Religion in Estonia

Estonia, historically a Lutheran Protestant nation,[3][4][5] is today one of the "least religious" countries in the world in terms of declared attitudes, with only 14 per cent of the population declaring religion to be an important part of their daily life.[6]

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

  Non-religious (54.14%)
  Eastern Orthodoxy (16.15%)
  Lutheranism (9.91%)
  Other Christians (2.00%)
  Other religions (1.25%)
  Undeclared (16.55%)

The religious population is predominantly Christian and includes followers of 90 affiliations, most prominently Eastern Orthodoxy and Lutheranism.[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 per cent Protestant; overwhelmingly Lutheran.

Between 2001 and 2011 census, Eastern Orthodoxy overtook Lutheranism to become the largest Christian denomination in the country due to increasing lack of affiliation and very few conversions among Estonians, as well as due to steady or even increased religious affiliation among the Russian-speaking minorities. Lutheranism still remains the most popular religious group among ethnic Estonians (11 percent of them are Lutherans while also 2 percent of them are Orthodox), while Eastern Orthodoxy is practised mainly by the mostly non-indigenous immigrant Slavic minorities (approximately 45 per cent 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".[9]


In the 13th century, the Teutonic Knights brought Christianity to Estonia as part of the Livonian Crusade and during the Protestant Reformation, the Estonian Evangelical Lutheran Church became the established church.[10] 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."[11] 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.[12] 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.[13]

There were two orthodox Christian Churches in Estonia- the Estonian Orthodox Church which was part of the Moscow Patriarchate and the Estonian Apostolic Orthodox Church under Constantinople.[14] The Estonian Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople is a small group which is barely heard of outside Estonia.[14] The membership of the Apostolic Orthodox was about 30,000 in 1996.[14] Since 1840 many Lutherans converted to Orthodox Christianity which resulted in the rise of the Orthodox in Estonia.[14] In 1920, the Apostolic Orthodox Church became autonomous from the Russian Patriarch Tikhon.[14] The reoccupation of Estonia state by the Soviet Union ended the autonomy of the Estonian Apostolic Orthodox Church however, the autonomy was regained in 1996 after Estonia regained her independence under the Soviet Union.[14] The number of the Estonian Apostolic Orthodox Church during the Soviet era was about 200,000 out of which 80% were native Estonians.[14] One of the major challenges faced by the current Orthodox Christians in Estonia is Identification. The perception that the Orthodox Christianity is a Russian religion and the history of Russian invasions of Estonia makes it difficult for people to understand the Estonian Apostolic Orthodox Church.

The division between the two Orthodox Christian Churches in Estonia is relative. The Estonian Apostolic Orthodox is dominated by ethnic Estonians whereas the majority of the Estonian Orthodox Church are ethnic Russians.[14] The communication and cooperation between the believers of the two Orthodox communities in Estonia is a social practice and occurs at the individual level.[14] The Attitude of the two Orthodox Churches in Estonia is more ubiquitous as there seems to be a boundary between the two.

Religious revivals from the 1870s culminated in Pentecostal movements in Estonia. Foreign missionaries from Sweden and Finland brought full fledged Pentecostalism to Estonia in the 1920s.[15] In 1873, the Swedish Evangelical society, the Evangelical Homeland Foundation sent missionaries to Estonia at the request of the Lutheran clergy of the Coastal Swedes.[15] These missionaries, Thure Emmanuel Thoren and Lars Osterblom started the revival among the coastal Swedes. The Revivalists broke from the Lutheran Church in 1880. The revival movement had spread to Western Estonia and they were called Ridala in 1879.[15] The revival brought more charismatic activities such as jumping, clapping, dancing and speaking in tongues. In the later part of the 1960s, the activities of the Finnish missionaries brought charismatic Pentecostal revival in the evangelical Christian Churches and the Baptist in Tallinn.[15] The healing ministry in the 1970s has great impact on the Charismatic Movement in the Soviet Union.

