Unity Of Ethnic And Religious In Context Of Historical Transition


The paper analyzes issues in the proportion of ethnic and denominational aspects in the context of dynamic development of social interactions. Timeliness of this issue is determined by a complex multi-ethnic and multi-denominational composition of modern states, including Russia. The objective of the work is to establish links between ethnic and religious existence of a person and social communities, to develop suggestions aimed at harmonizing inter-ethnic and inter-denominational relations. The authors analyze results of surveys covering the level of religious commitment in Russia and in Krasnodar Krai in particular. Conclusions have been made on necessity of thorough studies of and considerations for interests of all the ethnicities, creating conditions for preservation of culture and traditions. Awareness building has been deemed practical, aimed at formation of both ethnic and religious tolerance, respect of culture of other nations and ethnicities. State policy shall be aimed at formalizing in legislation and further implementation of the principle of equal right with respect to various confessions and ethnicities, as well as at consistent observation of the principle of legality in activities of authorities and formation and functioning of religious and social organizations. The state shall take all necessary measures to avoid politicization of inter-ethnic and inter-denominational relations. Regional state authorities and local government shall play a special role in resolving these issues, as they are the closest to the population and have a necessary range of means of influence onto denominational and ethnic interactions. These are mandatory conditions for social and governmental development.

Keywords: Patriotismethnicreligiousethnicitynationpeople


Our time is a time of ongoing and future transformations: historical, political, cultural and religious, thus, there is a natural necessity for understanding the nature of the link between the religious and the ethnic, the influence that this link is subjected to from the global post-secularity, peculiarities of national and regional development. Nowadays, science refines the basic characteristics of such categories as ethnicity, nation, people, subsequently updating the issue of a link between the ethnic and the religious in social processes. At that, changed nature of social and political system of the Russian State made substantial changed in the aspect of studying this phenomenon: from a negative assessment of this link and its influence onto social life, through exclusively positive evaluation of religion in overcoming tensions and conflicts in inter-denominational and inter-ethnic spheres, to understanding of a complex and ambiguous nature of the influence that religion and its institutions have onto ethnic and national processes (James, 1993). All the above brings forward the problem of proportion between ethnic and religious in the social life of Russia and requires legislative regulation and humanistic understanding.

Problem Statement

One of the most complex problems of the modern Russian is the ethnic problem, which in the social consciousness is linked to another problem of equal importance: the religious one. Often religious and ethnic are rendered tantamount, thus giving rise to conflicts, tension, bitterness and despair.

The history of the modern Russia started from a wave of sovereignty declarations, dissolution of a country, estrangement of citizens from the state and from each other, estrangement based on the ethnic attribute. Due to this, there was a change in a worldview, a shift in priorities and values. A conceptually new reality arose where a new state was born with its new legislation, new economy and new social and cultural space.

We assume that these processes require deep understanding and finding accurate approaches to harmonization of religious and ethnic relations, creating a system of timely removal of contradiction arising in this sphere, defining the institutions responsible for a dialog between believers and non-believers, state and church, inter-denominational agreement, civil solidarity in the name of the common country.

Research Questions

What is the relation between religion and religious structures and an ethnicity? What determines national differentiation in various countries? Was M. Weber correct in his statement that religious communities created “popular character” (Akayev & Nanayeva, 2017). Besides, they protected ethnic individuality of the religious organization. What strengthens the realization of oneness of religious and ethnic? Can faith lose its initial individuality while strengthening ethnic identity? When does faith become a proof of ethnic belonging and when does it not? It is important to understand, that secularization processes under conditions of globalization reduce religions to the private sphere and remove them from social and political life. As a result, there are multitudes of points of view on the ethnic question even within a single religious tradition.

A cult of nation: how does it arise and what is it fraught with? Why does it provoke fear, greed, distrust, falsehood of peacefulness? These problems, after their in-depth studies will allow discovering new in the complex interaction of the ethnic and the religious, refining conceptual apparatus of the issue, finding correct approaches to removing problems.

