Russians base much of their healing system around beneficial herbs and folk remedies. This harkens to feudal eras when professional medical service was unavailable, but was reinforced in Soviet times when doctors were poorly equipped. Russians believe in preventative medicine, so the consumption of certain foods is thought to have preventative effects.
Another traditional Russian healing practice is called bonki, and consists of glass cups that are pressed against a person's back and shoulders. This is said to heal flu and fever symptoms. This practice has been discredited, but remains common in Russia and Russian communities abroad. Russians also attempt to cure some ailments with vodka, or vodka with sugar. Heat is another preventative measure favored by Russians, who attribute illness to cold more than to viruses (St. Elizabeth Medical Center, 2006).
Russians have followed Orthodox Christianity since the conversion of Vladimir the Great in 989. After the conversion, however, old pagan practices continued for several centuries thereafter. Despite the fact that the majority of Russians are nominally Orthodox, most do not attend church. There are minorities of Catholics and of other orthodox sects beyond Russian Orthodox. In the Soviet era, Russia was officially atheist, and this has resulted in a significant decline in the importance of religion. It is estimated that today there are only 40 million followers of Orthodoxy, despite nearly 100 million Russians identifying themselves with the faith.
Islam is a major minority religion, with an estimated 23 million followers. They are found in central Russia, in regions such as Tatarstan and Bashkortostan, as well as in the Caucasus region. There are also many Muslims among the seasonal laborers who come to Russia from the Central Asia republics. Some observers have even suggested that Islam will be the largest religion in Russia within our lifetimes (Pipes, 2009). There are centers of Mongol-influenced Buddhism in Tuva, Buryatia and Kalmykia. Shamanism is still practices, particularly in Siberia and Kamchatka. There is a Jewish Autonomous Region, set out in Siberia during the Communist days, but most Russian Jews have emigrated to Israel.
A peculiar Russian religious sect is the Old Believers. This is a splinter group from the Russian Orthodox Church and follow the Orthodoxy most traditionally. There are an estimated 1-10 million Old Believers in Russia today, many living in isolated communities to which their ancestors fled centuries ago.
Art and Expressive Forms
Russia's literature tradition is justifiably famous.
Among the leading contributors have been Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, Chekhov, Gogol and Pushkin. These writers established the concept of the Russian soul, evaluated Russian ethics and captured images of Russian life in the 19th century. Chekhov made significant contributions to the use of the short story form. Pushkin was the most significant influence on later Russian writers, establishing the tone of Russian literature. In the 20th century, the most celebrated Russian writer was Alexander Solzhenitsyn, whose works exposed the brutality of Soviet rule. Maxim Gorky was another influential Soviet-era writer, who developed the social realism style.
One of the most visible examples of Russian visual art is icon painting. This tradition was derived from Byzantine churches when Vladimir brought Orthodox Christianity to Rus. Russia also went through a period of avant-garde art. Modern Russian visual art is dominated, however, by architecture. The distinctive style of Russian cathedrals, such as St. Basil's in Moscow and the Church of the Savior on Blood in St. Petersburg, is iconic around the world. Soviet architecture is a unique, if bleak, contribution to the Russian cultural heritage. Utilitarian, monolithic and drab, Soviet architecture influences the character of the Russian people by dominating their surroundings.
Traditional Rus architecture can be found in the formerly important village of Suzdal. There is also a strong influence of classical European architecture, as many European architects contributed to the building of St. Petersburg, including most of that city's iconic buildings.
Russia has a rich tradition of other art forms as well, including ballet, the circus and classical music. Many Russian composers have made significant contributions to the world of music, including Tchaikovsky, Mussorgsky, Stravinsky, and Prokofiev. In the post-Soviet era, Russian favor Western-accented pop music.
As a consequence of strong Soviet-era sporting programs, Russians have become a sports-oriented nation. The most popular sports, both in terms of participation rates and international success, are soccer, hockey and basketball. Russians also have an affinity for chess and the country has produced many world-class chessmasters. Russia dominated chess to such a degree that during the Soviet era there was only one non-Soviet chess champion in the world.
Russian cuisine is based around simple, hearty dishes, reflecting the nation's feudal agricultural heritage. Potatoes, cabbage, buckwheat and meat are common ingredients. These are accented with foods of the land - mushrooms, berries and honey. Smetana, or sour cream is a favored condiment. The national dish is borscht, the beet soup. Soups in general are a favorite food, and Russian cuisine is divided between hot and cold soups. Dried fish is a favorite snack, particularly with beer. Vodka is the national drink, and the Russians prefer it rough and full of flavor, in contrast to Westerners. Tea has been adopted as the caffeinated beverage of choice for Russians. Ice cream is the preferred dessert for most Russians, even in the depths of winter.
Russian cuisine also shows the influence of the territories of the Tsarist and Soviet empires. Caucasian food is common in most Russian cities. Central Asian meat skewers - shashlyk - have also become staples of the modern Russian diet. Recent immigration has also brought the shawarma to Russia as a popular street food. Dumplings such as pelmeny and perogies are also popular. Blini - the thin Russian pancakes - are street food in Russia but have been adopted into Western fine dining.
Russian culture is an amalgam of a wide variety of influences. This survey of Russian culture illustrates this clearly. The feudal and colonial eras have influenced food; the language was influenced by the rise of nationalism, particular under the U.S.S.R.; religion dates to Vladimir the Great; art and literature flourished under the Tsars; healing beliefs date to pre-Christian pagan times; family values have shifted undergone a dramatic shift in just the past twenty years since the U.S.S.R. collapsed. That Russian culture today is so difficult for outsiders to penetrate is a reflection of the complex web of different influences that have shaped the culture. Each era has left its own unique stamp on Russian culture, such that only Russians who have been raised with all of these varying and sometimes contradictory influences can truly understand how it all fits together.
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