Russia's 144 million inhabitants subscribe to a diverse variety of religions, with the most popular religion in the state traditionally being the Russian Orthodox Church. However, irreligious beliefs have also become more and more popular in Russia over recent times. Attitudes towards religion in Russia have waned and fluctuated over time. During the lengthy era of the Soviet Union, atheism was the widespread practice. However, following the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, religious beliefs began to re-emerge, setting the foundation for the present day religious association. However, atheism still remains a preferred way of life for many Russians. A detailed analysis of the religious beliefs of Russia is available below.
Most Common Religions in Russia
Orthodox Christianity - 71%
Orthodox Christianity in Russia can be traced back to at least the year 988 when it was introduced in Russia under the governance of Prince Vladimir of Kiev. Today, Orthodox Christianity is still the most popular Christian denomination in Russia, with 42.5% of Russians identifying as Orthodox Christians. Although religious activity was highly intertwined within Russian society throughout many centuries, the influence of the Russian Orthodox church lessened following the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917. After the establishment of the Soviet Union in 1922, religious participation was at best discouraged and at worst persecuted. Other Orthodox churches, such as the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, the Georgian Orthodox Church, and the Belarusian Orthodox Church saw similar treatment during this era. Today, Christianity in Russia has experienced somewhat of an upsurge, a trend that began after the fall of the Soviet Union.
Non-Affiliated Beliefs - 15%
Atheism came into vogue in Russia during the Soviet era, as it was regarded to be communism-appropriate. Today, atheist beliefs prevail in Russia to an extent, with around 13% of the country identifying as such. However, it is difficult to determine exactly how many people are atheists in Russia, as many who identify as Orthodox Russian do not participate in any religious practices and are in fact atheists. Those who identified their religious beliefs as "non-affiliated" include Russians who consider themselves to be agnostic or just generally irreligious.
Many of those who are non-religiously affiliated are opposed to the major religions having influence in the affairs of the state. Non-believers remain generally unrepresented in Russia despite their relatively large numbers. Atheism and Agnosticism do not have any overt role in the matters of the nation.
Islam - 10%
Around 10% of the population of Russia identifies as Muslim. Islam was introduced to Russia through Dagestan around the mid-7th century. The central point of Islam's integration in Russia was the Volga region, from which it spread to other parts of the country. Today, Muslim communities in Russia are mainly concentrated in the Volga Region and the North Caucasus, with smaller numbers in St. Petersburg and Moscow.
Tatarstan and Bashkortostan are the two major Islamic republics in Russia. The Muslims in Tatarstan are majorly ethnic Muslims, who are direct descendants of the earliest Muslims in Russia, called the Volga Bulgars. There are over 5,000 registered Muslim communities in Russia. However, like Orthodoxy, Islam was suppressed during the Soviet Union, and many mosques were closed down during this time.
A large number of Muslims in Russia observe the Sunni branch of Islam while a smaller number are Shia Muslims. In other areas, notably Chechnya, some Muslims adhere to Sufism. A political party, the Nur All-Russia Public Movement was formed to lobby for political, social and economic rights of Muslims and other minority groups.
Other Christians - 2%
Other than Orthodox Christianity, the other Christian beliefs practiced in Russia include: Protestant Christians, Jehovah’s Witness, the Old Believers, Catholics and Seventh Day Adventists. These groups represent around 2% of the population. A small amount of the population of Russia adheres to the Catholic Church. The aforementioned religious groups have minimal influence in Russia.
Other Faiths - 1%
The other faiths followed in Russia include Pagan beliefs, Slavic Folk Religion, and/or Central Asia Shamanism, Buddhism, Hinduism, Judaism, and Taoism. There is a small community of Scientologists in Russia. However, these beliefs have a combined following that represents only 1% of the population.
Religious Freedom in Russia
In recent years, the Russian government has come under fire from international whistleblowers for failing to respect religious freedom. Although the constitution of Russia calls for freedom of religion, many argue that this is stipulation that goes unfollowed. Acts of religious extremism are generally frowned upon in Russia, and the Russian Orthodox Church has been called the "un-official" church of the state.
The Future of Religion in Russia: Outlook For the Year 2050
2015 data released by the PEW Research Center showed interesting predictions for trends in religious beliefs in Russia. While non-affiliation in Russia is predicted to shrink in population, followers of Islam and Hinduism are predicted to grow in the future. Interestingly, the population of those who follow Russian Orthodoxy are predicted to shrink in population, from around 100 million today to 88 million in 2050. One possible reason for this could be the fact that Russia is one of the world's countries that actually has a shrinking population, which is determined by a low birth date and a relatively short life expectancy, among other factors.