Religion in Chile

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Religion in Chile (CADEM 2018)[1]

  Protestantism (14%)
  Unaffiliated (25%)
  Others (7%)

Religion in Chile (CEP 2018)[2]

  Protestantism (16%)
  Unaffiliated (24%)
  Other religions (5%)
  Unanswered (2%)
The Santiago Metropolitan Cathedral at night. Christianity is the main religion in Chile.

The majority religion in Chile, according to a 2018 survey conducted by Plaza Publica Cadem, is Christianity (68%), with an estimated 54% of Chileans belonging to the Catholic Church, 14% to Protestant or Evangelical churches and just 7% to any other religion. The religiously unaffiliated population (25%) includes: atheists, agnostics and people who do not identify with any particular religion. According to another 2017 poll conducted by the Pontifical Catholic University of Chile and Adimark, 59 percent of the population identify as Roman Catholic and 17 percent as surveyed declared to be Protestant. All other religions total 4 percent, and atheists and those "indifferent" regarding religion constitute approximately 19 percent. According to a 2017 poll by Latinobarometro, the country has the second highest atheists/agnostic rate in Latin America (only after Uruguay), with 38 percent of its population declaring themselves devoid of any religious beliefs, another 11% declaring themselves Evangelical or Protestant, whilst just 45 percent of the population identify as Catholic.[3] Only 27% of Chileans say religion is very important in their lives, according to a 2015 Pew Research Center report.[4]

The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and Church and state have been officially separate since 1925.


In the last census in Chile, in the year 2002, indigenous people make up 5 percent (780,000) of the population. 65 percent of indigenous people identify themselves as Catholic, 29 percent as evangelical, and 6 percent as "others." Mapuche communities, constituting 87 percent of indigenous citizens, continue to respect traditional religious leaders (Longkos and Machis), and anecdotal information indicates a high degree of syncretism in worship and traditional healing practices.[5]

Members of the largest religious groups (Catholic, Pentecostal, and other evangelical churches) are numerous in the capital and are also found in other regions of the country. Jewish communities are located in Santiago, Valparaíso, Viña del Mar, Valdivia, Temuco, Concepción, La Serena, and Iquique (although there is no synagogue in Iquique). Mosques are located in Santiago, Iquique, and Coquimbo.[5]

Religious affiliation and practices[edit]


UC-Adimark Bicentennial Survey[6][7]
Year Catholic Protestant/Evangelical Unaffiliated (None/Atheist/Agnostic) Other religions
2006 70% 14% 12% 4%
2007 66% 18% 14% 3%
2008 67% 14% 15% 4%
2009 67% 16% 13% 4%
2010 63% 17% 17% 3%
2011 63% 15% 18% 4%
2012 59% 18% 19% 4%
2013 61% 17% 19% 4%
2014 59% 16% 22% 3%
2015 61% 16% 21% 2%
2016 58% 18% 20% 3%
2017 59% 17% 19% 4%

Importance of religion[edit]

According to a 2015 Pew Research Center report, Chileans who say religion is very important in their lives has decreased from 46% in 2007 to 27% in 2015. 20% says religion is "Not at all important."[4]

How important is religion in your life?
Year Very important Somewhat important Not too important Not at all important Don't Know/Refused
2007 46% 31% 11% 10% 3%
2013 39% 32% 18% 10% 0%
2015 27% 34% 17% 20% 2%

Legal and policy framework[edit]

A modest memorial for the protestants buried at the hillside of the Cerro Santa Lucía in Santiago de Chile. Until 1871 it was not allowed by the Catholic Church to bury "dissidents" in the cemeteries.[8]

The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and other laws and policies contribute to the generally free practice of religion. The law at all levels protects this right in full against abuse, either by governmental or private actors.[5]

Church and state are officially separate. The 1999 law on religion prohibits religious discrimination; however, the Catholic Church enjoys a privileged status and occasionally receives preferential treatment. Government officials attend Catholic events and also major Protestant and Jewish ceremonies.[5]

The Government observes Christmas, Good Friday, the Feast of the Virgin of Carmen, the Feast of Saints Peter and Paul, the Feast of the Assumption, All Saints' Day, and the Feast of the Immaculate Conception as national holidays.[5]

