Religion in Estonia (2021)[1]

  No religion (58.4%)
  Eastern Orthodoxy (16.3%)
  Lutheranism (7.7%)
  Other Christians (2.7%)
  Islam (0.5%)
  Buddhism (0.2%)
  Other religions (0.9%)
  Undeclared (12.7%)
St. Olaf's Church, Tallinn.

Estonia, historically a Lutheran Christian nation,[2][3][4] is today one of the "least religious" countries in the world in terms of declared attitudes, with only 14 percent of the population declaring religion to be an important part of their daily life.[5] This is thought to largely be a result of the Soviet occupation of Estonia in 1940,[citation needed] prior to which Estonia had a large Christian majority.

The religious population is predominantly Christian and includes followers of 90 affiliations. According to the Estonian Council of Churches data from December 2019, 13.8 percent of the population belong to the Estonian Evangelical Lutheran Church, while 13.1 percent belong to the Estonian Orthodox Church of Moscow Patriarchate (EOCMP), and 2.3 percent belong to the Estonian Apostolic Orthodox Church. The Union of Free Evangelical and Baptist Churches of Estonia and the Roman Catholic Church in Estonia together comprise 1 percent of the population. Other Christian groups, including Jehovah’s Witnesses, Pentecostals, Methodists, Seventh-day Adventists, and Russian Old Believers, collectively constitute 1.1 percent of the population.[6] According to Ringo Ringvee, "religion has never played an important role on the political or ideological battlefield" and 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.[3][7] Before the Second World War, Estonia was approximately 80 per cent Protestant; overwhelmingly Lutheran, partly because of historic Swedish rule. Under Russian and Soviet rule, this predominance greatly decreased, while Eastern Orthodoxy increased due to immigration of Russians.

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 Slavic minorities (approximately 45 per cent of them are Orthodox). According to the University of Tartu, irreligious Estonians are not necessarily atheists; instead, the 2010s have witnessed a growth of Neopagan, Buddhist and Hindu beliefs among those who declare themselves to be "not religious".[8]


Religious history

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.[9] 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."[10] 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.[11] 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)".[3] After the dissolution of the Soviet Union, this antireligious legislation was annulled.[12]

Modern Estonian Christian theology often revolves around religious rituals rather than trying to preach to or convert Estonians.[citation needed] Christian religious workers don't have a large social role in most towns.[13]

Orthodox Christianity

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]

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] A research by Tom Esslemon in 2011[15] revealed that fewer than one in five Estonians claim plays an important role in their lives. According to the 2000 Estonian census, 29% of the total population belonged to some religion[16] An Eurobarometer poll in 2005 claimed only 16% of Estonians believe in God however, 54% believed in some sort of spirit or life force.[16]



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.[17] 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.[17] 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.[17] 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.[17] The healing ministry in the 1970s has had a 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.[17] 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 be little written history about the Pentecostal and charismatic Christianity in Estonia. Most of what is known about Pentecostal and charismatic Christianity comes from the memoirs of Evald Kiil (1997) who began his profession as a Pentecostal preacher in the 1930s.[17] It is estimated that in the 1930s there were about 200 to 2000 Pentecostals in Estonia.[17] The 1934 population census of Estonia indicates there were 191 people were Pentecostals, 459 were Free Gospel Churches and 306 were Revivalists.[17] The 2011 population census of Estonia puts the total number of people belonging to Charismatic and Pentecostal Churches to about 5,256.

Baptists, Methodists, Moravians

In 1884, the German Baptist pastor Adam Schiewe performed the first baptism of faith in Estonia. The Baptist church became one of the fastest growing churches in the years that followed.[17] The Seventh-Day Adventists started in 1897.[17] The Methodist movement has been present in Estonia since 1907. Currently the Estonian Methodists operate as the Estonian Methodist Church. The arrival of the Moravian Movement in the first half of the 18th century laid the spiritual foundation for the revivals that followed.[17]


Religions in Estonia by administrative division, 2011 census.
Religions among ethnic Estonians and non-Estonians, the youth and the population of all ages.

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).[18][19] The Russian Rodnover organisation "Vene Rahvausu Kogudus Eestis" is registered in Tartu.[20]

