example, Indonesian or Mexican cases, yet not similar to any Western pattern. The case of Greece, perhaps, shows the most obvious similarity in terms of strong national connotations of religiosity, yet Greece's ethnic and religious homogeneity makes it definitely less complex than that of Russia..

* This article has benefited from the extremely valuable comments of Matthias Koenig, whom I should like to thank for his help.

1. See, inter alia, the article and the collection published by Van der Veer (1999), who contests the thesis put forward by J. Habermas of an initial secular foundation of European modernity. In particular, he compares the roles of Protestantism and of Hinduism in the formation of the British and Indian nation. It is a quite widely held view that the paradigm of a strong link between modernity and secularization is a purely European phenomenon. S. Warner has shown that it does not apply to the history of the United States, where modernization in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries proceeded alongside turbulent religious activity (Warner 1993); the role of the "biblical" tradition in American national consciousness is beyond dispute. Furthermore, even in Europe, the national identity of countries such as Ireland, Poland or Greece can hardly be accurately represented without taking into account their religious traditions, even at the beginning of the twenty first century. As far as other continents are concerned, there is abundant literature on this subject which it would take too long to go into here.

2. For the definition of an "imagined community", see Anderson (1983); for a new approach to national identities in contemporary Europe, see Brubaker (1996). Regarding the difference between "primordial bonds" and "civic bonds" as two principles of the organization of a national community, see Shils (1957) and, especially, Geertz (1963). Nowadays, these principles are seen as ideal-typical models rather than as simply two social realities that succeed one another. In particular, religion can no longer be regarded as a "primordial factor". Thus, Eisenstadt and Giesen (1995, 74-77) have put forward three ideal-typical models of national identity rather than two: "primordial", "civic" and "cultural". The term "civic" refers to a shared social tradition (which is not necessarily modern in origin). More relevant to our research is Eisenstadt and Giesen's insight into collective identities: the "socially constructed" nature of the "frontiers" and the "symbolic codes of distinction", as well as the close connection of these constructed identities with the control of economic resources and social differentiation.

3. For the concept of the "invention of tradition" see Hobsbawm and Ranger (1983, 14). According to Hobsbawm, modern nations "generally claim to be the opposite of novel, namely rooted in the remotest antiquity", "so natural as to require no definition other than self-assertion", but they are largely made up of what the author calls "constructed and invented components". The Russian nation of the 1990s is currently in the process of being totally reinvented.

4. In the first article of the first chapter of the Muscovite Law Code (Ulozhenie) of 1649 ("Blasphemers and troublemakers in the Church"), "persons of other religions" are distinguished from the "Russian man" (Muscovite Law Code 1988). As I. Smolic has pointed out, Catholics or Protestants, once they became Orthodox, were regarded as Russians, whereas the words "Polish" and "Catholic" meant the same thing for Russians (Smolic 1996-1997, II, 201). With time, the expression "inorodtsy" (persons of foreign origin) ceased to be used to refer to persons belonging to the Christianized peoples (ibid., 204).

5. Interesting, that the laws were more inimical to schismatics and members of sects than to those of believers in "foreign faiths", because Old Believers and sectarians were considered as apostates fallen away from Orthodoxy.

6. See the interesting debate on this question in Dixon (1999).

7. See Freeze (1990) with regard to the term "cognitive Orthodoxy".

8. F. Tyutchev wrote in 1849 in the "Revue des deux mondes": "Russia is above all a Christian empire; the people are Christian not only on account of the Orthodoxy of their beliefs, but still more because of something even more intimate than belief" (Quoted by Poliakov 1989, 59). "The general disposition of the Russian soul is such that the Christian idea constitutes, it might be said, its very nature", wrote the philosopher V. Ivanov in 1909; echoing the words of the heroes of Dostoyevsky, he described the Russian people as "God-bearing" or "Christophoros" ("Christ-bearing") ("O russkoj idee" [On the Russian idea]) (Maslin 1992, 238-239). These same images (as nowhere else in the world) deeply permeated the public discourse of the pre-revolutionaries and of émigré Russians.

