CESNUR - Centro Studi sulle Nuove Religioni diretto da Massimo Introvigne


A Strange Case in Kazakhstan: Atheofobia, a New Hate Crime?

by James T. Richardson


Note by Massimo Introvigne: The material concerning this case, including the whole legal file, has been deposited in the CESNUR archives. Dr. James T. Richardson, one of the world’s leading experts in religious liberty issues, has authorized CESNUR to publish his report. Dr. Richardson’s report deals with issues specifically concerning the Unification Church. The most alarming point in the material we have reviewed is, however, of general interest and goes beyond th Unification Church. In what was regarded as the crucial point of the case, the prosecution’s expert, Dr. Burova, accused Ms. Drenicheva of a new crime, which could be termed atheofobia. By claiming that religious persons in general are happier than atheists, Ms. Drenicheva according to Dr. Burova is guilty of a new hate crime and is discriminating against an “ethnic group”, i.e. atheists. Of course, scores of religious activists may be accused of a similar crime.

Statement of Specialist James T. Richardson, J.D., Ph.D.

Statement of James T. Richardson, J.D., Ph.D., Professor of Sociology and Judicial Studies, University of Nevada, Reno, concerning case involving Elizabeth Drenicheva, a Russian citizen and member of the Unification Church, who has been charged with presenting material harmful to the State of Kazakhstan and its citizens.

Professor Richardson, a licensed attorney as well as a Ph.D. trained sociologist, has published eight books and over 200 articles and chapters in books dealing with various aspects of minority religions. His most recent book, Regulating Religion: Case Studies from around the Globe (2004, Kluwer) contains 33 chapters, including seven that address religious regulation in former Soviet Union nations. He has testified or consulted in legal matters involving minority and new religions in a number of countries, including Russia, England, France, Australia, New Zealand, and the United States, as well as presented research results at conferences and universities in over 20 nations. Professor Richardson has visited nine different countries that were formerly a part of the Soviet Bloch, doing research and making presentations in them. His research has focused in recent years of functioning of constitutional courts in Eastern and Central Europe, as well as the European Court of Human Rights. Professor Richardson also directs and teaches in the Judicial Studies graduate degree program for trial judges, offered at his university in conjunction with the National Judicial College and the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges, both of which are headquartered on his campus. The course he teaches is called "Social and Behavioral Science and the Law," an area where Professor Richardson has done considerable research and publication in academic and legal journals. Professor Richardson has been a Fulbright Fellow to The Netherlands, a Rockefeller Foundation Fellow at the Bellagio Center in Italy, An Official Visitor at the Department of Sociology at the London School of Economics, and also spent a sabbatical year doing research in Australia where is was affiliated with the University of Sydney Law Faculty, as well as the University of Queensland Law School and the Department of Criminology at the University of Melbourne.


I will focus my attention on the report of the experts in the case (Expert Findings No. 6141), offering specific comments based on my own content analysis of the material in the report, in particular focusing from the report on the recordings of the session of the Unification Church (“UC”) meetings where Ms. Drenicheva spoke, as well as a content and linguistic analysis of one of the reports, that of political scientist Dr. E.E. Burova.


First, I will offer an overview of the report's conclusions.

It is noteworthy that two of the three experts drew conclusions that do not support the claims made against Ms. Drenicheva. As stated in Expert Findings No. 6141 by well-credentialed experts asked to assess the UC materials from the point of view of linguistics and religious science:

1.       The materials contained in objects Nos. 1-4 as presented do not contain any incitement to overthrowing the constitutional order, violating the integrity of the state, nor an appeal to war.  Expert A.E. Svankulov.

2.       The video materials submitted for investigation contain ideas characteristic of the neo-Christian beliefs of nontraditional cults such as the Unification Church.  Expert D.R. Musina,

Because these two experts' conclusions do not support charges made against Ms. Drenicheva I will focus attention more directly on the report of the political science expert, Dr. E.E. Burova, whose lengthy report concludes:

3.       The objects presented contain a) propaganda of the inferiority of citizens on account of signs relating to their ethnic/tribal affiliation; b) propaganda of the inferiority of citizens on account of signs relating to their class/social standing/affiliation. The objects presented contain no propaganda of exclusivity, preeminence or inferiority of citizens on account of signs relating to religion, national or racial affiliation.

4.       The materials presented contain signs of destructive (negative) influence upon person, family, society, and the moral-ethical integrity of the state.  Expert E.E. Burova

Assessing Dr. Burova's Report

My assessment will make several major points;

1.       The report contradicts and is contradicted by the other two expert reports.

2.       The report itself demonstrates considerable bias by its choice of negatively connoted and conclusory  language.

3.       The report ignores a vast scholarly literature on new religious phenomena and on the Unification Church.

4.       The report uses the terms "ethnic (tribal) affiliation" and "class (social) affiliation" in ways that are not usually accepted within the social sciences.

5.       My own content analysis of the material considered by Dr. Burova leads to diametrically opposed conclusions.

1. The report is contradictory and contracted by other expert reports.

It is worth noting initially that there is a contradiction between the other two expert reports and that of Dr. Burova. They examined the same material, but drew diametrically opposed conclusions. Indeed, the analysis of Dr. Burova conflates a theological analysis and a linguistic one with that of her own from the perspective of political science. The fact of the conflict between the analysis of Dr. Burova and the other two experts should have raised a serious question about her report, especially since Dr. Burova's analysis involved assessing language and theology, which are outside her area of supposed expertise.


