Under the Soviets, and particularly the failed seminarian Joseph Stalin, Russia was transformed from a deeply religious and superstitious country into a model of state atheism with enforced secularism, restriction of religious practices, and eradication of the clergy. During the 1920s, the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU) supported the work of the Union of Godless Zealots, who actively campaigned against the practice of Russia’s principal faiths: Eastern Orthodoxy, Islam, Judaism, and Buddhism. By the late 1970s, most Soviet citizens gave little thought to organized religion, though many continued to practice their faith at the risk of political persecution. Strict atheism was an absolute prerequisite for admission to the apparatchik class and the CPSU; however, some secretly practiced their faith. Under perestroika, however, a religious revival began, resulting in the widespread embrace of religiosity in the postSoviet period.
   Many politicians gravitated toward the Russian Orthodox Church in the 1990s, including Boris Yeltsin, Vladimir Putin, and Yury Luzhkov, while Muslim and Jewish groups blossomed. The rehabilitation of faith, however, has not eradicated atheism in contemporary Russia. According to recent estimates, less than one-quarter of the population consider themselves to be practicing Christians, while only 7 percent of Russians are observant Muslims. Less than half of all Russian citizens “believe in God,” compared to 79 percent of Americans.
   Lack of religion does not, however, preclude spirituality (dukhovnost’ in contemporary Russia, and many people embrace various aspects of nonscientific beliefs such as faith healing, neo-paganism, and so forth. Identification with a particular religious community has emerged as an important part of economic life in post-Soviet Russia, particularly as a tool for forging alliances and developing social networks. Since 1991, there have been some minor attempts, such as those by the Moscow Society of Atheists, to revive organized or “scientific” atheism in the country; however, the strong protections afforded by the Constitution of the Russian Federation to religious freedom (or freedom to have no religion) dampen the need for such groups, although the recent creep of pro-Orthodox sentiment into the education system is of concern to some nonbelievers.
   See also Holidays.

Historical Dictionary of the Russian Federation. . 2010.

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