The Social Nature of Prayer in a Church of the Unchurched: Russian Orthodox Christianity from Its Edges
The Russian Orthodox Church portrays itself as a hierarchically ordered and socially influential “public religion,” but occupies quite a tenuous position in contemporary Russian society. Following Marcel Mauss’s idea of prayer as a social phenomenon, we argue that lay intercessory prayer as a way of assuming social responsibility is key to extending the Church’s reach into the lives of casual believers (so-called zakhozhane). Although individualization of religious practice does occur in post-Soviet Russia, contemporary Russian Orthodox prayer is less about personal self-cultivation than about claiming and exercising competence within interpersonal networks. The notion of prayer as practical competence helps to understand the role of lay prayer in a clerically dominated church, and explains the enduring role of established, mainstream denominations as ambient faith in a secular society.