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The 2002 CESNUR International Conference

Minority Religions, Social Change, and Freedom of Conscience

Salt Lake City and Provo (Utah), June 20-23, 2002

"Religious Life in the Post-Secular Space: the Case of Visaginas City in Lithuania"

by Milda Alisauskiene (New Religion's Research and Information Centre, Vilnius, Lithuania)
A paper presented at CESNUR 2002, Salt Lake City and Provo. Preliminary version. Do not reproduce or quote without the consent of the author


This paper represents the research about the religious life and its peculiarities in the city of Visaginas in Lithuania that was done in 2001. The author of this research seeks to show the life of religious communities of this city and for this reason personal observations and interviews with the members of religious communities of Visaginas were invoked.

At first the author of this paper presents the city of Visaginas in Lithuania and its social problems. Later the religious communities of the city, their interrelations, relations with society and mass media are presented. The author tried to understand the processes that occurred in the religious life of Visaginas invoking the theory of secularisation of Stark and Bainbridge.


The object of the research, which is going to be presented in this paper was the religiosity of Visaginas city in Lithuania. The main purpose of this work was to test the propositions made by Rodney Stark and William Sims Bainbridge in their theory of secularisation [1] , try to illustrate those propositions with an example of the religious life of the post-communist Visaginas, trying to find out if they are relevant in the post communist context. The main question of the work was how does religion emerge in the post secular space. The hypothesis that was tested in this work was: when state imposed secularism is removed, religiosity will re-emerge. Through this period people who have potentially kept their religious dependence choose traditional religious communities. Some part of population who have grown up in the families of non-believers and considered themselves as atheists chose non-traditional religious communities or pseudo religions. 

There were three steps of gathering material in this research. At first the mass media research was done, and the newspapers of the period of last ten years of Visaginas and another city, which has similar number of population, but has kept religious background, were analysed. The main religious communities and other quasi-religious groups that were active in the city have showed up.

The second step was the interviews with the members of different religious groups of Visaginas. The respondents were chosen incidentally; sometimes they were leaders of these communities, sometimes-just members. The interviews took for few hours, they were recorded and the questionnaires were used during them.

The last step of the research was questionnaires delivered for the members of five religious communities. In the end of the research 92 questionnaires were given back, the respondents were also chosen accidentally   the the leaders of the groups were asked to deliver them to the members.

The religious life of Visaginas city.

Visaginas is situated in the northern part of Lithuania. It has thirty-three thousands inhabitants, most of them are Russian speaking people.  From the beginning the city was allotted for the workers of Ignalina's nuclear power plant. It was not uncommon in former Soviet Union to have cities that were not put on the map one of these was Visaginas. Starting from 1975 people settled in this city from the whole former Soviet Union. At this moment there are people of forty-three nationalities living together in Visaginas. People who came to this city had technocratic education.

From the social point of view this city has a huge problem the closing of Ignalina's nuclear power plant (INP). It's closing has already begun and people are losing their jobs. When the power plant is completely closed, six thousand people will have lost their jobs. One aspect to which the attention was paid during the research was the social problems of the city. Having discussed the main topics and problems of Visaginas few specific features might be included. Primarily, the historical circumstances of the foundation of the city should be included. Secondly, the other specific feature of Visaginas is its ethnic structure, which determines the linguistic situation of this city. Specific feature for Visaginas gives its dependence on INP. According to the material of researches done by various scientists societies from areas near the nuclear power plants experience a lot of conflict situations. Scientific technical, economical, ecological and political discourses are held there, where problems of risk reduction, human ecological consciousness, labour situations and psychological security are discussed. (Litmannen, 1996)

One more specific feature of Visaginas is its religious life. Since its foundation Visaginas was secular. There was no place for sacrum in the life of this city. Visaginas differs from other cities of Lithuania, which have cathedrals or churches in the central squares. This city has no religious centre, something like Axis Mundis, connecting Heaven, Earth and Hell. (Eliade, 1996:15) For last ten years people of this city were slowly struggling free from their "old faith" and searching for their religious identity.

