Religion in Estonia

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Religion in Estonia (2011)[1][2]

  Non-religious/Atheist (54.14%)
  Undeclared (16.55%)
  Eastern Orthodoxy (16.15%)
  Lutheranism (9.91%)
  Other religions (3.25%)

Estonia, historically a Lutheran Protestant area,[3][4][5] is one of the "least religious" countries in the world in terms of declared attitudes, with only 14% of the population declaring religion an important part of their daily life.[6] The religious population is predominantly Christian and includes followers of 90 affiliations, most prominently Orthodox Christians and Lutheran Christians.[7] According to Ringo Ringvee, "religion has never played an important role on the political or ideological battlefield" and that the "tendencies that prevailed in the late 1930s for closer relations between the state and Lutheran church were ended with the Soviet occupation in 1940". He further states that "the chain of religious traditions was broken in most families" under the Soviet policy of state atheism.[4][8] Before the Second World War, Estonia was approximately 80% Protestant; overwhelmingly Lutheran.

Between 2001 and 2011 census, Eastern Orthodoxy overtook Lutheranism to become the largest Christian denomination in the country due to increasing atheist believes among Estonians.[9] Lutheranism still remains the most popular religious group among ethnic Estonians, while Eastern Orthodoxy is practised mainly by ethnic Russian minority.


St. John's Church in Tallinn was threatened with demolition under Soviet occupation of Estonia.[10]

In the 13th century, the Teutonic Knights brought Christianity to Estonia and during the Protestant Reformation, the Estonian Evangelical Lutheran Church became the established church.[11] Before the Second World War, Estonia was approximately 80% Protestant; overwhelmingly Lutheran, with individuals adhering to Calvinism, as well as other Protestant branches. Robert T. Francoeur and Raymond J. Noonan write that "In 1925, the church was separated from the state, but religious instruction remained in the schools and clergymen were trained at the Faculty of Theology at Tartu University. With the Soviet occupation and the implementation of anti-Christian legislation, the church lost over two thirds of its clergy. Work with children, youth, publishing, and so on, was banned, church property was nationalized, and the Faculty of Theology was closed."[12] Aldis Purs, a professor of history at the University of Toronto writes that in Estonia, as well as Latvia, some evangelical Christian clergy attempted to resist the Soviet policy of state atheism by engaging in anti-regime activities such as Bible smuggling.[13] The text titled World and Its Peoples: Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and Poland, published by the Marshall Cavendish, states that in addition to the Soviet antireligious campaign in Estonia, which mandated the confiscation of church property and deportation of theologians to Siberia, many "churches were destroyed in the German occupation of Estonia, from 1941 through 1944, and in World War II (1939-1945)".[4] After the dissolution of the Soviet Union, this antireligious legislation was annulled.[14]


Religious differences between Estonians and non-Estonians

According to the Eurobarometer Poll 2010,[15] 18% of Estonian citizens responded that "they believe there is a God", whereas 50% answered that "they believe there is some sort of spirit or life force" and 29% that "they do not believe there is any sort of spirit, god, or life force". This, according to the survey, would have made Estonians the most non-religious people in the then 25-member European Union. A survey conducted in 2006–2008 by Gallup showed that 14% of Estonians answered positively to the question: "Is religion an important part of your daily life?", which was the lowest among 143 countries polled.[16]

According to new polls about Religiosity in the European Union in 2012 by Eurobarometer found that Christianity is the largest religion in Estonia accounting 45% of Estonians.[17] Eastern Orthodox are the largest Christian group in Estonia, accounting for 17% of Estonia citizens,[17] while Protestants make up 6%, and Other Christian make up 22%. Non believer/Agnostic account 22%, Atheist account's 15%, Undeclared account's 15%.[17]

Less than a third of the population define themselves as believers; of those most are Eastern Orthodox, predominantly among the Russian minority, or Lutheran. The Lutheran denomination is estimated to have 180,000 registered members as of 2014.[18] There are also a number of smaller Muslim, Protestant, Jewish, and Buddhist groups. The organisation Maavalla Koda (Taaraism) unites adherents of animist traditional religions.[19][20] The Russian neopagan organisation "Vene Rahvausu Kogudus Eestis" is registered in Tartu.[21]


Between 2000 and 2011, the percentage of Orthodox Christians increased in tandem with increasing religiosity in Russia, outstripping the overall decline in the Russian minority, while Protestantism continued to decline.

