Religion has played a significant role in social and political life throughout Chilean history. Christianity especially continues to be a dominant force in Chilean society. Indeed, most of the population identify with some form of Christianity (84.1%), with the majority identifying as Roman Catholic (66.7%). This is followed by Protestant (including Evangelical traditions), with 16.4% identifying as such, and 1.0% of the population identify as Jehovah's Witness. Of the remaining population, 3.4% identify with some other religion, 11.5% identify with no religion and 1.1% did not specify their religious affiliation.
Catholicism in Chile
For much of Chile's history, the Catholic church has had significant influence and power over the country. Catholicism was introduced in Chile in the 16th century by Spanish colonialists and continues to thrive today. As a branch of Christianity, Catholicism believes in the doctrine of God as the ‘Holy Trinity', consisting of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Like most Catholics, many Chileans accept the authority of the priesthood and the Roman Catholic Church, which is led by the Pope.
In the wake of the military coup of 1973, the Catholic Church played a pivotal role in opposing Pinochet's regime. Along with leaders in the Protestant and Jewish communities, the Catholic Church established an office for the defence of human rights. Oncewas restored in the country, the Catholic Church returned to its previous role as the defender of traditional values as well as the main ally of the conservative forces. Since the 1970s and Pinochet's regime, there has been a slow decline in followers of Catholicism as well as in the influence of the Catholic Church over society.
The high proportion of Chileans who identify as Catholic does not imply that all followers subscribe to the beliefs and values of Catholicism. Indeed, some Chileans who identify as Catholic express a discontent towards the conservative nature of the Catholic Church while others reject it altogether. Common areas of disagreement are abortion and divorce. In the last decade, Chileans of all walks of life have advocated for an open dialogue within and outside the church to address these and other issues.
Nevertheless, Catholicism continues to be the most popular religion, particularly among the elite of Chilean society. Many continue to look to the Catholic Church for reassurance and security in times of crisis. Respect for and adherence to Catholic holidays and seminal life events also continue to be very important for many Chileans. For example, many children will receive their First Communion at the age of eight. Older generations of Chileans will celebrate their saint's day as much as their birthday. While some will attend church on Sundays, many Chileans reserve the end of the week as a time to be spent with family.
Protestantism in Chile
Although the percentage of Chileans who identify as Protestant is substantially lower than those who identify as Catholic, the popularity of Protestantism is steadily increasing. It is believed that Protestantism was likely brought to Chile by German Lutheran immigrants in the early 19th century. Today, a large part of the growing popularity of Protestantism is attributed to conversions rather than immigrants. Surveys conducted by the Centro de Estudios Públicos (Centre for Public Studies) have revealed that a considerable percentage of the Protestant population are people who converted in the last decade.
The distribution of practising Catholics and Protestants varies significantly by socioeconomic status. Many Chileans who identify as Protestant are individuals from poorer groups within society. Thus, Protestantism is often popular among the marginalised in society who feel disconnected from the Catholic Church. However, in the early 2000s, the number of Baptist Protestant churches began to increase. This has meant that more people from higher socioeconomic classes and levels of education are becoming Protestant. The most popular branches of Protestantism in Chile are Pentecostal and Evangelical. It is believed that roughly two-thirds of all Protestants in Chile are either Pentecostal or charismatic, making Chile one of the most "pentecostalised" countries in.1
1 Pew Research Center, 2016