The law allows any religious group to apply for legal public right status (comprehensive religious nonprofit status). The Ministry of Justice may not refuse to accept a registration petition, although it may object to the petition within 90 days on the grounds that all legal prerequisites for registration have not been satisfied. The petitioner then has 60 days to address objections raised by the Ministry or challenge the Ministry in court. Once a religious entity is registered, the state cannot dissolve it by decree. The semiautonomous Council for the Defense of the State may initiate a judicial review; however, no organization that has registered under the 1999 law has subsequently been deregistered.[5]

In addition, the law allows religious entities to adopt a charter and by-laws suited to a religious organization rather than a private corporation. They may establish affiliates (schools, clubs, and sports organizations) without registering them as separate corporations.

During the period covered by this report 516 religious organizations registered under the 1999 law and gained legal public right status, bringing the total to 1,659 registered religious groups. Publicly subsidized schools are required to offer religious education twice a week through high school; participation is optional (with parental waiver). Religious instruction in public schools is almost exclusively Catholic. Teaching the creed requested by parents is mandatory; however, enforcement is sometimes lax, and religious education in faiths other than Catholicism is often provided privately through Sunday schools and at other venues. Local school administrations decide how funds are spent on religious instruction. Although the Ministry of Education has approved curriculums for 14 other denominations, 92 percent of public schools and 81 percent of private schools offered only Catholic instruction. Parents may homeschool their children or enroll them in private schools for religious reasons.[5]

Religious freedom[edit]

According to a United States government report, the Chilean government generally respects religious freedom in practice.[5]

The 1999 law on religion grants other religions and denominations the same right that the Catholic Church possesses to have chaplains in public hospitals, prisons, and military units. Hospital regulations continue specifically to permit Catholic chaplains in hospitals, and if requested by a patient, to provide access to chaplains and lay practitioners of other religions. There were 35 Catholic chapels, 40 paid Catholic chaplains, 25 volunteer Catholic chaplains, and 1,200 religious or lay volunteers authorized to conduct Catholic religious activities in the prison system. There were approximately 9 paid evangelical Christian chaplain positions at the national level, 90 volunteer chaplains, and more than 1,200 evangelical Christian volunteers representing 82 evangelical denominations conducting religious activities in the prison system. Non-Catholic pastors reported that their access to prisons and hospitals continued to improve during 2007/2008.[5]

The celebration of a Catholic Mass frequently marks official and public events. If the event is of a military nature, all members of the participating units may be obliged to attend. Membership in the Catholic Church is considered beneficial to a military career.[5]

There were no reports of religious prisoners or detainees in the country.[5]


Catholic Church Approval (2017)

  Approve (32%)
  Disapprove (56%)
  Don't Know/No Answer (12%)

There are about nine million Catholics - around 58% of the total population. There are 5 archdioceses, 18 dioceses, 2 territorial prelatures, 1 apostolic vicariate, 1 military ordinariate and a personal prelature (Opus Dei).

Catholicism was introduced by priests with the Spanish colonialists in the 16th century. Most of the native population in the northern and central regions was evangelized by 1650. The southern area proved more difficult. In the 20th century, church expansion was impeded by a shortage of clergy and government attempts to control church administration. Relations between church and state were strained under both Salvador Allende and Augusto Pinochet.

According to a survey conducted in October 2017 by Plaza Publica Cadem, 56% of Chileans disapprove the performance of the Catholic Church in Chile, whilst 32% approve.[9]


Protestants represent 13% of Chilean people. Protestants first arrived in the first half of the nineteenth century, with American missionary David Trumbull[10] and with German immigrants from Protestant parts of Germany, mainly Lutherans. Later came Anglicans, Presbyterians, Baptists, Seventh-day Adventists, Methodists, Pentecostals, and other Protestant Christians.

First seventh-Day Adventist missionaries first arrived in 1895,[11] today there are estimated 126,814 Adventists in Chile.