By this time officially in Visaginas there are nine religious communities. See Table No. 1.

Table No.1 "Religious communities of Visaginas and numbers of their members in 1999 [2] and 2001".


Religious community

The number of the members in 1999

The number of the members in 2001


Russian Orthodox Church




Roman Catholic Church




Old Believers

(No data)



Pentecostal Church "Revival"




Church of Jesus Christ (former "Kovceg")




Evangelical Baptist Church




Jehovah's Witnesses

(No data)



Full Gospel Church "Word of truth"







Most of the communities grew as large as they are now by the year of 1995. Now the number of the members is increasing very slowly. The scholars of religion claim that religious communities might be established in two ways " wit with the influence of foreign religions or established by the founder. In the first way religious communities might be established with the help of migration. In the other case the certain person is a founder of religious community.(Beresnevicius, 1997:243)

All these communities can be divided into two groups according to the circumstances of their settlement. One group is religious communities that were brought in as a tradition, to this group belong Russian Orthodoxies, Roman Catholics, Old Believers and Baptist Churches. It means these churches existed as groups before regaining Lithuania's independence, people from these groups were gathering together, praying and going to the Masses to other cities where there were churches. Also the community of Jehovah's Witnesses can be attributed to this group of Visaginas religious communities. The other group of religious communities is brought by different religious missionairies usually visiting this city. Pentecostal churches, Charismatic Full Gospel Church, originated from Sweden and ISKCON might be attributed to this group.

Talking about new religiosity of Visaginas it should be pointed out that officially existing religious communities are just one part of this religiosity. The other part might be called quasi religiosity which plays a huge role in the life of Visaginas population. Visaginas was one of the first cities of Lithuania which was visited by a large number of parapsychologists, extrasenses and various future tellers. The same events have been in process untill now. In every newspaper there are invitations for people who seek for some answers to their questions to visit the above mentioned specialists. During the research it was observed that Visaginas population is worried very much about its future and that is why services like that are really popular. But it is not mentioned as religiosity in common sense.

First religious communities, which appeared in this city, were traditional ones, which managed to keep their faith through the Soviet regime. Only few years' later non-traditional religious communities were established. Present-day religious life of Visaginas stands on two large poles, i.e. Russian Orthodox and Roman Catholic Churches. The whole religious situation of Lithuania has also influenced religious life of Visaginas. The biggest religious community of Lithuania – Roman Catholics, despite of lower churchgoers number than local Russian Orthodox Church has, is the most influential in Visaginas. This fact might be illustrated with the activity of Catholic parish and its priest.

The most famous non-traditional religious community of Visaginas is Church of Jesus Christ (former "Kovceg"), which has left the country. The exodus of this church might be named one of the saddest events in the religious life of the city, which has influenced the other spheres of the relations " bet between religious communities and mass media and their interrelations

According to the relations between themselves and with the world the religious communities of Visaginas might be divided into three groups. For this the typology of Roy Wallis (1984:5) might be invoked. According to this typology there are three types of religious groups, world-affirming, world-accommodating and world-rejecting. To the first group go those religious communities who accommodate to the world, which agree internally in societal and religious levels. Those are traditional churches – Roman Catholics and Russian Orthodoxies, and they are the largest Visaginas religious communities, too.

To the second group go those religious communities, who affirm the world and they agree in religious level. Pentecostal Church "Revival", Evangelical Baptists and Gospel Church "Word of Truth" are in this group. Having the same religious roots these communities associate in religious level, together they have arranged evangelisation. The relations of this religious group were affected very much by the exodus of Visaginas' Church of Jesus Christ and conflicts with it.

