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Russia emerges as Europe's most God-believing nation

Nearly 20 years after the collapse of the atheistic Soviet Union, a recent poll found that 82 percent of Russians classify themselves as religious believers. But far fewer subscribe to organized religion.

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In another surprise, the poll found that just 4 percent of Russians are avowed Muslims, far below the 15 percent figure most sociologists cite. One reason, experts suggest, is that the FOM survey – which polled 1,500 people in 44 of Russia's 89 regions – may have avoided the insurgency-torn, but mainly Muslim republics of the north Caucasus.

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Under Russian law the country has four recognized "founding faiths": Orthodoxy, Islam, Buddhism, and Judaism. The poll found that 1 percent of Russians are Buddhists and less than 1 percent are Jewish.

But Roman Catholics, who are not recognized under Russian law and are sometimes subject to legal harassment, number a whopping 7 percent (a figure experts also dispute), the FOM survey found.

The FOM results contrast somewhat with a global survey of religious beliefs conducted in April by Ipsos, an international market research company. The survey found that 51 percent of people worldwide believe in a "divine entity," compared to 18 percent who don't and 17 percent who aren't sure.

According to the Ipsos poll, 56 percent of Russians are firm believers in a "divine entity," while a further 18 percent believe "sometimes."

But that still puts Russia at the top of the list in Europe, where 51 percent of Poles, 50 percent of Italians, 27 percent of Germans, and just 18 percent of Swedes declared themselves definite believers in a divine entity.

Several countries, including Indonesia, Turkey, Brazil, Mexico, and the United States clocked in as significantly more religious than Russia.

"It's pretty hard to get clarity on religion, and there are a lot of variables that can lead to an erroneous picture," says Marina Mchedlova, a religion expert with the official Institute of Sociology in Moscow. "But the trends in the FOM survey are confirmed by other studies. Belief without religion is one; about a third of people are not satisfied with organized churches and choose to remain outside of them," she says.

Another is the lack of religious knowledge among the Orthodox Church's superficially huge public base.

"The majority of people who position themselves as Orthodox when asked to identify their faith cannot go on to answer even simple questions about it," she says.

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