9. In particular, the draft laws on the freedom to leave the clergy, on the possibility of converting to other faiths, on civil marriage and burial and on many other more specific points, proposed by the Duma or by the government from 1906 onwards, provoked strong opposition and were not adopted (cf. Firsov, 1996, 271 et seq.).

10. Cf. Dekrety sovetskoj vlasti (1957, 373). In this instance, I am leaving aside the second aspect of this famous decree, which in fact deprived the religious organizations of all legal and material rights, thereby giving rise to a situation that no longer bore any relation to "religious pluralism".

11. Although the Russian Federation was, within the Soviet Union, an "incomplete" body (which, according to Hosking (1999), resulted in the "incompletion" of the Russian nation in both the civic and ethnic sense), there was a clear "Russification" of the political apparatus and of the elites in power during the post-war period (or, more specifically, a Slav domination, with in particular a very strong influence of ethnic Ukrainians).

12. This trend was particularly visible in some trends of the literary process (cf. Brudnyi 1998), but also linked to the "Society for the Safeguarding of Monuments", and the association "Pamyat", which originated within this context, but was quite rapidly marginalized towards the end of the Communist regime.

13. The question arises in a completely different manner in countries such as Uzbekistan or Tajikistan, where Islam, playing a role in the process of emancipation and ethnic consolidation, is partly used pragmatically by the non-liberal secular regimes in power for purposes of legitimization, but is also kept in check by them when its potential for mobilization is used by their political rivals. In this context, we cannot talk of either a "national religion" or of religious pluralism.

14. These trends are described in the article by Kathy Rousselet included in this collection.

15. According to a process described by Brubaker (1996) as the "unmixing of peoples in the aftermath of empire", ethnic Russians make up 82% of the population of the Russian Federation, as compared with 51% in the Soviet Union (these two figures are taken from the last census of the USSR in 1989; it is possible that the population movements of the following decade, which may be described essentially as "ethnic cleansing" in a more or less attenuated form, have substantially modified these figures).

16. The preamble to the Law on Freedom of Conscience and Religious Associations of 1997 refers to the "special role of Orthodoxy in the history of Russia in the evolution and development of its spirituality and its culture"; however, the term "dominant religion" (which is found in the Code of Laws of the Russian Empire of 1906) is only used by public law experts and has not been used in actual legislation

17. Cf. Rousselet (2001) on the use of the term "canonical territory" and its effects on the policy of the Patriarchate of Moscow (the resistance to Protestant missions, the conflicts with the other Christian denominations of the East and with the Vatican). In its turn, the Council of Bishops of 1994 adopted a broad programme of missions directed towards defensive actions and intended to combat the sects and foreign missionaries, but clearly different from the programmes of evangelization of the missionaries prior to the Revolution, which had "offensive" objectives.

18. The Patriarch preferred to speak cautiously of an "active partnership", referring to the fact that "the relationship between the Church and the State is not yet as well defined as in other countries" (see his interview in the magazine Komsomolskaja Pravda, 1 February 1999). However, it was in stronger terms that the concept of "symphony" was presented as an ideal model that "would give back to Russia its status as an Orthodox State, recognizing and respecting the traditional faiths" (Volodin 1996, 21). The Social Doctrine of the Church adopted in 2000 delineates a broad area of "co-operation" with the state, and reminds the state that it should "take into consideration the number of followers [of a denomination], its historical role in defining the cultural and spiritual make-up of the people, and its civic stand". (Osnovy social'noi kontseptsii, III.6)

19. According to the figures cited in a study, in 1993 41% regarded themselves as "rossiane", but by 1997 the corresponding figure was only 24%, while the percentage of "russkie" in 1997 had reached 57% (there is no figure for 1993) (Abramova 1998, 23); however, the author makes no connection between this changing pattern and the growth of ethnocentrism. L. Byzov, however, believes that "there has taken place within the Russian national consciousness one of the most radical changes ever: from a meta-ethnic sense of identity to a strictly ethnic identity" (Byzov 1996, 45).

