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ESTONIA
Religion

Cities in ESTONIA

Tallinn

Religion

For almost 500 years, Lutheranism, a Protestant religion, has been Estonia's official religion. Yet Estonians are one of the most secular nations in Europe. Only 23% of the population say they adhere to one religion or another. Before the advent of Christianity, Estonians had animistic beliefs. Animism is a primeval belief which holds that all earthly things, such as trees, animals or even stones, have their own spiritual power. There are still many sacred trees in Estonia today.

The Evangelical Lutheran Church has been the official religion in Estonia since the Reformation of 1520. Due to various wars, the Lutheran Church developed very slowly. It was not until 1686 that the New Testament was translated into Estonian for the first time. This made Lutheranism more accessible to the people. A complete translation of the Bible was written in 1734. During the reign of the Russian tsars, the Russian Orthodox Church became the state religion. In 1919, the church was reorganised and became the Estonian Evangelical Lutheran Church.

During the first period of independence (1920-1940), 80% of the population were officially members of the Lutheran Church. After the occupation by the atheistic Soviets in 1945, all religious expressions were discouraged. Two thirds of the clergy disappeared and many churches were closed. In the 1970s, less than 10% of the population declared they were Christians. At the end of the 1980s, the period of glasnost (liberalisation), interest in the Lutheran Church increased somewhat. At present, there are about twenty Lutheran congregations.

The Russian Orthodox Church established itself in Estonia in the 18th century during the domination by the Russian tsars. In the 19th century, approximately 20% of the population were members of the Orthodox Church. There are currently about 80 Orthodox communities in Estonia. In contrast to the Orthodox Church in Russia, Estonian Orthodox churches and church services are much more sober in character and layout.

Other religious movements include Baptism, Methodism and Seventh-day Adventism. There are also about 5,000 Catholics in Estonia, especially among the Polish, Ukrainian and Lithuanian minorities. Jehovah's Witnesses and Mormons are becoming more numerous.

Until the Second World War, a large group of Jews lived in the Baltic region. During the war, hundreds of thousands were deported to concentration camps and died there. The Germans triumphantly declared at one point that Estonia was 'Judenfrei'. After the war, there is again a small community of ± 4,000 Jews, mainly in and around the capital Tallinn. The few Muslims are workers from Islamic Russian republics such as Azerbaijan, Ossetia and Uzbekistan.

Sources

Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania: country studies
Federal Research Division, Library of Congres

Spilling, M. / Estonia
Marshall Cavendish Corporation

Taylor, N. / Estonia
Bradt Publications

Williams, N. / Estonia, Latvia & Lithuania
Lonely Planet

CIA - World Factbook

BBC - Country Profiles

Last updated January 2023
Copyright: Team The World of Info