The Northwestern District of Russia is comprised of nine Oblasts, two Republics, and one former-capital. The total volume of the District's land equates to 10 shares of the country of Russia, according to data collected in a nationwide poll by MegaFOM in 2012. The research and commentary are derived from exclusively this poll. It can be found here.
Northwestern District Components
Republic of Karelia
Saint Petersburg (former Capital)
What can be ascertained from the data collected is that when one goes farther North and farthest West, particularly Kalinigrad Oblast, the identification with Russian Orthodoxy goes down by 20%. In Leningrad Oblast, it was recorded that 50% of the people who took the poll identified with Russian Orthodoxy. Not surprising as Saint Petersburg is not only the old capital, being founded by Peter the First in 1703, although moved to Moscow by the Bolsheviks in 1918 but also has an incredible 213 churches in the entire region, including beauties like St. Catherine Cathedral, Spaso-Preobrazhnesky Cathedral, and historical Valaam Transfiguration Monastery, officially founded in the 14th century by Sergius of Valaam and companion. In pre-Soviet history, there was a recorded 498 churches, but unfortunately, many churches were destroyed due to the Soviet's secular ideology.
As aforementioned, the farther one goes North, the less the percentage becomes. Case in point, the Republic of Komi with a percentage of 30. An interesting point to mention about this particular region is that it houses one of the seven wonders of the World, the 'Manpupunyer' rock formations, a cluster of towering rock pillars which are naturally eroded ancient mountains. The Republic of Komi has its own lineage of religious beliefs, mostly centered around pre-East/West Orthodox. According to James Minahan, there is a substantial Old-Believer population within the Republic as well. Interwoven within the Orthodox framework is an adherence to their Pagan, 'shamanistic' mythological heritage, which feature a slim eight deities in their Pantheon: En, Kul, the head of the group / Zeus equivalent, Vasa, Olys, Aika, Peludi, Voil, Voisa. Among the 9 (10) regions of the Northwest District, only three would classify themselves as having a population who publicly call themselves 'Russian Orthodox,' while on the flip side, the remaining seven all have figures less than 50%.
Venturing to the second parameter of the first group of questions, "I believe in God (in a higher power), but do not profess a particular religion," a commonality among all the region's is that no figure reaches above 44%, which says that the notion of 'spiritual but not religious' is not a Russian held opinion. However, this idea has grown in popularity in the United States, as 5% of the population identifies with a path other than a standard religious path. In 2009, it was recorded to now be at 7% in 2020. Particularly in the Kalinigrad Oblast, religious views are evenly spread into thirds: 30, 30, 30 (21). About a third of the population call themselves Orthodox, another third considers themselves spiritual but not affiliated with any particular religion, and then another third completely renounces their ties to religious. This 'denouncing' of religious identity is the 'highest' in Kalinigrad, with a mere 21.625% percentage. This is surprising as one would expect the number to be much higher, especially now that the world is moving towards a more secularized societal construction, where staying rooted in a religious or spiritual path is no longer 'the norm.' The option 'too difficult to answer' was an option, but among the Oblasts, the only figure worth noting is a 12% figure from Arkhangelsk Oblast.
In the Arkhangelsk Oblast, the religious beliefs differ widely, ranging from 30% identifying as typical Russian Orthodox followers 32% identifying spiritual but not religious, and 16% identifying as an atheist. These numbers, especially for this particular Oblast, are not surprising, though when one considers the tumultuous past of the area. Going back to 1918/19, the Arkhangelsk Governorate, the Russian equivalent of a state or province, was taken over by Entente troops, a collective non-Alliance group of British, American, and White forces who joined collectively to fight against the influence of the Central Powers. This period of territorial take-over is known as the 'North Russian Intervention,' a two-year unification of foreign forces with anti-Communist 'White' forces. Their hold on the area waned in 1919 as, due to an increase in disruptions by the forces of the White Army, the Allied Forces were forced to retract their troops. This led, in 1920, to the Red Army's take-over of Arkhangelsk, thus solidifying the Soviet's control of the area until 1990, when the USSR was officially dissolved.