To the third group go those religious communities that do not maintain any friendly relations with other communities of the town, neither in religious nor in societal levels, in some cases they might be called as rejecting the world. Old Believers, Krishna Consciousness and Jehovah's Witnesses' religious communities might be reckoned to this group. The Church of Jesus Christ might be attributed to this group, too. Religious communities that reject the world think that mankind have lost touch with God and a spiritual thing, that world is filled with conflict, greed, insincerity and despair. They reject the materialism of the advanced industrial world, calling for a return to a more rural way of life and a reorientation of secular life to God. (Wallis, 1984:10) Analysing the position of these religious communities it might be observed that their interrelations with other religious communities have influenced the position of society towards them. It might be said that partly they became isolated from society. The citizens of Visaginas who were met through the research spoke about these communities as about real sects, whose members cut themselves from their families and previous friends. Such position of society towards these religious communities might be influenced by the positions of traditional churches towards them. In such case at first their isolation was a matter of religious discourse, which influenced the latter general response about them.

The community of Old Believers is although abundant, but not well organized, it lacks leader or priest and therefore cannot participate in town's religious life of full-fledged value. And of course its appearance in this third group of religious communities might not mean directly what sociologists were talking about. This traditional religious community does not have officially existing community and therefore becomes an "outsider" in Visaginas society.

The interrelations of Visaginas' religious communities also represent the role they play in cities' life. Traditional churches like Roman Catholics and Russian Orthodoxies take up a firm position, their priests communicate with each other. They have their own opinion on all religious communities in Visaginas and "inform" their believers what evil and dangers other communities may bring.

Representatives from the non-traditional religious communities during conversations have revealed that they have sore disappointments regarding the position of traditional religious communities. Krishna Consciousness religious community and Pentecostal Church "Revival" testified the same. However, the non-traditional Christian communities have tried to maintain their fragile interrelations and this may be considered as an attempt to stand up against the biggest competitors, i.e. the traditional religious communities. The other reason why those three Evangelical religious communities try to maintain close connections is their conflict with Church of Jesus Christ, which influenced the standpoint of the society towards these communities. Members of these communities try to maintain good relations with each other and at the same time they critically speak of traditional churches, in this way they indirectly try to improve their image.

Summing up the situation of Visaginas religious communities and their interrelations it must be said that this sphere of religious life was affected very much by exodus of Visaginas Church of Jesus Christ. This event brought non-traditional religious communities of this city to stand in the defensive position and also to withdraw for a while from the official life. Currently the situation is changing - the non-traditional religious communities are more active and trying to retrieve their lost positions.

The emergence of religion in Visaginas

            In the last part of the study the consequences of the process of secularisation in the city of Visaginas with the help of the theory of Stark and Bainbridge was analysed with the help of the data from questionnaires, answered by the members of religious communities.

            The theory of secularisation of S&B, gives few groups of changes after this process is over in society. These changes are in two different levels in societal and in organizational. Before starting to analyse and to apply the propositions made by S&B in their theory to the case of Visaginas the reasons of this process must be remembered. The process of secularisation in this city was influenced by the policy of the state, which was influenced by the ideology of "scientific atheism".

Having surveyed the circumstances of the establishment of religious communities in Visaginas it might be observed that together with the reluctant secularisation process in this city the process of sacralisation might be found, too. Different religious groups (Russian Orthodoxies, Roman Catholics and Evangelical Baptists), which some residents of Visaginas managed to practice during Soviet times, demonstrated the process of sacralisation, which occurred together with the reluctant process of secularisation. The desire of these groups to practice their faith, for this purpose they were risking to loose their jobs or to be settled in the other place but despite it they were going to other cities to pray and this fact might be illustrating the process of sacralisation in Visaginas.

S&B see the process of secularisation as a natural cycle of religious life and they name its ultimate reason as science. But they say that science cannot fulfil most of the human needs and desires what religion can do. Having already agreed that secularisation in Visaginas was not a natural cycle of religious life; on the one part the reason of it might be called science or the ideology "scientific atheism". Such proposition might partly explain the existence of non-formal religious groups in Visaginas through the period of Soviet regime. After all it must be remembered that this city was committed for the science people and had to be an example of modern Soviet cities with high technologies.

            According to Stark and Bainbridge secularisation raises two countervailing processes   rev revival and religious innovation. The establishment of first religious communities, which has kept their faith, having received first opportunity might be an illustrating fact for the propositions of sociologists of religion about the process of revival influenced by secularisation. Visaginas society was technocratic from the founding of the city, so it might be said that most of the motivations were influenced by science. It might be said that the establishment of these religious communities in early 1990ies was an effort to prove desired rewards of traditional religion because science has not acknowledged them as adequate what was mentioned in the theory of S&B.

