From “the Red Belt” to “the Bible Belt”: Historical Roots of the Shift in Russian Political Geography
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From “the Red Belt” to “the Bible Belt”: Historical Roots of the Shift in Russian Political Geography
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Andrey Shcherbak 
Occupation: Senior research fellow, laboratory for Comparative Social Research, NRU HSE; assistant professor, Department of Political Science NRU HSE-St.Petersburg
Affiliation: National Research University "Higher School of Economics" – St.Petersburg
Address: Russian Federation, Saint-Petersburg
Maria Ukhvatova
Occupation: Postgraduate student, Department of Political Science, NRU HSE – St.Petersburg
Affiliation: National Research University “Higher School of Economics” (NRU HSE) – St.Petersburg
Address: Russian Federation, St.Petersburg

The paper aims to explore the relationship between religion and politics in Russia from a spatial perspective. The rise of political influence of the Russian Orthodox Church can be partly explained by the alliance of the Church and the Kremlin: the latter openly declares its’ commitment to “traditional values’ and the former demonstrates unconditional loyalty to the regime. Unsurprisingly, one can observe the increase of Vladimir Putin’s electoral support among the most religious Orthodox regions in the recent elections. Paradoxically, new Russian “Bible Belt” is made of formerly “red”, communist regions. We argue that it is not a coincidence. Using a comparative historical approach, we demonstrate that those regions of Central, South and Volga Russia belong to the historical core of the Russian state. Thus, the rejection of communism in the Center would lead to the rejection in the core as well; the Kremlin’s conservative agenda was first of all accepted right there. The comparison with the most studied “Bible Belt” – in the protestant regions in the US South – reveals very similar historical background in the making of the religious belts: belonging to the historical core, prevalence of exploitive labor, the Civil War’s cleavage and political realignment. Finally, we examined some recent social-demographic indicators and revealed how political religiosity may affect not only electoral behavior but also highly debated family, marriage and sexual education policy in those belts.

religion, political geography, “Bible Belt”, elections, historical approach
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