Religion in Latvia
The main religion traditionally practiced in Latvia is Christianity. Lutheranism is the main Christian denomination among ethnic Latvians due to strong historical links with the Nordic countries and Northern Germany, while Roman Catholicism is most prevalent in Eastern Latvia (Latgale) mostly due to Polish influence. The Latvian Orthodox Church is the third largest Christian church in Latvia, with an overwhelming majority of the members being Russian-speaking Soviet-era immigrants and their descendants. In addition, a large portion of Latvians claim to practice no religion.
Latvia was one of the last regions in Europe to be Christianized. The inhabitants of the region that is now Latvia once practiced Baltic and Finnic paganism, but this practice gradually diminished through the course of centuries. In the 12th to 13th centuries Latvia first fell under the influence of the Roman Catholic Church, as the Christian kings of Denmark, Sweden and the North German Livonian and Teutonic military orders fought for influence in the region in what later became known as the Northern Crusades.
Parts of Eastern Latvia (notably the Koknese and Jersika principalities) shortly came under the influence of the Viking rulers of the Rurik dynasty, who had adopted Orthodox Christianity as early as the 12th century. After succumbing to the Livonian Order in the 13th century, the influence of the Orthodox Church faded away until the 19th century.
Despite the Christianization, the local populace in the countryside maintained their pagan belief system for several centuries, with pockets of paganism surviving in Latvia up until the 17th century. Along with the rest of the traditional holidays, Christmas (Ziemassvētki) and Easter (Lieldienas) in Latvia still largely retain their pagan roots.
During the Protestant Reformation the teachings of Lutheranism from northern Germany and Scandinavia completely changed the religious landscape in the country, and eventually only Latgale remained Catholic due to the influence of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. Because of the state policy of atheism during the Soviet era and the general European trend of secularization a growing percentage of Latvians claim to follow no religion.
Religion in Latvia today
The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Latvia has 708,773 members. Roman Catholicism in Latvia has 430,000 members. Historically, the west and central parts of the country have been predominantly Protestant, while the east – particularly the Latgale region – has been predominantly Catholic. The Latvian Orthodox Church is semi-autonomous and has 370,000 members. Orthodoxy predominates among the Latvian Russian population.
As of 2011, the Justice Ministry had registered 1145 congregations. This total included: Lutheran (294), Roman Catholic (250), Orthodox (122), Baptist (94), Old Believer Orthodox (69), Pentecostal (52), Seventh-day Adventist (51), Evangelical (39), New Generation (18), Muslim (17), Jehovah's Witnesses (15), Jewish (13), Methodist (12), New Apostolic (11), Hare Krishna (11), Dievturi (10), Buddhist (4), Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons) (4), and 18 other congregations. In 2003, the Government also registered the Christian Scientists as a recognized religious congregation.
In 2011, churches in Latvia provided the following estimates of church membership to the Justice Ministry:
|Old Believer Orthodox||34,517|
- "Tieslietu ministrijā iesniegtie reliģisko organizāciju pārskati par darbību 2011. gadā" (in Latvian). Retrieved 2012-07-25.
- Reliģiju Enciklopēdija, Statistika (in Latvian). Accessed 2009-07-23.
- Ščerbinskis, Valters (1999). "Eastern Minorities". The Latvian Institute.
- Stradiņš J (1996). "Martin Luther and the Impact of the Reformation on the History of Latvia. - Dialogue between Christianity and Secularism in Latvia". Annals of European Academy of Sciences and Arts 15 (VI): 75.
- Klīve V (1993). "The Latvian Struggle for Survival: A Religious Perspective". Humanities and Social Sciences (Latvia) (1): 51–52.