The other proposition of these scholars was that this process of revival couldn't last long especially in those cases when new alternatives appeared might be partly questioned in the case of Visaginas. The numbers of members in the traditional churches of Visaginas in nowadays show that around 50 percent of population is still eager to find traditional religion. It might be questioned if some people need faith or tradition and for this reason they chose traditional religious communities, but the fact that they are numerous is clear. The other thing that must be remembered is that still there is no information about religious belonging of the other part of Visaginas population. Also in this case it must be considered that sociologists of religion already discussed the tendency that there is a difference between the declared numbers of members and really existing number of churchgoers. Scientists have already paid attention to this fact and made a conclusion that the real number of churchgoers is just a half part of the declared one. Such cases were explained as the wish of prevailing religious organizations to keep their social respectability. (Hamilton, 2001:193)

During the research the questionnaires were given for the members of five religious communities [3] . The leaders of these communities were asked to give them for people of different age and social position. Every community received thirty questionnaires. Unfortunately not all questionnaires were fulfilled. At the end of the research there were only 92 questionnaires given back. There were 15 questionnaires from Russian Orthodoxies, 27 questionnaires from Evangelical Baptists, 17 from Pentecostals, 18 from Jehovah's Witnesses and 15 from Krishna Consciousness society. It must be said that according to the data of 2000 there were 33653 residents in Visaginas, 22877 were of employable age [4] . Here we have to acknowledge that the material of the research might not be really illustrating the real religious situation of Visaginas and their appliance in this research is just an attempt to try to suggest possible answers to many questions concerning this city and its religiosity.

Table No. 2 "The religious traditions of Visaginas population"

            Religious tradition/faith

Russian Orthodoxies



Roman Catholics



Evangelical Baptists



Krishna Consciousness






Jehovah's Witnesses









The numbers of members of traditional religious communities of Visaginas (7000 of Roman Catholics and 8000 of Russian Orthodoxies) show that they are very popular despite the existing alternatives. The numbers of churchgoers are of course smaller, but the wish of people to be considered as believers might be partly illustrating the theory of S&B, which says that through the process of revival the efforts of people to remain churched are observable. It doesn't mean directly what was mentioned in this theory that with such desire people establish sects although the first period of the establishing these religious communities might have looked really sectarian. The motive of these groups was not the same as the scholars said that such groups wanted to restore or preserve more transcendental versions of their faith. Their wish was to have religious community what was not possible before. Thus the process of revival influenced by secularisation in the case of Visaginas might be partly illustrated by the establishment of traditional religious communities or in other words their re-establishment having in mind non-formal religious groups.

The revival of traditional religious communities or their establishment with the first opportunity partly supports and illustrates the hypothesis of this work that religiosity emerges after the state imposed secularism is removed. Remembering the possible inaccuracies and narrow field of research the answers of the members of Russian Orthodox religious community might be accepted as illustrating the proposition of the hypothesis that people who have potentially kept their religious dependence choose traditional religious communities. The answers of the 15 members of Russian Orthodox community (i.e. 100 % respondents of this community) through the research claimed that their parents belonged to the same faith.

The other proposition of Stark and Bainbridge was the process of religious innovation, which countervails the process of secularisation. The establishment of non-traditional religious communities in Visaginas might be illustrating the process of religious innovation in Visaginas. Most of the non-traditional religious communities of this city were established in 1991-1993 shortly after the establishment of traditional religious communities. Their establishment cannot be directly compared to what the scholars meant in their theory and these communities cannot be called cults, i.e. religious groups, which were established not through the schism and had no relations with the prevailing religious tradition. (S&B, 1985:24) But few similarities might be found in Visaginas, too. For example: Visaginas' Krishna Consciousness society.