20. Islam plays a wholly similar role in Tatarstan, where it has had a strong and visible impact on the cultural landscape, although religious knowledge and practices have been comparatively unaffected, which means that "national consciousness is expressed through religious identity" (Musina 1998). In the areas of contact, the terms "Orthodox" and "Muslim" may even replace the terms of ethnic identification.

21. This logic is quite widespread: in the same way as the Mexicans have adopted Catholicism, the Indonesians Islam, etc. An example worth mentioning was the massive opposition of the Greeks to an initiative on the part of the State in June 2000 to delete the mention of religion on identity cards.

22. However, the winner of this competition has not been announced, although it could be the case that there was no intention to do so, cf. Rossijskaja Gazeta, 1 August 1998.

23. See, for example, the article "The second decline of the Third Rome": "The structure of the Russian State quite simply cannot stand an ideological vacuum. Such a vacuum may be filled in all sorts of ways — whether religious or scientific, but invariably along totalitarian lines" (Nezavisimaja Gazeta, 23 March 1996). Filatov (1999, 141-142) has written in a similar way about Communism and Orthodoxy.

24. A tendency which, since 1992-1993, after the first shock of liberalization, has dominated social consciousness and transformed the attitudes of many liberal intellectuals of the late 1980s (cf. Janov 1998, 115-116).

25. According to Šcipkov, there appear to be practically no Orthodox believers by birth among the Christian Democrats, who mainly consist of "neophytes, Protestants and sceptics", who seek to bring together "Christians of all denominations and even atheists" (Šcipkov 1998, 39). Moreover, as the leaders of the Russian Christian Democrat Party have written, they recognize the need to "give Christian ecumenism a Russian national cultural basis", combining Orthodoxy with Protestantism. (sic!) (Šcipkov 1998, 41).

26. NG-Religii (1997, No. 12). The concept of "organic development" in the tradition of Russian thought is necessarily closely associated with the old discourse of the Slavophiles and the later theorists of "Russian thought", including religious thinkers such as Sergey Bulgakov or I. Il'in (see Il'in's article in "Russia is a living organism", 1956, Vol. I, 223-229).

27. See Morozov in NG-Religii 2000 (3). This is a reappearance of the tradition represented by Frank (1924), who writes on the post-religious "sacred foundations" of contemporary secularized societies.

28. See his thesis on the "voluntary restrictions", which are seen as more important than "human rights", or on the "superiority of the moral principle to the legal principle". At the same time, his constant references to the moderate liberalism of Vassili Maklakov and Pyotr Stolypin distance Solzhenitsyn from both the Slavophiles and the new Russian ethno-nationalists, who assign a central place to Orthodoxy. Cf. "Kak nam obustroit' Rossiju?" ["How can we rebuild Russia?"], Literaturnaja Gazeta, 8, 9, 15.

29. " … the very distinctiveness of the Russian way of life stems from the fact that it derives from perfect Christianity … " (extract from the famous reply by Kirievsky to A. Aksakov, 1839, see Maslin 1992, 71-72).

30. Thus, Averianov writes that it is this same group which defined, towards the end of the 1990s, the public face of the Russian "Orthodox idea" (NG-Religii 2000, No. 5). It clearly appears to be the case that this influential position is shared by a number of the most senior representatives of the hierarchy of the Patriarchate of Moscow.

