Monitoring news media reports about religion in Russia
countries of CIS
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Religion News Current News Items
Religion question increasingly painful
FOUNDATIONS OF RELIGIONS IN SCHOOLS AND MODULES OF TOLERATION
Initiators of school course hope that it will not engender new
outbursts in the spirit of "Pussy Riot." Parents and experts doubtful
by Natalia Afanaseva, RIA Novosti observer
Religiia i pravo, 29
By the end of March, third-graders will have to determine their
confessional preferences. Beginning 1 September 2012 a new subject,
"Foundations of religious cultures and secular ethics," will be
introduced into fourth-grade classes in the schools. It is only some 34
class-hours, but it is evoking disputes in society that transcend the
boundaries of purely pedagogical discussion.
It seems the religion question is becoming in Russia more and more
painful. The situation surrounding the "Pussy Riot" stunt is like
letting the genie out of the bottle. From a banal outburst it has
unexpectedly and rapidly grown into a genuine ideological clash,
revealing a split in society and bringing to life unusually harsh
statements, both on the part of defenders of the girls and on the part
of those who condemn them.
Can the new subject help our children with respect for and interest in
diverse cultures and religious tradition? Or will it become another
occasion for mutual insults and strife?
Buddhists to the left, atheists to the right
In July 2009 Russian President Dmitry Medvedev ardently approved in a
meeting with representatives of traditional religions their idea of
introducing foundations of religious culture in the schools. The title
of the subject has been changed and corrected several times and it
finally has attained the long and comprehensive title of "Foundations
of religious cultures and secular ethics," abbreviated ORKSE. In April
2010, an experiment with the new discipline was introduced in almost 10
thousand schools in 21 Russian regions.
The Russian government found the experiment successful. Educational
institutions where the new course was tested reported that it increased
tolerance, interest, and respect for diverse cultures and religious
traditions in young pupils.
The government confirmed the plan of action of introducing in the
2012/2013 academic year the "Foundations of religious cultures and
secular ethics" course in general education institutions on the
territory of the entire country. Schools are urgently purchasing
textbooks; elementary school teachers are increasing their skills,
studying the foundations of Judaism and Buddhism; parents are thinking
about which of the six proposed modules to select for their child. And
meanwhile an acute, sometimes not entirely tolerant discussion is
raging in society.
Experts on matters of religion debate whether it is necessary to divide
the course into several modules and educators are arguing about the
quality of the training of teachers or the excess load on pupils.
Sociologists and attorneys are pondering the topic of the
correspondence of the new course with the fourteenth article of the
Russian constitution, which proclaims the secularity of the state.
But the most serious danger pertains to whether the subject, whose goal
is developing toleration and interest in other cultures and national
religious traditions, will become another source of future rejection of
"alien" religion, "alien" opinion, and "alien" worldviews.
There is such a danger, thinks Tamara Eidelman, director of the
department of history in Moscow gymnasium No. 1567, chairman of the
board of the interregional public "Association of teachers of history"
organization, and coordinator of the interethnic educational project,
"Mosaic of cultures." "Our society, even without [the course] is
split in many ways, and now yet another one is appearing. Already in
fourth grade the children are actually divided along religious lines:
Orthodox go to one class, Jews to another, atheists to a third. . . .
It would be better if the children were shown that at the basis of all
religions lies the idea of good, that Islam is not jihad and
Christianity is not only the inquisition. But since this course is
designed for young schoolchildren, there will not be any analysis or
comparison of religious thought. The thing is limited to fairy tales on
a religious theme," Tamara Eidelman explained her position.
Roman Lunkin, director of the Institute of Religion and Law of the
Institute of Europe of the Russian Academy of Sciences and associate of
the Center for the Study of Problems of Religion and Society,
disagrees. The results of the experiment have refuted such
concerns. "In practically all regions where this course was
introduced for approval, everything went cleanly, precisely,
delicately, and without serious conflicts. This was due, of course, to
teachers who knew how to approach the subject sensitively and
tolerantly. The Russian federation is a secular state; this is written
in the constitution. As long as schools do not impose one of the
religions and the subject is taught by secular teachers, this course
does not violate the 14th article of the constitution, which declares
that no religion may be established as a state or obligatory religion.
It is good that parents are offered alternatives for selection; this
guarantees the observance of the law on freedom of conscience and
Parents offered alternative. They chose ethics.
Before the end of March, current third-graders, or more precisely,
their parents, were told to select for study next year one of six
modules, for which six textbooks have been published by the
The department of general education of the Ministry of Education and
Science has already announced preliminary data and they are curious. It
turned out that an overwhelming number of parents preferred "universal"
disciplines: around 41% in general decided to shield their children
from a religious topic, selecting the neutral "secular ethics," and
another 20% decided to acquaint children with the foundations of all
"This means that common sense has prevailed," Tamara Eidelman thinks.