Purpose of the Study

Sociological material on the issue of the link between religious and ethnic is of large importance, primarily as applied to the post-Soviet practice in the Krasnodar krai. Revealing this experience in harmonization policy in the area of ethno-national and inter-denominational relations in the region will allow avoiding future failures.

Research Methods

The work is based upon fundamental studies on the link between the ethnic and the religious, authored by A.V. Pchelintsev, N.G. Skvortsov, I.V. Zagrebina, R.N. Lunkin (Pchelintsev, et al, 2017) and others.

In addition, we used the results from a complex sociological survey titled and results from the original survey conducted in 2018.


Forms and methods of interactions between a religion and an ethnicity are expressed in special concepts and categories with ever-refined meaning. Among them is the concept of an ethnicity as a historically formed ethno-social community of people having a common territory, language, economy, mentality, culture and self-consciousness.

It is not a civic nation, which equate the nation and the nation state, and according to which the Russian nation shall include Russians, Tatars, Chechens, Yakuts, Lezgins, Adyghes, etc, while they have different cultures, languages and mentalities. The ethnic self-consciousness is understood as "the whole set of conceptions that the ethnicity has about itself…, its interests, values and intentions with respect to other ethnicities. The emotional side of the ethnic self-consciousness is formed by ethnic feelings" (Bromley, 1990).

We are required to turn to the concept of ethnicity, which is deeply rooted in the social consciousness of the Cossack part of the Kuban region. Ethnicity is a community of people that formed in a certain territory that has common stable cultural features (including the language) and mentality, as well as an understanding of their communality and their difference from other similar formation, that is, self-consciousness (Bromley, 1988).

Researchers often use a term ethnonational, demonstrating a link between the ethnic and the national. They also commonly use such collocations as inter-ethnic relations and ethnic processes. The latter one is broader than the former, as it includes not only interactions between ethnicities and various other communities, but their internal development as well.

Some scholars consider various forms of inter-ethnic relations as inter-cultural interactions. They postulate that a person includes themselves with the ethnicity in which culture they were formed and to which they are bearers. Inter-ethnic contacts and interactions are the contacts between various cultures. (Khabibulina, & Skvortsov, 1994).

Revealing the role of religion as an element of culture in the inter-ethnic relations is the methodological approach that will allow determining the limits of mutual influence between the ethnic and the religious.

In dramatic historical events throughout the life of ethnicities, religion served as a means for stabilizing their distinctive character, a factor in fighting for national independence.

The history of appearance and adoption of Christianity in its Byzantine variant in Russia shows the influence of the religion onto formation of a nation and a reciprocal influence of the ethnic culture onto religious development. Primal Christianity worked with individual social communities. Following 311 AD, when it became the ideology of the Roman Empire, it was formalized as a universal religion. This is how Christianity has become a global religion, declaring equality of all the people independent of their ethnic and social belonging. Independence of nation and territory made the religious unity free, faith then does not determine a state and a nation, and Christ is a spiritual leader, not a politician, nor statesman, but rather a spiritual standard-bearer of mankind as a whole.

However, historically, due to various causes, three models of attitudes with respect of nations were formed within the Christendom:

a Catholic one, relying on individuality and considering national belonging, universality as Saint Paul was a Jew and did not renounce it when he had become a Christian;

an Orthodox one, closely connected to a single nation;

a Protestant one, the most universal.

Thus, universal religions demonstrate a priority of faith over nation, a religious group or organization is always broader and more influential than a national one. Of course, these religions shall be considered separately from ethnic religions (Judaism, Shinto,.Sikhism, etc.), where ethnic belonging dominates.

Assessing the nature and the level of religiosity in the Orthodox world, we come to a conclusion: Orthodoxy is a universal religion, at that, its structure and organization are based upon national, and not universal principle. After all, various Orthodox churches formed within different ethnic states and often were state-forming (Rus, Serbia).

