Religious Adherents, 2010 (World Christian Database)1
The country has an area of 49,998 square miles and a population of 5.7 million. More than 80 percent of the population belongs to Christian groups. Roman Catholicism remains the dominant religion. According to a 2005 census conducted by the governmental Nicaraguan Institute of Statistics and Census (INEC), 58.5 percent of the population is Roman Catholic and 21.6 percent is evangelical Protestant including Assembly of God, Pentecostal, Mennonite, and Baptist. Groups that constitute less than 5 percent include the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons), the Moravian Church, and Jehovah's Witnesses. Both Catholic and evangelical leaders view the census results as inaccurate; according to their own surveys Catholics constitute approximately 75 percent of the population and evangelicals 30 percent. The most recent 2008 public opinion survey from the private polling firm M&R indicates that 58 percent are Catholic and 28 percent evangelical. The Assembly of God claims to be the largest evangelical denomination with more than 860 churches and 200,000 baptized members.
Non-Christian communities are few and small. Although the Jewish community numbers only 40 permanent members (including expatriates), visitors often join them for holy days such as Passover. Although small in number, the Jewish community is heterogeneous and includes members from a variety of countries of origin. It does not have an ordained rabbi or synagogue, primarily due to lack of resources. During a special ceremony in December 2007, the community celebrated the return of the Torah which had been absent since the Sandinista Revolution in 1979.
There are approximately 1,200 to 1,500 Muslims, mostly Sunnis, who are resident aliens or naturalized citizens from the Palestinian Occupied Territories, Libya, and Iran. The Islamic Cultural Center in Managua serves as the primary prayer center for Muslims in the city, with approximately 320 men attending regularly, including Muslims from Granada, Masaya, Leon, and Chinandega. The Muslim community reportedly had plans to build a mosque in Managua; Granada, Masaya, and Leon have smaller prayer centers in homes. In November 2007 a new Sunni leader trained in Egypt was appointed to lead the Managua prayer center.
Small religious groups include Baha'is, the Church of Scientology, and Buddhists. Immigrant groups include Palestinian Christians whose ancestors came to Central America in the early 1900s, and Chinese, many of whom arrived as Christians or converted to Christianity. Some immigrant communities, including South Koreans, formed their own Protestant churches. In January 2008 the first native-born Buddhist nun was announced; a Buddhist Center has existed in the country since 2000.
There are no longer any pre-Columbian religions known to be actively practiced in the country. Some Moravian churches along the Atlantic Coast continued to allow indigenous Amerindian spiritual expression, often through music. The Catholic Church frequently incorporated syncretic elements.
Moravian, Episcopalian, Catholic, and Baptist communities are the main traditional religious groups associated with the Atlantic coast, while Catholic and evangelical Protestant churches dominate the Pacific and central regions where the majority of the population resides. There is a strong correlation between ethnicity and religion along the Atlantic Coast, which has a higher concentration of indigenous and Afro-Caribbean populations. Amerindians and Creoles, for example, are more likely to belong to the Moravian or Episcopalian Churches; however, both churches report losing some adherents to the growing evangelical movement. Some evangelical churches enjoy a strong presence in the remote towns of the central south Atlantic region. Smaller evangelical churches increased in rural areas of the interior and where the Catholic Church was not present.
Note: The World Christian Database (WCD) estimates, used in the Religious Adherents section above, count each person as belonging to a maximum of one religious group. For more information, see the WCD methodology document. The U.S. State Department's International Religious Freedom report estimates, used in the Religious Demography section, use less restrictive criteria in which a person who identifies with more than one religion is classified as a follower of each. In certain cases (such as Japan and other nations with strong folk religion traditions), this can cause counts to vary widely between estimates. Users are advised to consult the relevant source documents before determining which counts to cite.
1. The World Christian Database (WCD) is based on the 2600-page award-winning World Christian Encyclopedia and World Christian Trends, first published in 1982 and revised in 2001. This extensive work on World religion is now completely updated and integrated into the WCD online database. Designed for both the casual user and research scholar, information is readily available on religious activities, growth rates, religious literature, worker activity, and demographic statistics. Additional secular data is incorporated on population, health, education, and communications. A dataset with these and the other international measures highlighted on the country pages can be downloaded from this website. Used with permission.
2. The U.S. State Department's International Religious Freedom Report is submitted to Congress annually by the Department of State in compliance with Section 102(b) of the International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA) of 1998. This report supplements the most recent Human Rights Reports by providing additional detailed information with respect to matters involving international religious freedom. It includes individual country chapters on the status of religious freedom worldwide. A dataset with these and the other international measures highlighted on the country pages can be downloaded from this website. These State Department reports are open source.