24.05.23 Polls Review

Easter Eggs: Russia remains a country with low levels of religiosity, and Russians’ declarative orthodoxy is primarily associated with festive social rituals

The proportion of Russians who consider themselves religious has been declining in recent years despite the authorities' best efforts to strengthen ‘traditional values,’ according to polls. Around 60% of those surveyed in April 2023 claim that religion does not play a significant role in their lives. In terms of religiosity, Russia ranks in the bottom third of the 90 countries surveyed. The level of participation in routine church practices has dropped to very low levels: only 12% of respondents attend services at least once a month, a figure which puts Russia in 70th place on the list. However, 72% of respondents identify themselves as Orthodox, but this declarative Orthodoxy is limited to adherence to certain festive social rituals such as Easter meals and baptisms.

A recent survey by the Levada Center and retrospective data indicate that the level of religiosity in Russian society has stagnated or even decreased somewhat over the past years and decades. As Re:Russia has noted, the efforts of the Russian leadership to promote religiosity as an element of the system of traditional values that forms the basis of the new state ideology have been unsuccessful.

For instance, in 2005, approximately 40% of respondents said that religion played an important or fairly important role in their lives, while about 60% described it as insignificant or not at all influential. Between 2007 and 2016 (as seen in the graph below), the proportion of the former decreased to 30-34%, while the proportion of the latter increased to 62-65%. In recent years, the distribution has returned to 2005 levels and has stagnated. Moreover, the proportion of those who state that religion plays no role has also increased slightly from an average of 21% in the 2000s and 2010s to 26% in recent years.

What role does religion play in your life? % of respondents

There is a clear downward trend in responses to the similar question, ‘how religious do you consider yourself?’ In 2017-2018, 52-53% of respondents said they were religious. In April 2022, this was only 45%.

Declarative religiosity correlates with age. Among the youngest respondents, 34% attribute relative importance to religion in their lives, while only 43% of older age groups do. In terms of their religiosity, the gap between older and younger individuals has remained consistent at 9-10 percentage points.

How religious do you consider yourself to be? % of respondents

According to the latest wave of the World Values Survey (WVS, 2017-2022), 49% of Russians considered religion to play an important or relatively important role in their lives, while a similar percentage said the opposite. Of the 90 countries surveyed, Russia ranked 61st in this indicator, placing it in the bottom third of the list alongside Taiwan, Lithuania, and Hungary, and lagging far behind countries such as Brazil (85%), Greece (82%), Romania (80%), and Poland (78%).

At the same time, 72% of respondents identify themselves as Orthodox, 7% as Muslims, another 13% do not affiliate with any religious denomination, and 5% define themselves as atheists, according to data from the Levada Center. Orthodoxy and religiosity for respondents are evidently expressed through the act of baptism (83%) or other conventional practices that do not require routine observance. For example, 5% of those surveyed attended church services on Orthodox Easter, while 70% painted eggs and 39% purchased traditional Easter cakes. 43% of respondents do not attend services at all, while 12% attend them regularly (at least once a month).

According to the WVS data, when asked about the frequency of their attendance at religious services, 39% answered that they almost never or never go to church, 23% only attend on holidays, and 9% go no more than once a month. These are similar results to those of the Levada Center. In this regard, among the 90 countries surveyed, Russia ranks 70th, once again placing it in the bottom third. Similar levels of religious indifference are demonstrated by Hungary, Canada, Vietnam, New Zealand, and the United.

The only church-related practice that has seen an increase in popularity is the experience of being a godparent. According to the Levada Center, in 2014, 26% of respondents said they had become godparents, while in April 2023, that number had risen to 42%. Given that the general level of religiosity or the prevalence of other church practices has not changed over these years, godparenthood is likely to become another festive-declarative, Instagram-friendly form of Orthodox identity.