There might be found more similarities between the process of religious innovation in the theory of S&B and the case of Visaginas. On the one hand the answers of the respondents show that 13.0 percent of them were from non-believers' families. The present fact that these people are members of non-traditional religious communities might be illustrating the proposition of S&B that through the process of religious innovation the efforts of unchurched people to become churched are observable. On the other hand the answers of respondents from non-traditional religious communities that 55.8 percent of them were from traditional churches might be partly compared to the sequence of the process of religious innovation described in the theory of S&B. People chose new for their environment non-traditional religious communities after they have broken organizational ties with the traditional churches. They have embraced non-traditional religious communities that are on one part opposite to the prevailing traditional religious communities. These propositions might be partly illustrating the process of religious innovation as reaction to the process of secularisation according to S&B.

In their theory of secularisation Stark and Bainbridge claimed that those people who say that they don't believe are attracted by different pseudo religions like astrology, yoga and meditation. Returning to the case of Visaginas it should be said that around a half of its population don't attribute themselves to any religious community. [5] But the numbers of different articles and advertising publications in the local newspapers through the period of 1989-2001 in this city show the interest of part of its population in various pseudo religions. One respondent during the interviews also mentioned his observations that people of Visaginas are interested in such things. Though during the research there wasn't found any group or community, which could be attributed to this group of pseudo religions. [6]

            Returning to the hypothesis of the work it might be said that the process of religious innovation in Visaginas also partly illustrates it. The second proposition of it that some part of population that has grown up in the families of nonbelievers and considered themselves as atheists choose non-traditional religious communities or pseudo religions must be discussed, too. The answers of the members of Visaginas' religious communities illustrate the proposition that some part of population from nonbelievers' families choose non-traditional religious communities. Currently 13.0 percent of respondents are members of non-traditional religious communities, but in this case it must be remembered that this number reflects just the position of a small part of Visaginas population. Also it is really complicated to illustrate the other part of the proposition, which says that people from nonbelievers' families have chosen pseudo religions. First of all it is complicated because of inexplicit status of such groups in the society, the visitors of such groups usually do not connect such activity with religiosity. Also this fact might be the reason why respondents during the research did not mention about the existence of such groups in Visaginas. It must be emphasized that usually the involvement in the activities of such groups people call spiritual search that has nothing in common or is just supplementing traditionally understood religiosity.

In summary of the process of secularisation in Visaginas it might be said that this process during Soviet times influenced the changes in the organizational level, because there were no formal religious organizations. But this influence might not be called the same as it was mentioned in the theory of Stark and Bainbridge, that through this process sects become denominations and new religions appear instead of secularised traditional faiths. The process of secularisation in Visaginas didn't give chance for religion to be in the institutional level. The other sequences of the process of secularisation according to S&B were concerning the society. In the case of Visaginas people brought their faith together with them and different non-formal groups existed before the regaining of Lithuanian independence. This fact might be illustrating the proposition made by S&B that this process has not brought everyone to reject the faith in the supernatural. Despite of the position of the former Soviet government towards religion even in such cities like Visaginas, outwardly secularised from its beginning, religious groups were acting like underground activities and helped to preserve their faith and tradition.

The other sequence of secularisation process according to S&B is that non-believing part of society after change of generation becomes active members of religious organizations or is attracted by different pseudo religions. Returning to the case of Visaginas where only a half of population attributes themselves to some religious communities, these propositions are on one part true during the research 13.0 percent of respondents said that their parents were non-believers and currently they are members of religious communities. 25 percent of this number has chosen Krishna Consciousness religious community, 33.3 percent have chosen Evangelical Baptists religious community, another 25 percent & Pe Pentecostal religious community and 16.7 percent – Jehovah's Witnesses religious community.

In summarising what has been analysed above trying to illustrate the theory of Stark and Bainbridge with an example of Visaginas religious life it might be said that it suggests some interesting perspective from which to interpret some of the changes. For instance the changes in the organizational level of religion and the changes in society after the process of secularisation, like the appearance of people who do not attribute themselves to any religious community.


The religious life of Visaginas city illustrates the tendency prevailing in the contemporary sociology of religion that says that religion in the modern society is challenged to change but not to disappear. (Durkheim, 1999:476).

