Weber Was Wrong

A multimedia show is projected on a spec

Irina Papkova explores how post-communist Russia’s religious revival has forced theorists to rethink the role of spirituality in modern society:

Since the Enlightenment, prominent social thinkers like Auguste Comte, Max Weber and Emile Durkheim have promoted the “secularization thesis.” In a nutshell, this theory proposes that as a society modernizes, the importance of religion will inevitably decline. …

But real life has a disconcerting way of overturning established assumptions.

Once the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, religion (understood as both levels of faith and institutional structures) resurfaced with such vigor that it challenged not only previous beliefs about the atheistic nature of the Soviet population, but also globally undermined the “secularization thesis.” In 1991, there were 3,451 Orthodox parishes registered on the territory of the Russian Federation. By 2003, this number had risen to 11,299, a rate of expansion of about 300 percent. Other konfessi (religious groups) across Russia developed at even faster rates. For example, registered Islamic communities grew by 400 percent during the same period, while the number of Pentecostal parishes increased from 72 parishes to around 1,500.

And Hitch can only curse from afar.

(Photo: A multimedia show is projected on a specially designed dome as visitors attend the “Russian Orthodox Church – Revival. 1991-2011” exhibition in Moscow on November 5, 2011. By Ivan Sekretarev/AFP/Getty Images)