Islam, which is the second in Russia by the number of adherents, is also a supra-national religion. Many Islamic scholars consider those who defend the idea of a nation-state to be betrayers of Muslim values. Islam is based not in a nation, but in a community of Muslims, Ummah. Many European scholars note the enmity and even denial of the national notion as a threat to the integrity of the Muslim community in the works of Muslim theologians who state than the national idea destroys the universality of Islam. At that, there is also so-called political Islam that recognizes national and the right of a person for individuality. Development of the modern Islamic world reveals a multitude of contradictions in particular in the implementation of the supra-national aspect of religion. Adherents of the national idea postulate, that the universality of Islam impedes the development of nationalism. On the other hand, statements are appearing that Islam may become a foundation for nation building and national identity. Appearance of Bosnian nation in the Balkans after the dissolution of Yugoslavia may serve as an example.

Supranational religions often naturally intrude into the area of national interests, being oriented towards tradition in organization of social relations. The link between the religion and the ethnicity actively manifests itself in rituals and ceremonies of a given people. Due to this, ethnic and religious attributes intertwine and merge, so that it is impossible to differentiate them.

So, there are various models possible in proportion between the religious and the ethnic:

  • identity of the religious group and the national one (e.g., Russian Orthodoxy);

  • a model of disparity between the ethnic and the religious (Islam, as used by Bosnians, Albanians).

A rich history of nations and their cultures created new, never before existing cultures by mixing faiths. The fates of nations and their religions intertwined, giving rise to contradictions and conflicts and even wars, while at the same time creating new forms of cooperation, forming traditions of tolerance and respect, acceptance for other, alien, giving birth to new models of ethnic and religious interaction and mutual influence.

When a faith plays a role of national ideology, then nationalism, national heroes and national festivities are becoming sacralized. It strengthens the realization of oneness of the religious and the ethnic. As a result, ethnicity is reduced to belonging to a denomination: Russian means Orthodox, Tajik means Muslim. This is an example of reducing universal religion to nation.

Secularization inevitably strengthens in a situation of blending the national and the religious. The national becomes of more and more interest to the religion, while the religion is perceived as a political ideology, a cultural background that creates the nation. Communities of believers start taking more care of cultural traditions and cultural heritage than of faith itself. Researchers believe that this situation may be an evidence of a beginning crisis of religion. There is also a directly opposite trend, when a religious organization in substance plays a role of the national tradition, serving as an outlet for manifestation of the national under conditions of oppression and discriminations in society.

Nationalism, based at mutual religious negation, mythology and a plot line of historical rights is a specific topic within the domain of this issue. Here, we find the roots of church nationalism (phyletism).

Nationalism is an ideology, politics and psychology in the national question. It is founded on the idea of national superiority and exceptionalism. "Nationalism is the love of personal ego to its only national we, which is capable of leading it to the great, universal we. It is incompatible with acknowledgment of superiority on behalf of a certain nation. "True nationalism is spiritual nationalism, coming not only from the instinct of national self-preservation, but from the spirit, and it loves not just its native, peculiar, but native-and-great, and peculiar-and-sacral" (Iliyn, 2011).

Nationalism differs from chauvinism, where love for one's nation is matched with hatred to other nations, and "self affirmation takes place in the form of attacks onto others and conquests. A true nationalist is simultaneously a true patriot, that is, a person that does not love everything in their nation, but only those things that rise to such a height of spiritual culture that they becomes noticeable to other nations and find their respect" (Modern Philosophy, 1995).

The modern nationalism undergoes modernization globally, including in Russia. New nationalists are organized on the basis of marketing principles, they declare their communality with Europe, cheer failures of multiculturalism, oppose globalism and support democratic values. They set a mission to become integrated into the political life. Recent events show that they succeed in it. New nationalists demonstrate organizational flexibility: they do not have offices, nor payroll employees, they are successful thanks to the Internet, where they have created web-sites, send SMS broadcasts and perform phoning, that is, they function as a virtual organization. Such situation allows nationalist avoiding attention from law enforcement and achieve significant cost cutting.