Religion 2000 Census[22] 2011 Census[1]
Number  % Number  %
Orthodox Christians 143,554 12.80 176,773 16.15
Lutheranism 152,237 13.57 108,513 9.91
Baptists 6,009 0.54 4,507 0.41
Roman Catholics 5,745 0.51 4,501 0.41
Jehovah's Witnesses 3,823 0.34 3,938 0.36
Old Believers 2,515 0.22 2,605 0.24
Christian Free Congregations 223 0.02 2,189 0.20
Earth Believers 1,058 0.09 1,925 0.18
Taara Believers 1,047 0.10
Pentecostals 2,648 0.24 1,855 0.17
Muslims 1,387 0.12 1,508 0.14
Adventists 1,561 0.14 1,194 0.11
Buddhists 622 0.06 1,145 0.10
Methodists 1,455 0.13 1,098 0.10
Other religion 4,995 0.45 8,074 0.74
No Religion 450,458 40.16 592,588 54.14
Undeclared 343,292 30.61 181,104 16.55
Total1 1,121,582 100.00 1,094,564 100.00

1Population, persons aged 15 and older.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "PC0454: AT LEAST 15-YEAR-OLD PERSONS BY RELIGION, SEX, AGE GROUP, ETHNIC NATIONALITY AND COUNTY, 31 DECEMBER 2011". Statistics Estonia. 31 December 2011. Retrieved 9 January 2014. 
  2. ^ "PHC 2011: over a quarter of the population are affiliated with a particular religion". Statistics Estonia. 29 April 2013. Retrieved 9 January 2014. 
  3. ^ Ivković, Sanja Kutnjak; Haberfeld, M.R. (10 June 2015). Measuring Police Integrity Across the World: Studies from Established Democracies and Countries in Transition. Springer. p. 131. ISBN 9781493922796. Estonia is considered Protestant when classified by its historically predominant major religion (Norris and Inglehart 2011) and thus some authors (e.g., Davie 2003) claim Estonia belongs to Western (Lutheran) Europe, while others (e.g., Norris and Inglehart 2011) see Estonia as a Protestant ex-Communist society. 
  4. ^ a b c Triin Edovald; Michelle Felton; John Haywood; Rimvydas Juskaitis; Michael Thomas Kerrigan; Simon Lund-Lack; Nicholas Middleton; Josef Miskovsky; Ihar Piatrowicz; Lisa Pickering; Dace Praulins; John Swift; Vytautas Uselis; Ilivi Zajedova (2010). World and Its Peoples: Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and Poland. Marshall Cavendish. p. 1066. ISBN 9780761478966. It is usually said that Estonia is a Protestant country; however, the overwhelming majority of Estonians, some 72 percent, are nonreligious. Estonia is the European Union (EU) country with the greatest percentage of people with no religious belief. This is in part, the result of Soviet actions and repression of religion. When the Soviet Union annexed Estonia in 1940, church property was confiscated, many theologians were deported to Siberia, most of the leadership of Evangelical Lutheran Church went into exile, and religious instruction was banned. Many churches were destroyed in the German occupation of Estonia, from 1941 through 1944, and in World War II (1939-1945), and religion was actively persecuted in Estonia under Soviet rule 1944 until 1989, when some measure of tolerance was introduced. 
  5. ^ Rausing, Sigrid (2004). History, Memory, and Identity in Post-Soviet Estonia: The End of a Collective Farm. Oxford University Press. p. 96. ISBN 9780199263189. Protestantism has done much to inform the moral world view of the Estonians, particularly the process of distinguishing themselves from the Russians. 
  6. ^ "Estonians least religious in the world". EU Observer. 11 February 2009. Retrieved 9 January 2014. 
  7. ^ "Eestis on 90 usuvoolu: lilla leegi hoidjad, kopimistid, tulekummardajad..." [Estonia has 90 religious affiliations: Keepers of the violet flame, Kopimists, Fire worshipers]. Postimees. 29 April 2013. Retrieved 9 January 2014. 