"In essence, parents chose the lesser evil. Because it is clear that in
any case this course will result in a profanation. And it lays an
enormous load and responsibility on elementary school teachers. Most
likely, this extra hour per week will be turned into yet another class
in reading and writing. Foundations of world religions, in one way or
another, are now taught in various courses—history, literature,
geography, art history, social studies. For elementary schools this
course is just too much of a load."
At the same time, more than a third of Russians selected for study one
of the confessional modules: Orthodoxy, around 30%; Islam, 5.6%;
Buddhism, a bit more than one percent; and only one tenth of one
percent of a little less than one and a half million future
fourth-graders undertook to study Judaism.
A coauthor of the textbook "Foundations of the religious and moral
culture of peoples of Russia. Foundations of Jewish culture," an
assistant to the chief rabbi of Russia, Andrei Glotser, emphasized that
from the very beginning their group opposed dividing religions by
"That a majority chose a neutral course confirms our fears of the harm
of dividing classes into modules. Schools simply are not in a position
to guarantee that choice. This is a snag; it is unrealistic to
provide a teacher for one pupil who chose Buddhism or Judaism. So the
schools are trying to persuade parents to avoid fragmentation."
Deacon Andrei Kuraev, author of the course "Foundations of religious
and moral cultures of the people of Russia. Foundations of Orthodox
culture," also thinks that it is fundamentally wrong to say that
parents consciously chose "secular ethics": "Every day I get complaints
that in the schools they are forbidding them to make a choice for the
confessional modules, and particularly 'Orthodoxy.' The administration
is disingenuously saying that there are no teachers or textbooks and it
actually forces them to choose 'Foundations of secular ethics.'"
In Roman Lunkin's opinion, a substantially greater number of parents
chose the "Orthodoxy" module than sociologists had predicted: "In
various regions from 20% to 30% chose it," the expert explains. "While
by various sociological measures, only 3 to 10 percent of Russians
consider themselves Orthodox."
Cadres decide everything
According to data from the "Prosveshchenie" Open Virtual University for
Raising the Credentials of Education Workers, schools still prefer to
train elementary school teachers who also teach all the other subjects
for the ORKISE course. Contact classes have been arranged in Moscow,
while in other cities distance learning is used. The preparation course
includes all six modules; that is, as a rule both secular ethics and
Buddhism will be taught by one and the same teacher.
"The basic problem in the implementation of this course is the lack of
qualified personnel. As the coauthor of a textbook, I conducted classes
for courses in raising the credentials for teachers and I answered
questions from tutors, that is, from trainers who will train teachers
of the new course. Catastrophic ignorance is manifested even at that
level," Andrei Glotser said. "It is not their fault. There are too few
people in the country who would be able to clearly explain their
According to Glotser, he has faced the fact that teachers do not know
anything about Judaism, nor about Christianity or Islam. "At the same
time, I was given only two hours for the course. And three months for
preparing the handbook and gathering material and adapting it to
"It seems these resources are far from perfection," the assistant to
the chief rabbi of Russia says.
However, our educational institutions apparently are used to dealing
with any, even the most contradictory, tasks. For example, the director
of Moscow school No. 261, Pavel Karpov, views the appearance of the new
subject optimistically: "Believe me; three hours a week is not a
prohibitive load for teachers. Naturally, everything depends on the
qualifications and personal abilities of the teacher, but as they say,
you have to work with what you have."
"In our school, for example, we have two staff members who have
religious studies education," the director continues. "One of these
will teach 'Foundations of world religions,' which a majority of
parents have chosen; the other, 'Orthodoxy,' which two people chose.
Another two parents insisted on 'Foundations of secular ethics.' I
think we will find a teacher for them. It would be more complicated if
somebody had chosen Islam. But nobody chose it."
Like a foreign language here
In the opinion of the developers of the new subject, "the goal of the
ORKSE academic course is the formation in the young child of
motivations for conscientious moral conduct based on knowledge of and
respect for the cultures and religious traditions of the multinational
nation of Russia and also for a dialogue with representatives of other
cultures and worldviews."
In reality, a desire to study a strange culture and strange religion
has still not been observed. For example, the deputy chairman of the
Ecclesiastical Board of Muslims of the European Part of Russia, Farid
Asadullin, speaking at a round table on the topic "Teaching of the
foundations of religions in schools: a path to division or to civic
harmony?", noted that in those regions where Muslims live
compactly, the attitude toward the subject is ambiguous:
"Several school directors in the Caucasus approach the question very
simply; 99% of the residents of the aul are Muslim so there cannot be
any module other than 'Foundations of Islamic culture.'"