In conditions when a significant number of people experience fear in the face of external influences destroying traditions of the Russian life, painfully endure loss of faith, empire, nation, community, family and moral purity, more and more citizens start supporting the conservative idea as a natural reaction to large scale destructive shifts in the social, cultural, economic and political life of the country. At that, there is a growing understanding that, similarly to Europeans, we have largely lost a capability to create relevant communities for implementation of national ideas. It is hard not to notice that in some parts of Europe there is a dangerous situation where the traditional culture is assimilated by migrants from the Muslim world that are more active. For example, in some German lands there are Culture Ministers who are Muslim Turks, while Islamic Centers become the leading cultural centers. It is the fault of individualism that opposes formation of communities. In our country, the problem of individualism is vexed (Danilova, 2001), as here it has a savage form that threats national identity, and as the nation cannot exist without identity, so it threats the integrity of the state. Thus, the main task is to find the foundation for unification. Turning to historical roots, patriotism, Russian Orthodox Church are no longer working. Against this background, there have appeared communities of sports fans, skinheads, people leaning to their ideology, various informal groups (Yembulayeva &Yembulayeva, 2017).

Remarkable are the results of surveys conducted by Levada Center in 2007 and 2010, which showed that 78% of respondents considered themselves patriotic in 2007, and 70% - in 2010, while 19% and 12% respectively considered themselves non-patriotic. The meaning of patriotism for the respondents was predominantly "to love one's motherland" and "to be ready to protect one's motherland". There are no traces of either nation or religion (Pchelintsev, 2017).

We may say that nation and religion are autonomous social phenomena; nation is one thing, while religious belonging is something completely different. In principle, religious differences may be of low importance in the process of nation building. There are examples where a universal religion in a certain historical context extended a negative influence onto the national consciousness, for example, persecution of Glagolitsa script in some countries. In other cases, it facilitated its development, for example, by introducing the language of the populace into liturgy. The universal religion may support the idea of cosmopolitanism, thus suppressing the national consciousness, as it is the case with Muslim Ummah.

On that ground, we may assume that religion may not serve as a determining factor for appearance of a new nation. Here, we approach the most complex concept, that of the nation. A person as a part of a nation may associate with neither religious organization. Social, political and national ideas are intertwined in the doctrines of the religious organizations: this is the result of secularization. Universal religions have no universal opinion on the national question. Religious and denominational belonging are usually determined unmistakably, while determining the ethnic belonging is a more complex task. How do you define what is Russian? The complexity of the definition is linked to the processes transforming the religion into the national ideology. The national distinctiveness of Hebrews, for example, was built upon their realization of chosenness and their covenant with God. This idea ensured national unity, at that Jewish national consciousness had got a religious significance.

Can we consider faith as a foundation for self-identity? Both yes and no. There are nations, e.g., Serbs and Croats, which identify themselves on the basis of religion, language, culture, and there are no strong differences between them (exceptions are Christians and Muslims). National borders are identical to religious belonging. At that, those are universal religions and around there are Muslims and Christians (both Catholics and Orthodox) which pertain to completely different ethnic communities. Both denomination and religion become a factor of national self-definition under conditions of ideological crisis, primarily the crisis of the national ideology. In some regions of the world, religion and denomination are determined by self-identification. Ethnic groups differ by being related to a certain religion. For example, in Sri Lanka, Singhalese are Buddhists, while Tamils are Hindus. In the USA some religious organizations identify with a certain nation. For an American, denominational identity has more importance, as it preserves the language in the new society. As noted by M. Weber, religion and denomination there has a function of belonging. In this context, the famous thesis of the American melting pot seems dubious.

Belonging to a certain confession may divide people by the ethnic attribute. In Germany, religion played no role in formation of the nation. At the same time, Jewish ethnicity and confession are identical. Nationalists in Poland, Armenia and Ireland abuse this overlap.

