Estonia, which historically was a Lutheran Protestant nation, is today one of the "least religious" countries in the world in terms of declared attitudes, with only 14% of the population declaring religion to be an important part of their daily life.
The religious population is predominantly Christian and includes followers of 90 affiliations, most prominently of the religions is Orthodox Christians and Lutheran Christians. 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. 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 unaffiliation among Estonians. Lutheranism still remains the most popular religious group among ethnic Estonians (11% of them are Lutherans), while Eastern Orthodoxy is practised mainly by the mostly non-indigenous immigrant Slavic minorities (~45% of them are Orthodox). According to the University of Tartu, irreligious Estonians are not necessarily atheists; instead, the years 2010s have witnessed a growth of Neopagan, Buddhist and Hindu beliefs among those who declare themselves to be "not religious".
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. 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." 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. 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)". After the dissolution of the Soviet Union, this antireligious legislation was annulled.
Less than a third of the population define themselves as believers; of those most are Eastern Orthodox, predominantly, but not exclusively, among the Slavic minorities, or Lutheran. There are also a number of smaller Muslim, Protestant, Jewish, and Buddhist groups. The organisation Maavalla Koda unites adherents of animist traditional religions (Estonian Neopaganism). The Russian Rodnover organisation "Vene Rahvausu Kogudus Eestis" is registered in Tartu.
|Religion||2000 Census||2011 Census|
|-Christian Free Congregations||223||0.02||2,189||0.20|
|-Native Faith (Maausk)||1,925||0.18|
1Population, persons aged 15 and older.
|Ethnic group||Total population||Orthodox||Lutheran||Baptist||Catholic||Jehovah's Witness||Old Believer||Pentecostal||Muslim||Buddhist||Estonian Neopagan||Other Christian||Other religion||Not religious or undeclared|
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.
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.
Protestantism has done much to inform the moral world view of the Estonians, particularly the process of distinguishing themselves from the Russians.
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.
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.
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.
It was not until 1998 that the state's religious policies became tolerant, and by 1990, repressive legislation was annulled.