31. Aksyuchits (in Nezavisimaja Gazeta: 15 December 1996 and Nezavisimaja Gazeta: 26 February 2000) often uses the term "ideocracy", invented by the Eurasianists to emphasize the particularly Russian link, in his opinion, between the predominant national idea and its authoritarian State embodiment. The growing interest in the State during the 1990s has become more and more obvious, even among the liberals, the supporters of the concept of a "civic" nation. Vladimir Putin's presidency since the beginning of 2000 is openly based on a program of reinforcement of the State.

32. Solzhenitsyn has himself some sympathy for the Old Believers (cf. Nivat 1997); Yuri Afanassiev (in NG-Scenarii 1998, 1) believes that the worldview of the dominant church is "medieval" and links the "positive experience of Orthodoxy" to the Old Belief; however, Alexander Dugin (in Zavtra 1998, 1), who holds radically different views, regards the pre-Raskol Muscovyas a paragon to be followed, thus providing a quite different interpretation of the Old Believers. 

33. See I. Shafarevich on the "new wars of religion" (Zavtra 1996, 10 December); see also the reappearance of the watchwords of the middle of the nineteenth century to bring Constantinople back to Orthodoxy (Zavtra 1999, 21 May), and the views on the "radiant Orthodox victory of internal truths over external power", expressed in the course of the NATO operations in Kosovo (NG-Religii 1999, No. 3).

34. The Russian nationalism of the Communists is more moderate in the statements by the party leaders (for example G. Zyuganov), in stark contrast to the extremism expressed in the supplement to the main mouthpiece of the Communists Rus' Pravoslavnaja [Orthodox Russia].

35. Migranian and Cipko (1997). It is interesting to note that the title of the article refers to the classic triad. The trend towards "Orthodoxization" is subjected to constant criticism: for example, A. Malashenko casts doubt on the idea of "Orthodox identity", partly because as an expert on Islam, he regards it as impossible to ignore Russian Islam (Nezavisimaja Gazeta 1997, 17 June); the Baptist A. Markevich seeks to defend the "traditionalism and Russian dimension" of Russian Protestantism, which is allowed no place in the Orthodox "formula of identity" (Nezavisimaja Gazeta 1997, 30 August); the jurist Yuri Rosenbaum sees in the appeals of Migranian and Cipko a "spiritual muzzle for free Russia" (ibid.).

36. Berelowitch (1992, 39) contrasts specifically two kinds of Russian nationalism and identity: " … the assertion of Russian identity either takes the form of a desire to return to imperial Russia or of an archaic and regressive quest for a vanished and exclusive Russia".

37. In an article devoted to Orthodoxy in Ukraine (NG-Religii 1999, No. 3).

38. See, for example, the interesting article on the "geopolitics of Orthodoxy" as a response to the "nostalgia for empire" (site of the Sretensky Monastery,, 16 May 2000). As K. Rousselet has observed, "for the first time in its history, Russian Orthodoxy is no longer coterminous with the Russian State"; and the new situation has given rise to the concept of "spiritual citizenship" (belonging to the Russian Church) as opposed to the concept of political citizenship of the new States (Rousselet 2001).

39. Father Ioann Ekonomtsev draws a very clear distinction between the idea of "Holy Russia" and the idea of the Empire, taking the view that since the sixteenth century (with the theory of "Moscow — the Third Rome") and particularly since the time of Peter the Great, there has been confusion between the two ideas, and then the replacement of one by the other (Ekonomcev 1991, 540). See also with regard to the central importance in Russian history of the Holy Empire and not Holy Russia, the article by Kholmogorov (Segodnja, 23 April 1994), et alia.

40. V. Polosin, an Orthodox priest who converted to Islam, personifies this Muslim-Orthodox unity; he writes: "Russia has always been a Eurasian and de facto imperial country. [The heart of the empire has always been] a complementary union of Muslims and Orthodox Christians. Moreover, the ideology of the State as a secular programme must be renewed on the basis of the values of monotheism, because that is precisely what Islam and Orthodoxy have in common" (Nezavisimaja Gazeta 1999, 7 July). One of the conferences on Islam in Russia came to the general conclusion that Russia is a unique civilization of Orthodox Slavs and Muslim Turks, to which the model of Western democracy cannot be applied (NG-Religii 1997, No. 12).