Any religion performs integrative and regulative functions that facilitate relations between co-religionists, support denominational community and regulate people's behavior; but also they perform a segregating function that causes conflicts, tensions and adversarial relations between representatives of different religions. Looking at the past, we may see many examples of religion softening manners, facilitating dialog and ensuring mutual understanding between peoples, resolving controversies and contradictions in inter-ethnic conflicts. At the same time, we may find many examples of a religious factor amplifying the controversy, while leaders of various religious organizations were non-negotiable and only aggravated the inter-ethnic conflicts. It is not without reason, that religious wars are held as the most terrible and ruthless, because there obliteration of the enemy continues until the last bearer of different faith.

Religious factor is often turned to advantage of various political forces, always amplifying the conflicts. The relation between the religious and the ethnic is always manifested in prolonged and usually violent conflicts. As an example, we may single out the Armenia-Karabakh conflict. Under these conditions, it would be natural to ignore the religious factor and consider not the history of the conflict, but a positive program for future relations. Similar experience is accumulated in various regions of Russia. More and more often, sociological surveys of ethnic and denominational relations are conducted with the aim of developing concrete measures capable of preventing conflicts in both inter-denominational and inter-ethnic relations.

In 1998, in the Kuban region, a survey was conducted for the first time by the order of the Russian Ministry of Ethnic and Federal Relations; the survey showed that over 80% of respondents pointed to the presence of issues and contradictions in the inter-ethnic relations. This fact was not surprising, as Krasnodar krai neighbors then conflict zones in the North Caucasus: Chechnya, Abkhazia, and saw streams of refugees: Meskhetin Turks, Ukrainians, Armenians and others (Khalilova, 2016). All this aggravated the social and economic development of the region: there appeared competition for employment between the local populace and the newcomers. Cossacks, being a specific ethnic community aggravated the situation further, by protecting the rights of the locals in their own way. Inter-ethnic issues appeared in the day-to-day life: disparaging attitude to representatives of other ethnicities, distrust and suspicion aimed at them, struggle for the areas of influence between the ethnic communities, ethnically-grounded protectionism, hooliganism, rape, disrespect to traditions and culture, pursuance of ethnic segregation, demands for constructing religious buildings to cover religious needs.

As the main causes of such tensions, one in six respondents named incorrect ethnic policy of the national government, as well as stream of refugees, growth of ethnic consciousness among people and nationalistic aspirations of some political parties and movements.

Using the data from this survey and recommendations of a group of expert, local authorities, media and social institutions swiftly reacted to the situation, allowing the researchers to come to a conclusion that in condition of aggravated ethnic and denominational relations, local authorities and media show more measured, careful and objective response, utilizing the positive experience from the past and putting stress onto mutual understanding, supportiveness and friendship. The more so, that one in seven respondents noted that ethnicity has the least impact on formation of friendly relations, thus they have close friends of different ethnicities. The survey participants named the following as the main measures of interethnic relation harmonization: strengthening law and order (60%), resolution of social and economic issues (25%), cultural development (15%). In some questionnaires, the respondents noted that their province, city, town is the common home that brings up the feeling of motherland, understanding that Russia is not a random set of territories, but a living organism, justified historically and culturally, that requires love and care independent of one's ethnicity and religiosity.

The survey has shown that religious friction appeared less frequent, while there were still facts of mutual dislike between people of different denominations. Usually, tensions arose between Orthodox and Protestants. Jehovah's Witnesses were named as the most aggressive; besides, there were conflicts between Orthodoxes who identify themselves with Russians and followers of new religious movements, so-called eastern cults. Intolerance was mostly found in the behavior of Orthodoxes and Protestants, largely competing for congregation.

Specific attitude towards Muslims in the province is determined, on the one hand, by Islam being a very peaceful religion that condemns intolerance, and on the other hand, survey participants noted a specific capabilities of Muslims to infiltrate and provoke. About a half of respondents predicted deterioration of inter-denominational and inter-ethnic relations. Besides, there were statements of negative attitude to realities and circumstances of life during the period. The materials from the survey contains multiple observations on breaking the principle of secular state, on breaches of the Constitution of the Russian Federation and necessity to adopt a law on civil service to regulate the activities of officials in the sphere of relations between the state and church.

