Puerto Rico is a US island territory located in the northern region of the Caribbean Sea. It covers a total area of 3,515 square miles and has a population size of approximately 3.4 million. Residents of Puerto Rico have been considered US citizens for just over 100 years. The racial and ethnic makeup of Puerto Rico is as follows: White (75.8%); African American (12.4%); other races (7.8%); two or more races (3.3%); Indigenous (0.5%); Asian (0.2%); and Pacific Islander (0.1%). The population of Puerto Rico is diverse in terms of racial and ethnic identity, as well as religious composition. Its religious diversity is protected by the national Constitution, which allows citizens and residents to choose and practice the religion of their preference. This article highlights the religious demographics of the population of Puerto Rico.
The majority of Puerto Ricans (69.7%) identify as Roman Catholic, according to the Pew Research Center. Catholicism is a Christian denomination and has had a significant influence over the government and society of Puerto Rico since colonial times. In fact, Puerto Rico became the site of the first ecclesiastical province in the Americas in 1504, although it was officially opposed by Ferdinand, then-King of Spain, who wanted the monarchy to maintain the exclusive right to receive church tithes. The Catholic religion prospered in Puerto Rico during the Spanish colonial era due to the special relationship between the church and the crown. Other religions throughout the region were suppressed during this era.
Adherents of Roman Catholicism in Puerto Rico tend to use religious artifacts to practice their religion. These objects may be as large as an altar for saints located inside the home, or as small as a strand of rosary beads used for prayer. Roman Catholicism is so widespread in Puerto Rico that each municipality has at least one Catholic Church.
Protestantism is the second largest religious identity in Puerto Rico, and 25.1% of the population claim to follow a Protestant sect. As mentioned, other religions were suppressed under Spanish colonial rule, and Protestantism was no exception. The first Protestant church in Puerto Rico was the Holy Trinity Anglican Church, established in 1872. However, the church was not permitted to ring its bells for approximately 25 years after it was founded. In fact, it was not until the end of the Spanish-American War in 1898, when Puerto Rico came under US military rule, that religious freedom was established. This helps explain why Protestant denominations are less widespread than Catholicism. After this religious freedom was established, Protestant denominations, including Baptists, Methodists, and Presbyterians, began to spread throughout the region performing missionary work.
Nearly half of individuals who identify as Protestant (48%) claim to be born-again Christians, a term which may refer to Evangelicalism or to the act of baptism as an adult. Some researchers believe that Protestants, specifically Evangelicals, will make up 75% of the population of Puerto Rico in the near future.
Other Christian Denominations
Other Christian denominations can include a number of churches and sects, including Seventh Day Adventists, Jehovah’s Witnesses, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, Defenders of the Faith, and Assemblies of God. According to the Pew Research Center, 1.9% of Puerto Rico's population identify as one of these non-Catholic and non-Protestant Christian sects.
Like Protestantism, these Christian denominations got their start in Puerto Rico after US occupation began. An example of this is the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, which is also known as the Mormon Church. The first Mormon missionaries did not arrive in Puerto Rico until 1964. Prior to that, Mormonism was only practiced by members of the US military stationed in Guajataca. By 1970, the first Mormon congregation and place of worship had been established in Puerto Rico.
At least 1.4% of Puerto Rico's population reports practicing a non-Christian based religion. These other religions include Islam, Judaism, indigenous religions, and African-based religions.
Most Puerto Ricans who report practicing an indigenous religion also identify as members of the Taíno tribe, which was one of the most widespread indigenous groups in the area before the Spanish colonial era. The religion was originally based on the belief in a god who ruled over agriculture, and a goddess who ruled over fertility. As Christian missions spread throughout Puerto Rico, the number of adherents to the Taíno faith declined. Towards the middle of the 19th century, an indigenous identity movement spread throughout rural areas of Puerto Rico, which helped preserve the belief system. Other minority religions practiced on this island have evolved from the beliefs of Africans, who arrived during the slave trade.
Approximately 3,000 Puerto Ricans practice Judaism, making Puerto Rico home to the largest Jewish population in the Caribbean. Additionally, these individuals belong to the three Jewish movements: Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform. This distinction also makes Puerto Rico unique within the Caribbean region.
More than 5,000 Puerto Ricans practice Islam, and the total is expected to grow significantly in the coming years. Puerto Rico has 8 mosques, although most of Islamic population is concentrated in the city of Río Piedras. The introduction of Islam can be traced back to the mid-twentieth century, when a large numbers of Palestinians immigrated to Puerto Rico.
The non-religious demographic includes individuals who identify as agnostic, atheist, not affiliated, and unsure. Approximately 1.9% of the population of Puerto Rico identifies as non-religious, also known as irreligious. The difference between agnostics and atheists is that agnostics believe humans do not have sufficient scientific evidence to support the claim of an all-powerful deity, whereas atheists believe the existence of the deity is impossible. As seen throughout the rest of the world, the rise in urban populations and increased levels of education seems to have a positive correlation with an increase in the reporting of non-religious identities.
The Religious Composition of Puerto Rico
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About the Author
Amber is a freelance writer, English as a foreign language teacher, and Spanish-English translator. She lives with her husband and 3 cats.
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