Despite the state imposed secularism the religious life was always in Visaginas, though there was period when it had to be in the underground. The state imposed secularism influenced the process of secularisation but together with it the process of sacralisation occurred and the existence of non-formal religious groups might be illustrating it. When the state imposed secularism was removed religiosity raised up and emerged with different forms.

The material about Visaginas and its religiosity that was gathered through this research might be partly illustrating the propositions of Stark and Bainbridge made in their theory of secularisation. This theory gives some interesting perspectives from which to interpret some of the changes in the society of Visaginas and its religious life through the period of last ten years, for example their propositions might be invoked as partly illustrating the processes of revival and religious innovation in this city.

Through the period of Soviet regime religion could not emerge in the organizational form. But despite the restriction of religious freedom even in so secularised city like Visaginas was some non-formal religious groups were active. With the first opportunity religion was institutionalised. This fact might be illustrating the theory of S&B, which talks about the process of revival.

The second period of the religious life of Visaginas was the establishment of non-traditional religious communities, which also might be possibly illustrating the theory of these scientists and the process of religious innovation.

The other part of religious life of Visaginas are different manifestations of non-institutionalised religion, partly reasons of their emergence might be called the forthcoming of the closing of Ignalina's nuclear power plant and social catastrophe which is going to happen along with this event.

And finally it must be acknowledged that the data gathered during this research was concerning just one half of the population of Visaginas which attributed themselves to the different religious communities and it would be impossible to give explanations for the changes which occurred in the religious life of this city through the period of last ten years. The data of this research makes us to realise the complexity of the religious life of Visaginas and that more researches have to be done and new theories have to be invoked in trying to understand it.


1.     Beresnevičius, G., 1997. Religijotyros įvadas. Vilnius: Aidai.

2.     Diurkheimas, E., 1999. Elementariosios religinio gyvenimo formos.Vilnius:Vaga.

3.     Eliade, M., 1996. Amžinojo sugrįžimo mitas. Archetipai ir kartotė. Vilnius: Mintis.

4.     Glodenis, D., Lahayne, H., 1999. Religijos Lietuvoje. Šiauliai: Nova Vita.

5.     Hamilton, M., 2001. The Sociology of Religion. London and New York: Routledge.

6.     Ignalinos AE: žmogaus gyvenimo ir veiklos sąlygos, 1998. Vilnius-Visaginas: Eugrimas.

7.     Kavaliauskas, A., 1999. Visaginas (1975-1999 m.). Vilnius: Jandrija,.

8.     Litmanen, T., 1996. Environmental Conflict as a Social Construction: Nuclear Vaste Conflicts in Finland.// Society and natural resources, N 9.

9.     Stark, R., Bainbridge, W.,S., 1985. The Future of Religion. Los Angeles, London: University of California Press Berkeley.

10.  Wallis, R., 1984. The Elementary Forms of the New Religious Life. London, Boston, Melbourne and Henley: Routledge&Kegan Paul.

[1] Stark R., Bainbridge W.S., 1985. The Future of Religion.

[2] Data in the serial No. 1-2 is from the book by Kavaliauskas A.Visaginas (Years 1975-1999), No.4-9 from the book by Lahayne H.and Glodenis D.Religions in Lithuania, see the bibliographical list.

[3] These five religious communities were Russian Orthodoxies, Baptists, Jehovah Witnesses, Pentecostals and Krishna devotees. The attempts to receive answers from Roman Catholics during this research were unsuccessful. Some communities refused to fulfil questionnaires, for example Full Gospel Church "Word of Faith".

[4] " The population of Lithuania according to the age in the beginning of 2000", 2000, P. 88

[5] During the research there were around 33 thousand people living in Visaginas, half of them attributed themselves to the existing religious communities.(See the table No. 1) The religious dependence of the left part was unknown. The results of the census of 2001 will show more exact data.

[6] In 1996-1999 there was a group of people practicing a religion what might be called UFO cult. But the only known for the author person from this group was the leader of it, who died during the research.

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