Religious Life in Prague: Some Basic Info

Months before the latest census in 2011, a group of young Czech people decided they’d put in ‘Jediism’ as their religious belief. It started as a juvenile prank, but the whole thing quickly became a meme on social media and as a result, over 15,000 people are now the official followers of the Church of Jedi, acknowledged by the authorities and everything. Sure, Jediism isn’t a Czech invention and there are lots of people who follow it elsewhere in the West, but here, the idea spread like wildfire, further demonstrating that Czechs don’t really care that much about organized religion.

Rosary, photo: Archive of prague.tips

Rosary, photo: bkm / prague.tips

That census, by the way, cemented Czech Republic’s position among Europe’s most atheistic countries; overall, only Estonia tends to have lower numbers of believers. Nearly half of the whole population didn’t even bother to fill the ‘religion’ form out, and 34% of the rest specifically declared that they don’t believe in anything. The most prevalent church (Roman Catholic) netted only some 10%, which is an exceptionally low number even by Czech standards. This is of course due to the long rule of communism, combined with the fact that the republic is geographically located in the middle of Europe and thus under influence of various creeds, in sharp contrast to neighboring Poland, for example. The general laxness that surrounds religious topics is in some way a national thing, and that’s why religious life in Prague is surprisingly rich – when there’s no prevalent creed that would use up the majority of space, others are free to thrive. Like Jediism.

Another thing is that nearly 1% of people stated that they believe in God, they just don’t follow the path of any organized religion. While in the rural regions of Moravia, lots of people are traditionally Roman Catholic (we’re talking about areas adjacent to Slovakia and Poland, so it makes sense), that is not the case in the openly atheistic Bohemian west (of which Prague is the regional capital). There are no less than 29 officially registered Christian churches, including the Russian Orthodox Church and Jehovah’s Witnesses, together with 6 official non-Christian organizations — Islam, Judaism, Buddhism and Hare Krishna, plus lots of unrecognized ones. Few countries have managed to take religious plurality to such levels.

Old Jewish Cemetery in Prague, photo: archive of prague.tips

Old Jewish Cemetery in Prague, photo: bkm / prague.tips

However, the prevailing religion is of course Christianity, with the two main denominations (Catholic and Protestant) being spread quite evenly. The Protestant movement is centered around a historical group of soldiers called Hussité, or followers of Mr. Jan Hus, one of the forerunners of reformation. The often unanimous praise for Hussité’s army is quite a controversial topic given that there is evidence about them not being exactly merciful, and far-right activists often identify with them, seeing them as the prototypical ‘soldiers of a nation.’ But Hus himself is a widely regarded national hero and the Protestant movement has been an important force on the Czech religious scene. Right now, there are dozens of churches that run masses, both Catholic and Protestant – just check the wiki entry on ‘Churches in Prague.’

But if you were looking for the most standout religious neighborhood in the capital, you’d inevitably wind up in the Old Jewish town, or Josefov, as it is now called. The Jewish community has always been an important part of Prague: Jews first settled here as early as in the 10th century, and Josefov is now the oldest part of the city center, gaining widespread attraction from tourists and locals alike. It is the birthplace of Franz Kafka, and stories about Rabi Löw and The Golem are a firm part of the elementary school curriculum of the country. Pay a visit to the Old Jewish cemetery (the oldest one in Europe), and don’t forget to stop by Staronová synagogue, the greatest of Prague synagogues. It was built in the 13th century and is still in use.

While the locals’ attitude toward Jews is universally positive, things get considerably hotter when talking about Islam. The Muslim faith is a fairly new phenomenon in Czech Republic, and although people here are more tolerant than in Eastern Europe (which makes sense since most of the Czechs don’t pay any attention to religion at all), Islam is often seen as a threat. Which is stupid, but that’s just the way it is. However, Prague is a multicultural city, and as such serves as by far the safest haven for Czech Muslims, along with Brno. The central mosque is on Blatská street, between ‘Rajská zahrada’ and ‘Černý most’ metro stops, and provides everything a practicing Muslim needs to live a comfortable life.

Buddist Temple in SAPA, photo: archive of prague.tips

Buddhist Temple in SAPA, photo: bkm / prague.tips

The last big religion we’re going to mention is Buddhism. Aside from the Vietnamese community, Czech buddhists mostly follow the Diamond Way of the Karma Kagjü school of Tibetan buddhism, and there were some talks about building a large center in Prague. Good news for Buddhists is that while the three big monotheisms can still trigger a strong reaction in the public discourse, nobody has anything against Buddhism – au contraire, people are often fascinated by it and generally see it as an attractive direction to turn one’s spiritual urges to. In fact, art faculties of Czech universities seem to be filled with young people that are fascinated by it. The same thing applies also for various neo-paganisms.

Overall, you could say that Prague is pretty lenient towards various creeds – it is much more likely that you’ll bump into a person who doesn’t care at all as opposed to being offended by any one. After all, what would you expect from a nation with 15,000 self-proclaimed Jedis?

Author: Dominik Zezula

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