Answer to Map #30

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Answer: This choropleth depicts the percentage of the population of each Russian federal subject that identifies as an adherent of the Russian Orthodox Church. The data used to make this map come from the “Arena Atlas of Religions and Nationalities,” produced by the research group Sreda.

The darkest shade of green on this choropleth indicates federal subjects where more than 70% of the people are followers of the Orthodox Church. These two regions, located in the Russian heartland south of Moscow, are Tambov Oblast (78%) and Lipetsk Oblast (71%). The next shade of green corresponds with regions where between 60% and 70% of the population identifies as Orthodox. Again, these regions are mostly in southwestern Russia.

The lighest shade on this map indicates federal subjects where fewer than 10% of the population are Orthodox. Since many of Russia’s federal subjects, especially in outlying areas, were created based on religious and cultural affiliations, these are areas where other religions are extremely strong. The Arena Atlas survey revealed that only 1% of residents of the Tuva Republic and only 2% of residents of Dagestan profess to be Orthodox Christians. The Arena Atlas survey did not include results for Chechnya or Ingushetia, two “republics” near Dagestan in the Caucasus region. Since Chechnya and Ingushetia are both, like Dagestan, regularly reported to be more than 90% Muslim, however, it was an easy decision to color them in our lightest shade of green.

Two other federal subjects that stand out clearly on this week’s choropleth are Tuva (near Mongolia) and Kalmykia (on the northwestern shore of the Caspian Sea), both of which are home to large numbers of Buddhists. Kalmykia is the only region in the entire continent of Europe where a majority of the population is comprised of Buddhists. The ancestors of the Kalmyks migrated west across the steppes of Asia in the early seventeenth century. Their continued adherence to Buddhism is a reminder of the considerable diversity within Russian society.

While this choropleth specifically maps adherents to the Russian Orthodox Church, we did accept submitted answers saying that this map reflects adherents to Christianity in general. Since the overwhelming majority of Russian Christians are Orthodox, such a choropleth would look very similar to this one. Russia is home to small but significant communities of Protestants and Catholics, but these communities are spread out throughout the country and thus wouldn’t do much to change our choropleth if we were to change it from one about Orthodox Christianity specifically to one about Christianity more generally.

Since Vladimir Putin’s rise to power, the Russian Orthodox Church has returned to prominence within Russia. Whereas religion had been proscribed under communist rule in the Soviet Union, the Russian government now openly promotes religiosity. Putin has been very public about his own faith, and he has even revealed that he was illicitly baptized as an infant. Under Putin, the Orthodox Church has gained increasing visibility as a part of political and cultural life. Thursday’s hint asked you to learn about a 2011 proposal to institute a national dress code in Russia. That proposal was floated by church leaders, who have increasingly been emboldened to take part in political dialogue.

Since the fall of the Soviet Union, the Orthodox Church has also gained more followers. According to one poll, only 31% of Russians identified as Orthodox Christians in 1991. By 2008, that number was up to 72%. During this period, the Russian Orthodox Church was not the only faith to grow dramatically. From 1991 to 2008, the number of Russian adults who professed not to have a religion decreased from 61% to 18%. This meant that an increasing number of Russians adopted Islam, Protestant Christianity, or Catholicism as well.

Some observers, however, question whether Russia’s religious revival is really a revival at all. While an ever increasing number of poll respondents identify as followers of the Russian Orthodox Church, that doesn’t mean they’re actually going to church. One poll found that, while 72% of Russians identified as Orthodox Christians in 2008, only 7% of them said they attend services at least once a month. One interpretation of these statistics might be that, while religion is increasingly part of Russians’ national identity, religiosity may not actually be on the rise in Russia.

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