In 2017, the department of philosophy of the Kuban State Agricultural University conducted research in proportion of nation and religion in the social life of the krai and the city of Krasnodar; the research included inputs from 48 experts. As a whole, it showed a more positive picture compared to the previous survey. During the last twenty years, ethnic issues have lost their gravity, multiethnic situation became more complex, while psychological climate improved; population of the Kuban region became more homogeneous, people of different faiths and ethnicities adapted to each other, became more tolerant; the situation with Central Asian people improved, as locals acknowledged their hardworking and peaceful nature combined with spectacular respect towards local traditions and culture. Tension also reduced in the interreligious relations: A dialog has started between various Christian denominations, relations of Orthodoxes to Protestants became warmer, however, there is still denial on principle of a necessity of dialog between the traditional religions and new religious organizations.

Some new issues appeared, linked, first of all, to "Islamization of North Caucasus republics, Stavropol region and the Adyghe Republic (Akayev & Nanayeva, 2017; Gapurov, 2017). It caused a new phenomenon: religious migration, where neo-Christian and neo-Protestant groups headed not by ethnic Russians, but by representatives of various ethnic groups of Caucasus, actively participate in the life of the region. Their ministry often demonstrates exaltation, links to pagan and ethnic traditions. Statements of laypersons of these faiths demonstrate a fear of being expelled from this region as well; they also try to justify their difference. Such groups are characterized with increased mysticism and isolationism" (Yembulayeva, 2014). Second of all, there is an uncertainty about the limits of the secular nature of the state and appearance of some attributes of state clericalization. Such attributes manifest primarily in education and in the Russian Army, as well as in active lobbying of the interests of one religion in the governmental structures, which is assessed as trampling upon constitutional rights and freedoms of believers pertaining to other faiths. The experts identified the main condition for overcoming interdenominational and ethnic tensions, which is equality of all religions before the law.


Significance of studying this problem is great for both state and society, as the role of the religious factor in the inter-ethnic relations will grow with time. This problem is aggravated by politicians, state officials at the federal level and ethnic elites at the regional level, as they try to use the capabilities of religion in their own political interests, e.g., some Orthodox groups keep moot the question of Orthodox monarchy and state-sponsored Orthodox church. The main directions in harmonizing the inter-ethnic relations may be seen as the following:

  • study and considerations for interests of both big and small ethnic groups living in the territory of the krai, with the aim of harmonizing their interests among themselves and with the interests of population of the krai as a whole;

  • creating optimal conditions for keeping their cultural ethnic traditions, language and traditional religion for all the ethnic groups, including the minorities living in isolation from their historical homeland;

  • support to ethnic cultural trusts;

  • organizing broad awareness-building among the population, aimed at forming ethnic and religious tolerance, friendliness, interest to culture of other ethnic groups;

  • provision of all ethnic and national groups with equal possibilities to participate in decision-making that considers their interests;

  • countering efforts for politization of inter-ethnic relations and speculations on the ethnic aspirations of people;

  • In the inter-denominational sphere, there is a need for strict adherence to the law that provides resolutions for ethnic and religious issues;

  • providing attentive and equal attitude to different denominations, optimally resolving the issues in creating the conditions for meeting the needs of religious needs of believers;

  • creating permanent consultative councils working with the local authorities on issues in interdenominational agreement and cooperation.

Modern conditions of globalization requires the broad awareness-building among the population to breed tolerance, friendliness, respect and interest to the cultures of different ethnicities which was always characteristic of Russians. We easily find something to divide us, while finding something to unite us is a hard work. We shall love our motherland, our people, to understand, accept and forgive everyone united by Russia.


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Embulaeva, N., Embulaeva, L., & Danilova, M. (2019). Unity Of Ethnic And Religious In Context Of Historical Transition. In D. K. Bataev (Ed.), Social and Cultural Transformations in the Context of Modern Globalism, vol 58. European Proceedings of Social and Behavioural Sciences (pp. 454-463). Future Academy. https://doi.org/10.15405/epsbs.2019.03.02.52