41. Panarin 1995a; 1995b; Panarin and Il'in 1994. See also the description and analysis of the views of the neo-Eurasianists in Ignatov (1992); Laruelle (1999).

42. Nezavisimaja Gazeta 1998, 29 July. While for the nationalists grouped around the journal Zavtra (including A. Dugin) and for the communists, sympathetic to Orthodoxy and Islam, the "Eurasianist model" is a form of imperial ideology, for a senior figure such as Stroyev, Eurasianism seems to be rather a form of political discourse, dictated by pragmatic considerations of power. What is important here however is the attraction and influence of this model.

43. Cf. Kandyba 1996; Petuhov 2000; Istarhov 2000; Miroljubov 1996; etc. For Russian "vedism", see Moroz (1993). On the other hand, the "semi-paganism" of Russian Orthodoxy may be blamed on the Russian church and may become an argument against its influence (Lisickin 1999, 29).

44. With regard to Slav neo-paganism, see Aseev (1999). It is worth pointing out that the revived paganism of the ethnic minorities of the Volga regions (the Mordovian, Chuvash and Mari-Cheremis peoples) reject Orthodoxy as a religion linked to the Empire; ethnic paganism has become the foundation of a new anti-Russian ethno-nationalism (Filatov and Shchipkov 1995).

45. See the article of the Kurginian group in Zavtra (1998, No. 3); interview with Karadjic (Zavtra, 11 April 1996).

46. The revival of "neo-Eurasianism within the non-Orthodox opposition, on the face of it an anti-Atlantic trend, but also anti-Russian, and the emergence of the concept of a "Eurasianist union" among the young Turkish elites and the post-Soviet nomenklatura are not fortuitous" (Narocnickaja 1996, 158). The Eurasianist formula is indeed very popular within the Turko-Muslim elites (cf. on this subject Laruelle 2000). Eurasianism has been subjected to criticism from the more moderate supporters of a "European" identity, who warn of the dangers of the "Muslim-Turkish influence", with reference to Solzhenitsyn (Nezavisimaja Gazeta 1998, 6 November).

47. Aggressive nationalism and xenophobia are described as sins, and it is stated further on: "Even more out of line with Orthodox teaching are those who put the nation in the place of God or reduce faith to an aspect of national consciousness" (Osnovy social 'noj koncepcii … 2000, Chapter II).

48. The quotations are taken from the second chapter of the Foundations of the Social Doctrine of the Russian Orthodox Church. In order to justify "Christian patriotism", the text refers to the "biblical people of Israel", recalling, in addition to the Covenant of the people with God, their strong attachment to "linguistic and tribal integrity" and to the "Promised Land". The way in which the Israelite model is used here makes the ethnocentric interpretation quite clear and is reminiscent of the ancient messianic allusions based on this same comparison between biblical Israel and Russia. Another feature of this approach refers to Jesus who "insisted on his membership of the Jewish nation" and who was a "loyal subject of the Roman Empire and paid tribute to Caesar". That is the central point of the chapter, as is shown by the comments on this question by Archbishop Kirill in his lengthy presentation of the Doctrine during the Council. He also particularly stressed the idea, set out in the Doctrine, that Christian patriotism is reflected inter alia "in the issues of State governance"; Kirill added that politics should not be avoided by the clergy under the pretext that it would be "a non-Christian domain where we might get our hands dirty" (Kirill 2000).

49. A first draft of the preamble to the 1997 law added after Orthodoxy: "and also Islam which has several million believers, Buddhism, Judaism and other religions traditionally present in the Russian Federation" (Rossijskaja Gazeta 1997, 16 September); Islam was thus given a special status. In the final text, this special status disappeared. 