The Estonian Christian Pentecostal Church is the biggest Pentecostal Church in Estonia. It was started in 1989.[15] There are also the Association of Estonian Evangelical Christian Pentecostal congregations, the Association of Estonian Christian Free Churches and many other independent churches. There seems to little written history about the Pentecostal and charismatic Christianity in Estonia. Most of what we know about Pentecostal and charismatic Christianity comes from the memoirs of Evald Kiil (1997) who began his profession as a Pentecostal preacher in the 1930s.[15] It is estimated that in the 1930s there were about 200 to 2000 Pentecostals in Estonia.[15] The 1934 population census of Estonia indicates there were 191 people were Pentecostals, 459 were Free Gospel Churches and 306 as Revivalists.[15]

In 1884, the German Baptist pastor Adam Schiewe performed the first Baptism of faith in Estonia. The Baptist became one of the fastest growing churches in the years that followed.[15] The Seventh-Day Adventists started in 1897.[15] The Methodist movement has been present in Estonia since 1907. Currently the Estonian Methodists operate as the United Methodist Church in Estonia.

The arrival of the Moravian Movement in the first half of the 18th Century laid the spiritual foundation for the revivals that followed.[15] The 2011 Population census of Estonia puts the total number of people belonging to Charismatic and Pentecostal Churches to about 5,256.


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).[16][17] The Russian Rodnover organisation "Vene Rahvausu Kogudus Eestis" is registered in Tartu.[18]

Census data

Religion 2000 Census[19] 2011 Census[1]
Number % Number %
Christianity 319,770 28.51 307,173 28.06
Orthodox Christians 143,554 12.80 176,773 16.15
Lutherans 152,237 13.57 108,513 9.91
Baptists 6,009 0.54 4,507 0.41
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
Pentecostals 2,648 0.24 1,855 0.17
Adventists 1,561 0.14 1,194 0.11
Methodists 1,455 0.13 1,098 0.10
Christian Free Congregations 223 0.02 2,189 0.20
Estonian Neopaganism 1,058 0.09 2,972 0.28
–Native Faith (Maausk) 1,925 0.18
–Taaraism 1,047 0.10
Islam 1,387 0.12 1,508 0.14
Buddhism 622 0.06 1,145 0.10
Other religions 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 99.00

1Population, persons aged 15 and older.

  Other religions and other Christians
  Not religious
  Not stated

Religions by ethnic group

Religious affiliation in Estonia among the major ethnic groups according to the 2011 census[1]
Ethnic group Total population[20] Orthodox Lutheran Baptist Catholic Jehovah's Witness Old Believer Pentecostal Muslim Buddhist Estonian Neopagan Other Christian Other religion Not religious Refused/unknown
N % N % N % N % N % N % N % N % N % N % N % N % N % N %
Estonians 902,547 20,5852.28 104,69111.5 3,6480.4 1,3140.14 1,9820.2 1940.02 1,0860.1 1480.0 9780.1 2,9410.3 4,4390.49 2,7590.3 491,40265.47 113,052 15.06
Russians 326,235 142,97143.8 8620.26 5150.15 5600.17 1,3220.4 2,3680.72 5120.15 1070.03 1140.03 1,3440.41 6870.21 83,70829.58 56,286 19.89
Ukrainians 22,573 10,81647.9 990.43 1550.68 1210.53 3301.46 1470.65 2521.1 1590.7 5,33724.82 4,027 18.73
Belarusians 12,579 6,18849.1 440.34 440.34 5984.7 550.43 220.17 550.43 450.35 3,05324.94 2,117 17.29
Finns 7,589 81810.7 1,94825.6 360.47 330.43 1081.4 70.1 210.27 90.11 80.1 450.59 290.38 2,87339.94 1,250 17.37
Tatars 1,993 1748.7 50.25 40.2 50.25 70.35 60430.3 80.4 80.4 59431.56 465 24.69
Latvians 1,764 25414.3 22112.5 90.5 1407.9 70.39 30.17 60.34 130.73 80.45 65340.43 298 18.45
Germans 1,544 27417.7 20313.1 261.68 785 140.9 60.38 312 150.97 42130.53 308 22.34