Latter-day Saints (Mormon)[edit]

Early apostle Parley P. Pratt was among the first Mormon missionaries to preach in Chile, landing in Valparaiso in November, 1851, along with Elder Rufus Allen and Phoebe Sopher, one of Pratt's wives, who was pregnant at the time. The mission party was impressed by the Chilean countryside and people. Pratt wrote that the people he met in Chile were “a neat, plain, loving and sociable people; very friendly, frank, and easy to become acquainted with,” but the mission trip met with tragedy when the Pratt's month-old son died in January 1852.[12] Hampered by language difficulties and a lack of literature in the Spanish language (selections of the Book of Mormon were not translated into Spanish until 1875[13]) the missionaries left Chile after four months without having a successful baptism.[12] Pratt used his experience in South America to advise Brigham Young that the success of future missionary efforts would be based on translations of the scriptures.[14]

Missionary work in Chile began in earnest in 1956, when the country was made part of the Argentine mission and the first small branch was formed.[15] By 1961, the country had 1,100 members and the Chilean mission was organized. The following three decades saw explosive growth in church membership, with the church membership doubling every two years at its peak.[12] The growth sparked a building boom during these decades. Hundreds of LDS chapels were constructed, capped by the dedication of the Santiago Temple in 1983. Church growth continued in the 1990s, with the country having the greatest growth in LDS membership in South America during the decade. Between 1994 and 1996, 26 new stakes were dedicated in the country.[15] A second temple, in Concepción, was announced in 2009.

Although an average of 12,000 people were baptized annually between 1961 and 1990, membership growth has now cooled and the church has a large number of inactive members. According to census data, 0.9% of the population claims to be Mormon, based upon those aged 15 and over who identify themselves as Mormon. The church itself reports that it has 543,628 members in Chile, which is equal to about 3.3% of the population. If accurate, these numbers makes the LDS Church the single largest denomination in Chile after Catholicism.[16] LDS statistics counts everyone baptized, including children age eight or older as well as inactive members. Using unofficial sources, the Cumorah Project website estimates that 20% of Chilean members actively attend church services.[17] The church is now retrenching after its period of high growth and hundreds of units have been decommissioned since 1998.[17] In 2002, the church sent Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, to remain in Chile for a year to train leadership and minister to the church,[18] a role typically held by members of the quorums of the seventy.

Jorge F. Zeballos, a former mining engineer, is a Chilean-born LDS General Authority. He was called to the First Quorum of the Seventy in April, 2008.[19] Zeballos is the second Chilean to serve as a General Authority. He followed Eduardo Ayala, who served in the Second Quorum of the Seventy from 1990 to 1995.

Bahá'í Faith[edit]

The Bahá'í Faith in Chile begins with references to Chile in Bahá'í literature as early as 1916, with the first Bahá'ís visiting the country as early as 1919. A functioning community wasn't founded in Chile until 1940 with the beginning of the arrival of coordinated pioneers from the United States finding national Chilean converts and achieved an independent national community in 1963. In 2002 this community was picked for the establishment of the first Bahá'í Temple of South America which the community is still prosecuting.[20] The US government estimated 6000 Bahá'ís in Chile as of 2007[21] though the Association of Religion Data Archives (relying mostly on the World Christian Encyclopedia) estimated some 25,000 Bahá'ís in 2005.[22]


The earliest recorded Jew living in Chile was a converso by the name of Rodrigo de Orgonos who came with the expedition of Diego de Almagro in 1535. Conversos were widely persecuted until Chile gained independence from Spain in 1818. Even after independence, it was not until 1865 that a special law permitted non-Catholics to practice their religion in private homes and establish private schools.[23] As of the 2012 Chilean census, 16,294 Chilean residents listed their religion as Judaism.[24]



Mosque in Coquimbo.

The statistics for Islam in Chile estimate a total Muslim population of 3,196, representing 0.02 percent of the population.

Islam has enjoyed a long history in Chile. Aurelio Díaz Meza's Chronicles of the History of Chile, one man in discoverer Diego de Almagro's expedition, a certain Pedro de Gasco, was a morisco (that is, a Moor from al-Andalus, Spain, who had been obliged to convert from Islam to Roman Catholicism). The first Islamic institution in Chile, the Muslim Union Society (Sociedad Unión Musulmana), was founded on September 25, 1926, at Santiago. The Society of Mutual Aid and Islamic Charity was established the following year, on October 16, 1927. Sources within the Islamic community indicate that at the moment, in Chile, there are 3,000 Muslims, many of whom are native Chileans who, as a result of their conversions, have even changed their names.


