While religious consumerism is a global force, the mixing of religion organizations and practices with economic goods and services is no metaphor in Russia. In the journal Religion, State and Society (March), anthropologist Melissa L. Caldwell writes that religion has been divorced from spirituality in an unusual way in Russia; it is not only that seekers have ventured outside religious institutions but also that many value both traditional churches and new religious movements more for their material and practical benefits than for their spiritual beliefs and practices.
Caldwell studied churches and new religious groups in Moscow, particularly focusing on an English-speaking international church. The Russian members of this church rarely expressed direct professions of personal faith, and instead focus on the material assistance they received by attending. In contrast, the African members spoke openly of their personal spiritual journeys as the reason for attending.
Caldwell finds similar utilitarian motives–ranging from desiring to learn a new language and finding job contacts to seeking practical advice on relationships and family matters or just getting food–among those attending a Hare Krishna temples, Orthodox churches and patronizing the growing numbers of healers.
Members of one church may also seek the benefits and services of other congregations, even if they are from other denominations. Caldwell also found Orthodox clergy and followers who are publicly participating in and offering alternative healing practices (although she is not certain of the extent of such involvement throughout the country), illustrating how “religion may be transformed into a service or commodity.” Such pragmatic factors should not be ignored in seeking to explain Russia’s religious revival, Caldwell concludes.
(Religion, State & Society, Keston Institute, 38 St. Aldates, Oxford, OX1 1BN UK)