Religion in Latvia
The main religion traditionally practiced in Latvia is Christianity. As of 2011[update], it is the largest religion (80%), though only about 7% of the population attends religious services regularly. Lutheranism is the main Christian denomination among ethnic Latvians due to strong historical links with the Nordic countries and Northern Germany (see Hanseatic League), while 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 adherents primarily among the Russian-speaking minority.
In a survey from 2015, the ISSP found that 62.6% of the Latvian population declared to belong to a Christian denomination, divided in 19.7% Russian Orthodox, 18.5% Roman Catholic, 17.8% Protestant, 6.1% Old Believers and 0.5% belonged to smaller christian denominations. A further 36.7% declared to have No Religion and 0.7% declared to belong to an other religion. In the same year the Eurobarometer survey by the European Commission found different results, with 76.7% of the Latvians regarding themselves as Christians, divided in 26.2% Catholics 24.0% Eastern Orthodox, 16.6% Protestants, and 9.9% other Christians. The unaffiliated people made up the 22.0% of the respondents and were divided in Atheists with 4.7% and Agnostics with 17.3%.
Latvia was one of the last regions in Europe to be Christianized. The inhabitants of the region that is now Latvia once practiced Finnic paganism and Baltic mythology, but this practice gradually diminished through the course of the centuries. In the 12th to 13th centuries Latvia first fell under the influence of the 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. Before World War II, 2/3 of Latvia was Protestant; overwhelmingly Lutheran with scarce Calvinist population and individual cases of adhering to other Protestant confessions.
Because of the state policy of atheism during the Soviet era and the general European trend of secularization, religiosity declined drastically, and today a growing percentage of Latvians claims not to follow any religion.
Religion in Latvia today
The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Latvia has 708,773 members. The Catholic Church 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, although Catholics are now common in Riga and other cities due to migration from Latgale. Historically, Lutherans were the majority, but Communist rule weakened Lutheranism much more than Catholicism, with the result that there are now only slightly more Lutherans than Catholics. 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), 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|
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