But even without this testimony, it is obvious that Russians favor the
intense study of "their own" religion.
"No one course achieves its goals fully," Deacon Andrei Kuraev says.
"For some this may even be harmful; some will be alienated; some will
be forced to be evasive. As in any mass project, society has reacted to
the new subject ambiguously. But this is also good. As a result people
have seen some material for discussion. After all it is not good when
Christianity is associated for the majority of people only with fat
priests in Mercedes. It is good if as a result of this course some
teachers raise their professional level by studying the foundations of
religious cultures, and some parents open an Orthodox book for the
first time, and some children in the future recall some light from
their school life."
"Here it must be remembered that training in moral, including
religious, principles is the business of the family," school director
Pavel Karpov specifies. "To figure that the schools will take upon
themselves these functions is unthinkable. We can give only a dotted
line and identify topics. And in this sense the new course, in my view,
is good. But it is like a foreign language—only one's personal effort
will lead to results." (tr. by PDS, posted 30 March 2012)
Religion News Current News Items
Protestant mayor in Far East slandered in media
URGENT REPORT FROM PLACE OF "COMBAT" OPERATIONS
Mayor of Nikolaevsk-on-Amur suffers for faith
by Nina Zabrebina
Religiia i pravo, 29 March 2012
Our readers probably recall the religious conflict in the election
campaign in the city of Toliati. Now there is a repeat of the situation
that we did not have to wait long for. The next victim of a "brawl"
artificially created by people who are greedy for power is the mayor of
the city of Nikolaevsk-on-Amur, Petr Volynskii, who belongs to the
confession of Evangelical Christians, which is a traditional Russian
Using the fact of his religious affiliation, there have begun to appear
in the press made-to-order filthy articles, all of whose accusations
come down to the following: "At the beginning of the 1990s
Volynskii came to Nikolaevsk-on-Amur from Argentina as a preacher of a
religious sect, the Khabarovsk Express newspaper reports. Here he
became director of the Russian organization "Private Housing." In
October 2010, running on the "Fair Russia" ticket, he amassed the
majority of votes in the election for head of the city. It was due to
the techniques that he acquired in the sect, accustoming him to preach
to large crowds, that he managed to influence the residents of
Nikolaevsk-on-Amur and get their votes in the election."
However, his envious opponents did not limit themselves to some dirty
techniques. Five of the fifteen deputies sent to the governor of
Khabarovsk territory, Viacheslav Shport, an appeal to remove the
incumbent mayor from office. According to some reports, the "war" was
initiated by the district administration including a deputy of the
district Soviet of Deputies, I.V. Starodubtsev, along with individual
representatives of business, who are offended by an incorruptible
mayor. The reason for all that has happened is as old as the world—the
desire of the incumbent head of the district to eliminate a rival in
the upcoming election of the head of Nikolaevsk district, that will be
held in March of next year. Apparently the head of the district,
judging by the statements of ordinary citizens, does not enjoy the
respect of the latter and, having seen the danger in the popularity
with the population of the mayor of Nikolaevsk-on-Amur, he has decided
to quash his rival.
Meanwhile, despite the dirty campaign for discrediting the mayor, the
citizens have understood very well the essence of the conflict, which
consists in the greed for power and money on the part of a certain
small group of well-known persons, who are being mentioned in city
So, for example, the residents of the city reacted to a made-to-order
article in a local newspaper, "MK in Khabarovsk" that reported
unverified facts. Mayor Volynskii, a man who is wearing himself out for
the city, is being prevented from working. There was an attempt to
quash him in his campaign even before the election of Volynskii as
mayor, but it was thanks to the "Private Housing" organization that
prices for utilities were not jacked up to breathtaking heights.
Representatives of competitors, going door to door, tried by means of
deception to get for themselves as part of the housing fund (and they
partly succeeded). And as competitors they lost to "Private Housing."
With regard to the administration of the district: you should check the
head of the district, Lysakov, who during the time of his own term in
office grew commercial pharmacies for whom he had privatized buildings
in the center of town, including a former museum. I do not share
Volynskii's religious views. I do support his business acumen that he
has demonstrated by his work and integrity.
In sum, the unscrupulous game begun by representatives of government
along with representatives of business has already provoked a storm of
indignation in the city. Citizens have begun a collection signatures in
support of the mayor and they are ready to conduct demonstrations.
Will the governor put a stop to greedy mudslingers or will evil triumph
over good, unlike in fairy tales? (tr. by PDS, posted 30 March 2012)
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