Many of us might align ourselves with a particular religion. Reasons for belonging to a particular religion would include geography, family history, governmental policy, simple interest and more. According to Findthebest.com, the world’s largest religion is Christianity with nearly 2.04 billion followers. Islam comes in second with about 1.2 billion followers. History students might remember that in the Soviet Union, religion was suppressed and even eliminated in certain areas. Gosateizm, or state atheism, combined with science, was meant to replace what German Economist Karl Marx deemed to be the “opium of the masses.” What about today? Which religions are popular in Russia today?
Researchers from the International Social Survey Programme (ISSP) conducted surveys over a number of years and with several thousand Russians in order to identify which religions were popular in Russia. The findings are made all the more interesting when you compare them with earlier polls. The particular study I looked at compared numbers from three different years: 1991, 1998, 2008. Sure the data is nearly seven years old but it creates a vivid picture of the trend. The general survey results can be viewed here.
History has proven time and again that the more you try to stamp out or suppress a religion, the stronger it is likely to become. This has proven to be true in Russia. Orthodox Christianity flourished before Lenin’s policies were adopted. With just over 72 percent of the country subscribing to its tenets, Orthodox Christianity is far and away the largest religion in Russia. Since 1991, it has increased by over 40 percent. Though it was forced underground for many years, it was not altogether eliminated and even now, flourishes fervently.
Those who do not affiliate with any particular faith, not necessarily atheism, make up about 18 percent of the population – down from 61 percent in 1991. If you figure from about 1917-1991 or so, the government propagated atheism, it is not difficult to see why in 1991, 61 percent considered themselves not affiliated with any faith. Why is this listed, you may ask? Well, it takes faith to subscribe to a religion and it also takes faith to believe that there is no God, or that everything created happened by chance. Faith is the common denominator here.
Like in many other countries, Islam is growing in Russia. Though still a small group compared to Orthodox Christianity, Islam is subscribed to by just over six percent of the survey participants. In 1991, less than one percent identified with Islam.
Protestant, Roman Catholic, Buddhism, and “Other Religion” make up less than one percent each.
Another interesting takeaway for me was that nearly 70 percent of those aged 70 years and up believed in God while just over half of those aged 16-29 didn’t. You might say that people often want what they cannot have and for most of their lives, the older generation could not easily or legally have subscribed to a particular faith – making it more difficult to believe in God. They also lived through a war that saw the country lose millions of lives, while at the same time being led by a less-than-kind man that would have you imprisoned or worse for no reason at all. Today’s younger generation, which I consider myself a part of, have had a very easy life compared with their parents and grandparents; of course, there are exceptions to this. It just seems that the harder one’s life may be, the more they might turn to God.
In my opinion, the important takeaway is this: freedom of religion is practiced in Russia and to a much greater degree than before. We ought to be able to worship whatever we want without fear of persecution from the government, other churches, or other people. Thankfully today, in modern Russia, people are relatively free to do so.