Buddhism first came to Chile by way of Japanese residents of Brazil migrating to the country. Though still a relatively small percentage of the population, it has grown significantly since the 1990s with 15 different centers across the country mostly of the Zen and Tibetan schools.


Of the Chilean population, 25% are either atheist, agnostic or without religion in particular.[1]

In September 2011, a group of atheists founded the Atheist Society of Chile.[25]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Track semanal de Opinión Pública 22 de Enero 2018 Estudio Nº 210" (PDF). Plaza Pública Cadem. January 22, 2018.
  2. ^ "Estudio Nacional de Opinión Pública" (PDF). Centro de Estudios Públicos. October–November 2018.CS1 maint: Date format (link)
  3. ^ "Latinobarómetro 1995 - 2017: El Papa Francisco y la Religión en Chile y América Latina" (PDF) (in Spanish). January 2018. Retrieved 19 January 2018.
  4. ^ a b "Pew Research Center Spring 2015 survey: Importance of Religion" (PDF). Pew Research Center. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2018-07-05. Retrieved 3 November 2017.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k "Chile - International Religious Freedom Report 2008". United States Department of State. 2008-09-19.
  6. ^ "Encuesta Nacional Bicentenario 2017: Religión" (PDF). (in Spanish). Retrieved 3 November 2017.
  7. ^ "Encuesta Nacional Bicentenario 2016: Religión" (PDF). (in Spanish). Retrieved 3 November 2017.
  8. ^ Memoria Chilena, Los cementerios en el siglo XIX
  9. ^ "Track semanal de Opinión Pública 9 de Octubre 2017 Estudio Nº 195" (PDF). Plaza Pública Cadem. Retrieved 3 November 2017.
  10. ^ "Princeton Theological Seminary Library". Retrieved 2013-09-21.
  11. ^ "Chile". Adventist Atlas. Retrieved 2013-09-21.
  12. ^ a b c The Biggest Little Mormon Country in the World | Kristina Cordero | The Virginia Quarterly Report
  13. ^ Stocks, Hugh G. (1992), "Book of Mormon Translations", in Ludlow, Daniel H (ed.), Encyclopedia of Mormonism, New York: Macmillan Publishing, pp. 213–214, ISBN 0-02-879602-0, OCLC 24502140
  14. ^ "Autobiograph of Parley P. Pratt, 1807-1857". Retrieved 2013-09-21.
  15. ^ a b "Chile - LSD Newsroom". Archived from the original on June 18, 2010. Retrieved June 28, 2010.
  16. ^ "LDS News | Mormon News - Official Newsroom of the Church". Retrieved 2013-09-21.
  17. ^ a b "International Resources for Latter-day Saints. - Chile". Retrieved 2013-09-21.
  18. ^ "Country information: Chile". Church News. 2010-01-28. Retrieved 2013-09-21.
  19. ^ "The First Quorum of the Seventy". Church News. 2010-05-24. Retrieved 2013-09-21.
  20. ^ Lamb, Artemus (November 1995). The Beginnings of the Bahá'í Faith in Latin America:Some Remembrances, English Revised and Amplified Edition. 1405 Killarney Drive, West Linn OR, 97068, United States of America: M L VanOrman Enterprises.
  21. ^ Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor (2007-09-14). "International Religious Freedom Report 2007: Chile". State Department. Retrieved 2008-03-08.CS1 maint: Multiple names: authors list (link)
  22. ^ "Most Baha'i Nations (2005)". QuickLists > Compare Nations > Religions >. The Association of Religion Data Archives. 2005. Retrieved 2009-07-04.
  23. ^ "Chile: Virtual Jewish History tour". Jewish Virtual Library. Retrieved August 11, 2013.
  24. ^ Marcos Fuentes T. (2013-09-13). "Censo: Comunidad Judía duda de las cifras sobre sus fieles - Terra Chile". Retrieved 2013-09-21.
  25. ^