This essay has two objectives: to show the theoretical challenge of and practical necessity for a broad socio-cultural study of the Orthodox Church in Russia and Eastern Europe, emphasizing the Church’s public role; and to analyze the results of the most recent public polls and surveys of popular attitudes toward religion and the Church.
The absence in academic literature of a systematic and crosscultural sociological study of contemporary Orthodoxy has contributed to sharp disagreements among scholars on how to explain the Church’s presence in modern society and how to interpret its influence on the values and world-views of modern man. Some opinions have appeared which doubt the very fact of the post-Soviet religious revival. Did the revival indeed take place and, if so, what exactly was revived? There is no consensus among scholars on how to view the rise in public interest in religion in Russia and Eastern Europe. Is religion simply a fashion resulting from the previous ban on religion, and, as such, bound to disappear from the public arena?
Is it a temporal substitute for the lost state ideology and therefore nothing more then a symbolic remnant of the past? Or, perhaps religious institutions are still able to appeal to the basic needs of human beings – the need for order, tradition, and identity – and may play an important role in modern public life. In this case, how to adjust these institutions to the modern system of ideals and values? Based on recent public polls and surveys, the present essay attempts to clarify these questions and shed light on recent changes and developments in the religious situation in Eastern Europe and particularly in Russia.