Other surveys

  • The Eurobarometer Poll 2010[21] found that 18% of the Estonian population responded that "they believe there is a God", 50% responded that "they believe there is some sort of spirit or life force" and 29% responded that "they don't believe there is any sort of spirit, God or life force". 3% gave no response. In 2015 the same survey found that 58.6% of the Estonians regarded themselves as Christians, divided between 23.2% who were Eastern Orthodox, 9.0% Protestants, 2.8% Catholics and 23.6% other Christians. The unaffiliated people made up 38.8% of the respondents and were divided between atheists who were 22.2% and agnostics who were 16.6%.[22]
  • A 2006–2008 survey held 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.[23]
  • A 2015 Pew Research Center survey found that 51% of the population of Estonia declared to be Christians, 45% irreligious—a category which includes atheists, agnostics and those who answered that they believed in "nothing in particular", while 2% belonged to other faiths.[24] The Christians were divided between 25% who were Eastern Orthodox, 20% Lutherans, 5% other Christians and 1% Catholic.[25] The irreligious people divided between 9% who were atheists, 1% who were agnostics, and 35% who answered "nothing in particular".[26]
  • The International Social Survey Programme 2015 found that 57.0% of the Estonian population declared to belong to a Christian denomination, divided between a 27.6% who were Eastern Orthodox, 26.0% Lutheran and 3.3% who belonged to smaller Christian denominations. Only 38.9% declared to have no religion.[27]

See also


  1. "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. 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. Missing or empty |url= (help)
  9. Martin Noorkõiv (6 November 2012). "The Estonian Atheist Experiment". University of Tartu Blog.
  10. 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.
  11. Francoeur, Robert T.; Noonan, Raymond J. (2004). The Continuum Complete International Encyclopedia of Sexuality. A&C Black. p. 361. ISBN 9780826414885.
  12. 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.
  13. 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.
  14. Benovska-Sabko, Milena (2011). "THE REDISCOVERY OF ORTHODOX CHRISTIANITY IN POST SOVIET ESTONIA". Journal of Ethnology and Folkloristics. 5 (1): 23–43 via Estonian Literary Museum, Estonian National Museum, University of Tartu.
  15. Ringvee, Ringo (May 2015). "Charismatic Christianity and Pentecostal churches in Estonia from a historical perspective". Approaching Religion. 5 (1): 57–66. doi:10.30664/ar.67563.
  16. Ahto Kaasik. "Old estonian religions". Maavalla Koda. Retrieved 3 January 2013.
  17. Barry, Ellen (9 November 2008). "Some Estonians return to pre-Christian animist traditions". The New York Times.
  18. Uut usuühendust juhib ülemvaimulikuna Vene Erakonna Eestis poliitik Archived 2014-01-09 at the Wayback Machine
  19. "PC231: POPULATION BY RELIGIOUS AFFILIATION AND ETHNIC NATIONALITY". Statistics Estonia. 31 March 2000. Retrieved 9 January 2014.
  21. "Eurobarometer on Biotechnology" (PDF). p. 381. Retrieved 1 February 2013.
  22. "DISCRIMINATION IN THE EU IN 2015", Special Eurobarometer, 437, European Union: European Commission, 2015, retrieved 15 October 2017 via GESIS
  23. Crabtree, Steve; Pelham, Brett (9 February 2009). "What Alabamians and Iranians Have in Common". Gallup. Retrieved 21 February 2010.
  24. ANALYSIS (10 May 2017). "Religious Belief and National Belonging in Central and Eastern Europe" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 13 May 2017. Retrieved 12 May 2017.
  25. Religious Belief and National Belonging in Central and Eastern Europe: National and religious identities converge in a region once dominated by atheist regimes
  26. Religious Belief and National Belonging in Central and Eastern Europe: 1. Religious affiliation; Pew Research Center, 10 May 2017
  27. "Country specific religious affiliation or denomination: Estonia - weighted". International Social Survey Programme: Work Orientations IV - ISSP 2015. 2015 via GESIS.
  28. Bullivant, Stephen (2018). "Europe's Young Adults and Religion: Findings from the European Social Survey (2014-16) to inform the 2018 Synod of Bishops" (PDF). St Mary's University's Benedict XVI Centre for Religion and Society; Institut Catholique de Paris. Archived from the original (PDF) on 22 March 2018.
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