East-West Church  Ministry Report
Vol. 10, No. 1, Winter 2002, Covering the Former Soviet Union and Central and Eastern Europe

Understanding Nontraditional Religiosity in Ukraine

Lyudmyla O. Filipovych

Ukraine is now experiencing its third national renaissance. Religious organizations are coming to the fore as an active factor of spiritual renaissance.The network of religious organizations is growing very rapidly. The number of religious communities functioning in Ukraine in 1990 was approximately 4,500 but in a decade it has reached almost 24,500. In the recent past only 10 percent of respondents regarded themselves as believers, but this figure has now reached 70 percent. The number of believers among young people, the intelligentsia, men, and the socially active population has increased markedly.

Religion in Deep Crisis
Taking all this into account, many speak lately about religious renaissance in Ukraine. It is difficult to agree fully with this assertion. The rehabilitation of religion in public opinion during the years of independence of Ukraine and changes in the public estimation of the role of religion in spiritual and national renaissance are rather a reaction to the propaganda of religious spirituality by the mass-media, a kind of illusion rather than a true reflection of religious life. Church life in Ukraine is characterized by a deep crisis (save perhaps Roman Catholic and some Protestant trends).

This crisis is manifested in the following ways:

  1. the intensification of interchurch and interconfessional conflicts;
  2. a decrease in the influence of traditional religious bodies and an aggravation of their financial position;
  3. various foreign missions taking over the religious field in Ukraine;
  4. an increase of surface manifestations of religiosity in the absence of a deep and strong faith, with the presence of exotic and pragmatic orientations of young people towards religious phenomena;
  5. the removal of religion from the processes of national renaissance; and
  6. the decline of relevance of religion as a moral imperative in the sphere of everyday life.

The Spread of Nontraditional Religions
The merging and spreading of neoreligious movements cause alarm in the traditional religious environment and among the leaders of state power structures who feel a strong threat to centuries-old cultural and spiritual traditions and who yearn for [restrictions on] neoreligions in the form of state legislation. What are the distinguishing features of the development of nontraditional religiosity in Ukraine? First, nontraditional religiosity is polyconfessional. There are a great number of neo-Christian movements, both home-bred and of foreign origin, in particular pro-Russian, neo-Christian movements. Trends toward oriental sects, mysticism, and scientology are widespread. Neopaganism is gradually strengthening its position. Second, nontraditional religiosity is urban, mainly among youth and intellectuals. Third, individuals not burdened by past religious traditions and characterized primarily by an indifferent worldview become followers of neoreligions in Ukraine. Fourth, the spread of nonconfessional religiosity in Ukraine is often expressed in various forms of mysticism as well as in the creation of different theosophical unions and clubs.

What are the determinants that cause the merging and spreading of nontraditional religiosity in Ukraine?

  1. the presence of a spiritual vacuum in the Ukrainian people created on the one hand by the failure of communist ideology, and on the other hand by the estrangement of a considerable part of the population from their own indigenous spiritual tradition;
  2. the traditional churches' loss of prestige in the eyes of the people due to their part in the official political establishment and dogmatic and ritual forms that intellectual believers no longer accept, considering such to be an anachronism in religious life;
  3. the destruction of personal family relations in urbanized society and the rupture of close connections between generations that existed in the past; and
  4. the spiritual denationalization of a considerable part of Ukraine's population under Communism.

Lyudmyla O. Filipovych, Ph.D., is a leading researcher in the Ukrainian National Academy of Sciences, executive director of the Ukraine Center for Religious Information and Freedom, and teaches at the Kyiv-Mohyla Academy and National University, Kyiv, Ukraine.

Edited excerpt reprinted with permission from Anatoly M. Kolodny, Lyudmyla O. Filipovych, and Howard L. Biddulph, Religion and the Churches in Modern Ukraine. A Collection of Scientific Reports (Kyiv: Svit znan', 2001).

Lyudmyla O. Filipovych, "Understanding Nontraditional Religiosity in Ukraine," East-West Church & Ministry Report 10 (Winter 2002), 6-7.

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2002 East-West Church and Ministry Report
ISSN 1069-5664

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