  8. ^ Ringvee, Ringo (16 September 2011). "Is Estonia really the least religious country in the world?". The Guardian. For this situation there are several reasons, starting from the distant past (the close connection of the churches with the Swedish or German ruling classes) up to the Soviet-period atheist policy when the chain of religious traditions was broken in most families. In Estonia, religion has never played an important role on the political or ideological battlefield. The institutional religious life was dominated by foreigners until the early 20th century. The tendencies that prevailed in the late 1930s for closer relations between the state and Lutheran church [...] ended with the Soviet occupation in 1940. 
  9. ^
  10. ^ Kalme, Albert (1951). Total Terror: An Exposé of Genocide in the Baltics. Appleton-Century-Crofts. p. 109. ISBN 9781841623207. 
  11. ^ Francoeur, Robert T.; Noonan, Raymond J. (2004). The Continuum Complete International Encyclopedia of Sexuality. A&C Black. p. 361. ISBN 9780826414885. The dominant religion in Estonia is Evangelical Lutheranism. Estonians were Christianized by the Teutonic Knights in the 13th century. During the Reformation, Lutheranism spread, and the church was officially established in Estonia in 1686. 
  12. ^ Francoeur, Robert T.; Noonan, Raymond J. (2004). The Continuum Complete International Encyclopedia of Sexuality. A&C Black. p. 361. ISBN 9780826414885. 
  13. ^ Purs, Aldis (15 February 2013). Baltic Facades: Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania since 1945. Reaktion Books. p. 79. ISBN 9781861899323. The Soviet union was an avowed atheist state that placed great restrictions on religious practice. Resistance to state-sponsored atheism came from established (although heavily restricted and monitored) religious clergy and from believers roughly following an evangelical Christianity. In Estonia and Latvia Bible-smuggling from the West was one of the more common methods of anti-regime activity. 
  14. ^ Francoeur, Robert T.; Noonan, Raymond J. (2004). The Continuum Complete International Encyclopedia of Sexuality. A&C Black. p. 361. ISBN 9780826414885. It was not until 1998 that the state's religious policies became tolerant, and by 1990, repressive legislation was annulled. 
  15. ^ Biotechnology report 2010 p.383
  16. ^ Crabtree, Steve; Pelham, Brett (February 9, 2009). "What Alabamians and Iranians Have in Common". Gallup. Retrieved 21 February 2010. 
  17. ^ a b c "Discrimination in the EU in 2012" (PDF), Special Eurobarometer, 383, European Union: European Commission, p. 233, 2012, retrieved 14 August 2013  The question asked was "Do you consider yourself to be...?" With a card showing: Catholic, Orthodox, Protestant, Other Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Sikh, Buddhist, Hindu, Atheist, and Non-believer/Agnostic. Space was given for Other (SPONTANEOUS) and DK. Jewish, Sikh, Buddhist, Hindu did not reach the 1% threshold.
  18. ^ "Churches in Estonia". Lutheran World Federation. Retrieved February 16, 2016. 
  19. ^ Ahto Kaasik. "Old estonian religions". Maavalla Koda. Retrieved 3 January 2013. 
  20. ^ Barry, Ellen (2008-11-09). "Some Estonians return to pre-Christian animist traditions". The New York Times. 
  21. ^ Uut usuühendust juhib ülemvaimulikuna Vene Erakonna Eestis poliitik
  22. ^ "PC231: POPULATION BY RELIGIOUS AFFILIATION AND ETHNIC NATIONALITY". Statistics Estonia. 31 March 2000. Retrieved 9 January 2014.