If we take into account that during this time, religion was fundamentally under attack as well, given that the Soviets viewed religion concerning the Marxist sentiment, "Religion is the opium of the people," (1909) then a conclusion can be drawn that points the splintering of religious views during this time and well into the 20th and 21st century under the leadership of those like Putin. In the 1990s, as most are well aware, the economy of Russia started to tank due to the disastrous decision of the part of Yeltsin in the 1990s that led to mass inflation and privatizations of many sectors of the Russian market. Among others, these factors could have been the push some youth needed to separate themselves from religion and religious affiliation with 'mainstream' Russia who, in a way, left them behind. Perhaps, on the flip-side, the reason many citizens now consider themselves spiritual could be a 'religious' broadening, now having realized the official religion's insatiable appetite in Russia and its push to the envelope, with its ideological blanket, every aspect of Russian life.
One question I found interesting was the, "I believe in omens, divination, and fate." This statement, among others dealing with the role of religion in one's life, is among the higher percentages in Kalinigrad's favor, coming in at 25%. Although still a low figure and well below half of the population, what this tells the observer is that Kalinigrad, compared to its mainland neighbor, has a growing population that is interested in attributes of religious/spiritual paths that are not routed in clear-cut doxology. Alternatively, one can read this as a figure that supports standard Russian Orthodoxy, as in the faith, there are numerous examples of divine manifestations, godly omens delivered to pious believers, and more, but due to lack of context, one can ascertain a different meaning from the statement and accompanying figure. Kalinigrad is referred to by CEELBAS as the perfect atheistic society, and one can see why. It was secluded from mainland oppositional support, there was little to no direct Russian Orthodox presence, and pre-Soviet Orthodox heritage was minimal at best. The first Orthodox parish was not officially created until 1985 under Gorbachev's 'perestroika' period. Having now delineated this data, a conclusion can be drawn. Although Kalinigrad is rebuilding their Orthodox heritage in the Oblast, what may be happening is a branching out to other spiritual paths due to the people's fervent want to Europeanize themselves, and this may be showing its face through beliefs.
Quickly touching upon a couple of questions all at once, the last two questions in this section and their associated figures based in Kalinigrad gives weight to the theory that in attempts to Europeanize themselves, Kalinigrad is distancing themselves from a public association with religion. The statements in 'question' are: Religion plays an essential role in my life / Difficult to answer. Kaliningrad's accompanying stats are less than 10% / 34%. What this shows, when observed alongside the other statistics taken, is that Kalinigrad is not an outlier when it comes to delineating a specific designation to the place of religion in one's life. 6 other Oblasts across the Northwestern District have figures much higher than one would first think, Pskov District (33%), Vologda District (33%) and St. Petersburg (27%) being some of the strangest. Keep in mind that Pskov District has one of the highest rates of Russian Orthodox believers, being matched with Saint Petersburg and Leningrad Oblast. The previous statement and figure (-10%) say that although Russian Orthodox Christianity may be rising in popularity (even that is dubious), the intrinsic identification of Orthodox is not there.
If you have made it this far, I appreciate the act of reading all of this. Because I was born in Kalinigrad, and my immediate family was or is somewhere within the borders of Kalinigrad, I find the history and the current situation of this Oblast of the utmost importance to me. Not only is this the only part of Russia that is even remotely interested in entering the European world, but one of the areas of Russia that is doing it. Religiously, they are being hammered by the ideology of Orthodoxy, and although the Russian Orthodox Church as a whole is not evil, the way that its being 'aggressively' pushed onto the people of Kalinigrad is wrong. Any institution outside Russia hoping to make a stronghold or at least a place in Russia must register as a 'foreign body.' I hope that Kalinigrad maintains its backbone in its very tough journey to distance itself from the motherland's ideological rampage. What happens now is up to them and the way they want to craft their territory. All I can say is good luck.