2.  The report shows much bias in its choice of language.

The report by Dr. Burova in general uses language that suggests a less than objective assessment of the materials being examined. Negatively connoted language is used throughout, including such conclusory terms as "pseudo-religious," "anti-educational", "propaganda", "perversion" and "perverted", "pseudo-social order", "artificially constructed mythology", and others. These kinds of terms and phrases are out of place in a report submitted as an objective assessment. Whether one disagrees or not with the theology and world view offered by the UC, they are a recognized religion in many countries, and to use such dismissive terms as "pseudo-religious" throughout the report is unbecoming of a scholarly approach to the questions being posed. To state that the world view of the UC is a "perversion" and "demeaning" and that the world the UC practitioners envision is a "pseudo-social order" is a demonstration of the values of the assessor, not an objective assessment. All religions offer world views and promote social arrangements in accordance to those views. To refer to one specific set of religious views such as those of the UC in a thoroughly negative manner suggests a significant lack of understand of the pluralistic world in which we all now live, and which also includes Kazakhstan. An assessment offered in such terms is not social scientific, but represents an ideological position at odds with the thinking of the vast majority of social scientists in the world.

3. The report ignores a vast scholarly literature that is relevant.

Dr. Burova seems to have adopted a perspective on the UC and the specific activities in question that is not based on a social scientific approach to the subject matter. It seems uninformed of the large body of scholarship that has been devoted to the phenomenon of new religions over the past several decades, including considerable research directly dealing with the Unification Church. That literature clearly shows that the UC is a small organization in most countries, and that it does not by virtue of numbers of participants represent any credible threat to any nation in which it operates. The literature also demonstrates that those who participate do so of their own volition, and that they are not tricked into joining, or do not suffer from some powerful psychological techniques that compel membership. If such were the case the UC would be much larger than it is, but it is actually a small organization, even if it does have representation in a number of countries. The miniscule size of the UC membership in Kazakhstan and most of nations in which it operates clearly shows that its theology does not appeal to the masses. The scholarly literature also shows that most people who choose to affiliate with the UC do so for a short time, and then they return to a life more in keeping with that of their previous existence. The small size of the UC and the high attrition rates are ignored by Dr. Burova, who seems to assume that the organization represents a major threat to the nation. That conclusion is absurd on the face of all the evidence many scholars have gathered about the UC and other newer religious groups.

4. The report uses terms such as "ethnic/tribal affiliation" and "class/social standing" in unusual ways not generally accepted by social science scholars.

I was quite puzzled by the manner Dr. Burova used the terms "ethic/tribal group" and "class/social standing." No social scientist I know of uses the terms "ethnic"  or “tribal” to refer to the entire human race as does Dr. Burova.  The term refers to human groupings based on religious and other cultural factors, although there is sometimes a correspondence between cultural factors (ethnicity) and racial groupings. To say, as does Dr. Burova, that Ms. Drenicheva was engaged in some sort of ethnic or tribal discrimination as she explained the UC view of the fall of man and how to achieve salvation is very strange indeed. All religions have a view about how human beings are imperfect and therefore should take certain steps in order to become better persons. To claim that this kind of message establishes "inferiority of citizens on account of their ethnic (or tribal) affiliation” would be viewed a ludicrous by most social scientists.

Similar comments can be made about the way Dr. Burova uses the term "class/social standing."  Class or social standing for other social scientists refers to ones standing in a hierarchy of social classes or affiliation by virtue of economic prowess or related factors such as level of education, occupation, and such. Dr. Burova seems to be confusing the concept of class or standing as defined above with that of "social category" as it is used in the social sciences. Families and social groups are more accurately referred to as social categories, not as social classes.

Dr. Burova's lack of experience with scholarly literature in the area of religious studies is also demonstrated when she claims that Ms. Drenicheva teaching of UC doctrine is an attempt to subvert an official view of what a family is in Kazakhstan. I would suggest that the UC position on the best way to develop a strong family life is a common one among many religions, including some others practiced within Kazakhstan.

5.       My own content analysis of UC materials taught by Ms. Drenicheva and reviewed by Dr. Burova.

Because of my decades of research on new religions, including the Unification Church, I am familiar with the theological positions being presented by Ms. Drenicheva in her efforts to recruit new members into the UC in Kazakhstan. In that regard I would agree with the conclusion of the expert on religious science, D.R. Musina, M.A.. The views offered by Ms. Drenicheva are generally traditionally Christian in orientation, but have some additional elements that cause scholars to refer to them as "neo-Christian." There are many versions of neo-Christian views being promoted by religious groups around the world, with the UC view being only one of many. There is nothing in those views that suggest or imply a threat to the state of Kazakhstan. If so, then any other Christian person in the country would have to also be charged as was Ms. Drenicheva. The views are thoroughly Christian, with the addition of a few elements such as the role of Reverend Moon.

Overall Conclusion

My careful assessment of the material viewed from the presentations of Ms. Drenicheva and the expert reports concerning that material lead me to conclude that there is nothing to be concerned about in the teachings of this small, even insignificant religious group. Contrary to the conclusion of Dr. Burova, the materials presented by Ms. Drenicheva contain no "signs of destructive and negative influence upon person, family, society, and the moral-ethical integrity of the state." Such a claim is unsupportable by the materials and lectures assessed, and would be rejected by all the social scientist I know throughout the world.

I solemnly swear and declare, under penalty of perjury, that my Statement above is true and accurate.

Signed: Dr. James Richardson

Date: January 30, 2009