Russian society has always depended upon a common set of beliefs to blend together its diverse members. These beliefs had a place of origin and entry into Russia, routes of diffusion, and patterns of distribution. Religions of Russia vary greatly, and include beliefs in one God, many gods, ancestor worship, forest glade spirits, magic, and idol worship. The majority of those who live in the Russian Federation, however, are Christians of the Russian Orthodox tradition or Sunni Muslims. Ideologies and formalized religions stress distinct attitudes toward life. They strongly influenced the development of Russian society. In Russia, almost all religions and ideologies interact with political, social, and economic activities. Russia was, is, and will probably always be a nation of deeply religious people.

The Russian Orthodox Church is the religious denomination that has the largest membership within the Russian Federation. Orthodox beliefs are based on the Bible and tradition. Decrees of church councils and the writings of early church leaders established the authority of church doctrines. Daily church services rely on the Bible, especially the book of Psalms. Orthodox churches are richly decorated with religious art. Icons (holy images) are an essential part of Orthodox tradition. These ornate and revered images have long served to stimulate faith and piety in worshipers. The Russian Orthodox Church has seven major sacraments. In Russia, there are thousands of Orthodox churches—both large and small—made of wood and stone. Many are considered architectural masterpieces.

Islam, which means “submission to God,” is primarily the religion of Turkic and related peoples. Based upon the teachings of Muhammad, the keystone of Islamic doctrine is, “There is no God but Allah.” The Qur'an (Koran) is the sacred book of the Muslims. Each Muslim must observe the “five pillars” of the faith, which include a month of fasting, almsgiving, and a pilgrimage to Mecca, Islam's holiest city. The majority of Russian Muslims follow the Sunni doctrine of Islam. They live mainly along the Volga River and in the area between the Volga River and the Ural Mountains. There are thousands of mosques in the Russian Federation.

Many other religious groups are found in the Russian Federation. These include the Roman Catholic Church, Evangelical Christian-Baptists, Buddhists, Seventh-Day Adventists, Molokans, Lutherans, Pentecostals, Assemblies of God, and Jehovah's Witnesses. More recently, missionary work of Protestant groups from the West, the United States in particular, has been quite active in Russia. These groups are involved in various social projects for the poor, but also in the spread of their own beliefs, thereby contributing to Russia's religious mosaic.

Most Russian members of the Catholic Church can be found in the European part of the former Soviet Union, especially in urban centers. Catholics live in Lithuania, western Ukraine,western Belarus, and southern Latvia. A doctrinal split between the Orthodox and Catholic churches restricted the spread of Catholicism into Russia. Nevertheless, beautiful Catholic churches were constructed in St. Petersburg,Moscow, and most large Russian cities. There are hundreds of active Catholic communities in Russia.

Judaism is distinguished by a commitment to the one God that Jews contend chose them in a solemn covenant. In imperial Russia, Jews were excluded from many occupations. The majority became traders, artisans, bankers, and commercial middlemen. It is estimated that 98 percent of Russian Jews today live in cities and towns. There are almost 200 active Jewish organizations in Russia. Since the creation of Israel, the number of Jews in Russia has declined, because many immigrated to the new Jewish state, a trend that continues today.

Evangelical Christian-Baptists are a fast-growing Christian denomination. There are at least 500,000 believers in Russia. They publish Bibles, books on the Gospels, calendars, and religious journals. Church services are performed in most of the major languages spoken in the Russian Federation.

Buddhism, as practiced in Russia, is of the Helukpa school (the “school of virtue”). It originated in Tibet. Most Buddhists live in the Buryat, Tuva, and the Kalmyk administrative regions of southern Siberia and north of the Caspian Sea. Ulan Ude, a beautiful city east of Lake Baikal in Siberia, is the center of Russian Buddhist activities.

There has been remarkable growth in the number and in the diversity of religious groups in Russia since 1991. Currently, there are more than 10,000 registered Russian Orthodox congregations. (Religious groups must register with the Justice Ministry. Groups that fail to do so cannot open bank accounts, rent property, or print religious documents.) There are more than 3,000 Muslim groups, almost 200 Jewish organizations, and nearly 200 Buddhist temples. There also has been a dramatic explosion of Protestant groups. These include approximately 3,000 Evangelical Christian-Baptist churches, 350 Jehovah's Witness branches, 200 Presbyterian congregations, and 500 other Protestant communities. Russia has never had such diversity in its religious groups. One of the main reasons for the religious renaissance is that now political authorities are not as concerned about religious issues as they were during the Communist era. Therefore, people are allowed to freely enjoy religion without any fear of government reprisal.