Although Russian Orthodox believers have been moving toward a greater acceptance of democracy, theirl church may be losing much of its independence under the administration of Vladimir Putin. Such contradictory and conflicting findings were commonplace in presentations at a late March conference in New York on the state of Orthodoxy in “post-atheist” Russia that RW attended. Samuel Huntington’s “clash of civilizations” thesis often came in for criticism, as speakers questioned the claim that Orthodoxy is inherently anti-democratic and anti-Western.
In an analysis of World Values Survey data, political scientist Christopher Marsh of Baylor University found a tendency for “devout Orthodox”–those claiming an active faith–to be more pro-democratic than non-Orthodox and “cultural Orthodox“–non-practicing though claiming an Orthodox affiliation. Marsh found that the cultural Orthodox were more favorable toward communism and having a strong leader to rule the country than devout Orthodox and non Orthodox (nine percent compared to five and six percent, respectively). Often Orthodox religiosity was not a factor in levels of political activity, Marsh added.
In a paper on the political attitudes of Russian Orthodox elites, Irina Papkov of Georgetown University suggested that such categorizations as “devout” and “cultural” Orthodox may be too broad to capture the complex views of democracy in the Russian Orthodox Church. She surveyed students at four Orthodox universities and one secular one, finding a mix of pro- and anti-democratic views. Only 20 percent of students from the Orthodox schools supported free speech, compared to 32 percent from the non-Orthodox university. Fifty percent of students from the Orthodox schools were positive about the free market, compared to 70 percent from the non-Orthodox school. On the question of whether there should be an Orthodox state in Russia, 70 percent of the Orthodox university students responded favorably, compared to 30 percent from the non-Orthodox school.
Papkov cautioned against applying these findings to Orthodox students across the board (especially since 30 percent of the students at the non-Orthodox university were Orthodox). Those from the influential and “fundamentalist” St. Tikkon University were the most likely to hold anti-democratic views while St. Filaret University students were the most liberal and democratic. Those from the Moscow Spiritual Academy, which trains the elite clergy, were also democratic, showing the lowest level of support among any of the students for an Orthodox state. Papkov concluded that Russian Orthodoxy may be increasingly divided among “different brands” and that there could be a “disconnect between laity and clerical elites” in the church.
Meanwhile. Nicholas Gvosdev of The National Interest said that while the Russian Orthodox Church may have an important role in Russia, it is increasingly under the control of an increasingly powerful state. Although in recent documents, the church portrays itself as being an active partner with the state and its various agencies, such visibility may not mean more influence. In church conflicts with the state, such as on welfare and having property returned, it is interests of the latter that have prevailed. Unlike Boris Yeltsin, Putin as been willing to test the strength of the church in the political arena. Gvosdev said that the selection of successors, both for the presidency and for the Moscow Patriarchate in 2008, will likely set the tone of church-state relations in the future. The church’s choice of a new leader will be a decision “too important for the state not to interfere,” he concluded.