The impact of religion on minority identity and community: a case study of russian orthodoxy and the russian minority in estonia
Cleary, Elizabeth Ann
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This thesis seeks to contribute to the scholarship on this underdeveloped topic of how religion, minority identity, and issues of integration intersect by evaluating the questions of a) whether religion significantly fosters identity within minority groups, b) whether religious communities linked with specific minority groups help or hinder integration, and c) what level of importance religion has in the interplay of minority identity and loyalty to the state where a minority has long resided or claims citizenship. The case study of Estonia was chosen. Its large Russian minority, history as a former Soviet republic, and proximity to Russia make it a fitting choice for this topic, as does its religious landscape which provides an interesting field for examination. Home to two Orthodox churches (the Estonian Orthodox Church-Moscow Patriarchate and the Estonian Apostolic Orthodox Church) under two competing patriarchates (Moscow Patriarchate and Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople), the churches have the potential to be alternative platforms through which ethnic-specific concerns and views are expressed and embodied. In order to answer the key questions of this study, statistical sources have been analyzed, providing a quantitative picture of both the minority and the religious composition of Estonia. Those numbers were enlivened with a qualitative look at minority issues, national historical narratives, and religious community relationships that still contribute greatly to the dialogue in Estonia today. Interviews with Estonian clergy, academics, nonprofit leaders, and government employees form a significant part of this research and are an important element of its contribution to current scholarly debates. Through this variety of research and sources, I argue that Estonia, even in light of its nonreligious reputation, does contain Orthodox religious communities that effect minority identity, both in terms of active members and those who purely claim to be Orthodox. The Orthodox churches provide a connection to ethnic and national loyalties and identities, inevitably becoming politically charged and thus making the churches occasional participants in the debates of large minority issues, especially those that implicate the involvement of the neighboring Russian Federation. Religion is effected in both escalating and deescalating political tensions. Churches, especially the Orthodox communities of Estonia, have the potential to be leaders in resolution, compromise, and cooperation among Estonians and Russians, but must be cultivated as such or risk being case into the role of entities of future division.