50. The introduction of Judaism in the preamble of the 1997 law as "one of the traditional religions" was by no means a foregone conclusion (Cf. NG-Religii 2000, No. 1); in public debate Judaism is far from being considered as part of the "traditional group". While Islam, and to a lesser extent Buddhism, may be regarded among Eurasianist theorists as belonging to the national tradition, the thesis of the Judaeo-Christian foundations of Russian identity (which is widely used, for example, in American national discourse) has proved impossible to maintain.

51. In the preliminary draft of this same preamble, the other Christian religions were not mentioned and were perhaps implicitly included in the category of "other existing traditional religions"; in the final version, after the Orthodox religion, which is given a special status, there come: "Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Judaism and other religions…". The term "Christianity" covers the Christian denominations of the West; they are placed before Islam and the other religions, not because they are higher in the hierarchy, but because to mention Christianity after other religions would be regarded as absurd in a largely Christian country. However, in one way or another, the distinction between "Orthodoxy" and "Christianity" remains ambiguous. It is a fact that, in the general sense of the terms, these concepts do not always coincide with one another; O. Mramornov even remarks sarcastically that the word "Christianity" will soon be regarded as an insult (see NG-Religii 1997, No. 5). This confusion is similar to the way how the word "Christians" is widely used in the Latino world as a pejorative marker for Protestants. In the Russian press (not just the religious press but also the secular press) there are a large number of articles that criticize the activity — the "proselytism" — of the Roman Catholic church in Russia (sometimes described as "expansionism" or even "spiritual aggression") and of the Protestant movements, as well as articles on the dangers of ecumenism. The official position taken by the Patriarchate of Moscow on this question has always been extremely prudent.

52. The fact that this hierarchy of religions within a context of limited pluralism reflects the link (perhaps more symbolic than real, as at the beginning of the century) between national identity and religious allegiance is confirmed by the ambiguous status of the Old Believers: they should be included as a "traditional church" in the first group, but are, on account of a number of features, closer to the second group; the Old Believers (like other groups affiliated to Russian Orthodoxy) present, as in the past, a serious problem for the question of Russian identity.

53. I am obviously leaving aside here the question of the heterogeneity of Orthodoxy, even within the Russian Orthodox Church itself; such heterogeneity reflects the whole spectrum of attitudes within society, in particular as regards problems of identity; there has been considerable controversy on what is really the "Orthodox norm".

54. Cf. Simon (1999), where the rhetoric of empire (in part related to the Orthodox rhetoric) is seen, just like economic and juridical-political "regionalization", as a threat to the Russian political nation (Russländische Nation). Tolz (1998), examining the various definitions of the Russian nation, considers that the "civic definition" is still alien to "social engineers" and to the people, and has to give way to such definitions as a Eurasian empire, a community of Eastern Slavs, a community of Russian speakers or a community of race. That reflects general skepticism towards the civic model as defined by Brubaker (1996, 105).

Bibliographic note

Nezavisimaja Gazeta is a Moscow newspaper that first appeared at the time of perestroika and is known for its liberal tendencies. One of its supplements, NG-Religii (NG-religions), published bimonthly, is regarded as the only magazine dealing with religious affairs that has no denominational affiliation.
Zavtra (Den' prior to 1993) is a weekly publication that reflects the views of both the nationalist right and partly the new Russian communists.



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About the author:

Born in 1958 in Moscow, Alexander Agadjanian (e-mail: [Was a visiting professor for 1 year at ASU.]) studied at Moscow State University and did his dissertation and then his doctorate at the Institute of Orientalism of the Academy of Sciences of Russia. He is director of research at the Academy of Sciences of Russia and since January 2000 has been associate professor in the Department of Religious Studies at Arizona State University.

Agadjanian, Alexander, (2001), Religious pluralism and national identity in Russia, MOST Journal on Multicultural Societies, Vol. 2, No. 2, <>

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The opinions expressed in this publication are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of UNESCO. 

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