The vast majority of Russians identify themselves as Orthodox Christians, loyal to the religion that came to Russia more than a thousand years ago. The Russian Orthodox Church traces its roots back to the baptism of prince Vladimir and the Christianization of Kievan Rus in 988.
When the Bolsheviks came to power in 1917 and tried to turn Russia into an Atheist state, religion and clergy were severely persecuted. Since the fall of the USSR, the number of people adhering to the Orthodox faith has risen. However, while upwards of 60% of the Russian population claims to be Christian (most of whom are Orthodox Christians), for the majority, religion is but a symbol, an identity that is infrequently practiced. In addition, only a few small ethnic people groups espouse Orthodoxy.
After Orthodox Christianity, Islam is the most widely professed religion in Russia. Islam is monotheistic and teaches that Allah is merciful and all-powerful. The primary authority for Islam is the Quran, viewed by Muslims as the verbatim word of God. The teachings and normative example of the prophet Muhammad are also very important and instructive for Muslims. Classical Islam teaches that Muslims should follow the five pillars of practice (Shahada, Fasting, Prayers, Pilgrimage, Giving to the Poor) and the five pillars of belief (One God, Prophets, Books of God, Angels, and Final Judgment).
However, one should note that the majority of Muslims in Russia are not strict classical Muslims, and thus there are varying degrees of adherence to the previously mentioned pillars. The majority (95%) of Muslims in Russia belong to the Sunni branch of Islam, while about 5% are Shia. Muslims form a majority of the population of the republics of Bashkortostan and Tatarstan in the Volga Region, and they predominate among the nationalities in the North Caucasus Region.
The main form of Buddhism in Russia is Tibetan Buddhism. Although Tibetan Buddhism is most often associated with Tibet, it spread into Mongolia and via Mongolia into Russia. There are about 1.5 million Buddhists in Russia, mainly in the republics of Buryatia, Kalmykia, and Tuva. There are several Tibetan Buddhist university-monasteries throughout Russia, concentrated in Siberia, known as Datsans. Tibetan Buddhism applies Tantric practices, especially deity yoga, and aspires to Buddhahood. Other practices include: Renunciation, Bodhicitta, Emptiness, and Vajrayana. In most cases where Tibetan Buddhism is practiced in Russia, Shamanistic practices are also mixed in.
Judaism is an ancient, monotheistic religion with the Torah as its foundational text. It is characterized by a belief in one transcendent God who revealed himself to Abraham, Moses, and the Hebrew prophets. Religious practice is lived in accordance with the Old Testament Scriptures and with rabbinic traditions. Jews in the Russian Empire have historically constituted a large religious diaspora. In fact, at one time Russia hosted the largest population of Jews in the world.
Today there are approximately 200,000 Jews living in Russia, most in and around Moscow. The Jewish Autonomous Oblast in Far East Russia is also home to a small Jewish population. Since the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Jews no longer live under oppressive government rule. Many Jews are willing to openly identify themselves as such, though the number of Jews in Russia participating in religious observances remains relatively small.
An Ethnic Religion is usually associated with a particular ethnic group and comprises various forms and expressions of religion that are distinct from those of organized, worldwide religions such as Christianity or Islam. Syncretism is common with Ethnic Religions, mixing their practices with the belief systems of other religions. Of the many different people groups inhabiting the territory of contemporary Russia, 40 are officially recognized as indigenous small-numbered peoples of the North, Siberia, and the Far East. These smaller people groups generally perpetuate some aspects of their traditional ways of life and religious practice. Together, they number approximately two million people, less than 0.2% of Russia’s total population.