Census statistics, 2000–2021

Religious affiliations in Estonia, census 2000–2021*[1]
Religion 2000 2011 2021
Number % Number % Number %
Christianity 319,770 28.5 310,481 28.4 298,410 26.8
Orthodox Christians 143,554 12.8 176,773 16.2 181,770 16.3
Lutherans 152,237 13.6 108,513 9.9 86,030 7.7
Catholics 5,745 0.5 4,501 0.4 8,690 0.8
Baptists 6,009 0.5 4,507 0.4 5,190 0.5
Jehovah's Witnesses 3,823 0.3 3,938 0.4 3,720 0.3
Pentecostals 2,648 0.2 1,855 0.2 2,310 0.2
Old Believers 2,515 0.2 2,644 0.2 2,290 0.2
Methodists 1,455 0.1 1,098 0.1 1,390 0.1
Adventists 1,561 0.1 1,194 0.1 950 0.1
—Other Christians 223 0.02 5,458 0.5 6,070 0.5
Islam 1,387 0.1 1,508 0.1 5,800 0.5
Estonian Neopaganism 1,058 0.1 2,972 0.3 5,630 0.5
—Native Faith (Maausk) 1,925 0.2 3,860 0.3
—Taaraism 1,047 0.1 1,770 0.2
Buddhism 622 0.1 1,145 0.1 1,880 0.2
Other religions** 4,995 0.4 4,727 0.4 9,630 0.9
No religion 450,458 40.2 592,588 54.1 650,900 58.4
Not stated*** 343,292 30.6 181,104 16.5 141,780 12.7
Total population* 1,121,582 1,094,564 1,114,030
*The censuses of Estonia count the religious affiliations of the population older than 15 years of age.[1]
**Mostly other modern Paganisms, with a smaller number of other Eastern religions and Theosophical movements.[1]
***Comprises the categories "cannot define", "refuse to answer" and "religious affiliation unknown".[1]

Line chart of the trends, 2000–2021

Census statistics 2000–2021:[1]

Graphs are unavailable due to technical issues. There is more info on Phabricator and on
  Orthodox Christianity
  Other Christianity
  Other religions
  No religion
  Not stated

Religions by ethnic group

Religious affiliation in Estonia among the major ethnic groups according to the 2021 census[21]
Ethnic group Total population counted Religious Lutheran Baptist Other Protestant Orthodox Old Believer Catholic Jehovah's Witness Estonian Neopagan Muslim Buddhist Other religion Not religious Refused/
N % N % N % N % N % N % N % N % N % N % N % N % N %
Estonians 756,180 130,150 19.54 80,790 12,13 4,170 0.63 6,600 0.99 21,480 3.22 300 0.05 2,780 0.42 1,620 0.24 5,460 0.82 430 0.06 1,320 0.20 4,330 0.65 536,010 80.46 90,020
Russians 269,650 144,910 63.2 960 0.42 530 0.23 2,490 1.09 134,460 58.64 1,910 0.83 1,280 0.56 1,320 0.58 30 0.01 100 0.04 330 0.14 940 0.41 84,380 36.80 40,360
Ukrainians 24,960 14,050 65.62 150 0.70 170 0.79 680 3.18 11,900 55.58 280 1.31 360 1.68 460 2.15 7,360 34.38 3,550
Belarusians 11,180 7,260 74.08 20 0.20 20 0.20 6,440 65.71 430 4.39 80 0.82 2,540 25.92 1,380
Finns 8,250 3,870 53.31 2,380 32.78 20 0.28 20 0.28 1,040 14.33 90 1.24 40 0.55 3,390 46,69 990
Latvians 3,340 1,440 49.15 260 8.87 80 2.73 490 16.72 470 16.04 1,480 50.51 410
Other 40,480 19,660 55.52 1,400 3.95 200 0.56 700 1.98 5,970 16.86 3,320 9.38 220 0.62 5,230 14.77 90 0.25 2,240 6.33 15,740 44.45 5,070

In census are included people aged 15 and over. The percentage is calculated from the number of respondents (excluded refused/unknown numbers).[22]

Other surveys

Freedom of religion

In 2022, the country was scored 4 out of 4 for religious freedom.[31]

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e f Official census data from Statistics Estonia:
    • 2000 Census:
      • "2000 Census: RL229: Population by religion".
      • "2000 Census: RL231: Population by religion and ethnicity".
    • 2011 Census:
    • 2021 Census:
  2. ^ 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.
  3. ^ 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.
  4. ^ 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.
  5. ^ "Estonians least religious in the world". EU Observer. 11 February 2009. Retrieved 9 January 2014.
  6. ^ Office of International Religious Freedom, 2020 Report on International Religious Freedom: Estonia, United States Department of State
  7. ^ 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.
  8. ^ Martin Noorkõiv (6 November 2012). "The Estonian Atheist Experiment". University of Tartu Blog.
  9. ^ 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.
  10. ^ Francoeur, Robert T.; Noonan, Raymond J. (2004). The Continuum Complete International Encyclopedia of Sexuality. A&C Black. p. 361. ISBN 9780826414885.
  11. ^ 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.
  12. ^ 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.
  13. ^ "Religion Overview". A to Z World Culture. 2023. Retrieved 20 February 2023.
  14. ^ a b c d e f g h i 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. ^ Esslemont, Tom (26 August 2011). "Spirituality in Estonia - the world's 'least religious' country". BBC News. Retrieved 10 January 2019.
  16. ^ a b Ringvee, Ringo (2011). "Is Estonia really the least religious country in the world?".
  17. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k 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.
  18. ^ Ahto Kaasik. "Old estonian religions". Maavalla Koda. Retrieved 3 January 2013.
  19. ^ Barry, Ellen (9 November 2008). "Some Estonians return to pre-Christian animist traditions". The New York Times.
  20. ^ Uut usuühendust juhib ülemvaimulikuna Vene Erakonna Eestis poliitik Archived 2014-01-09 at the Wayback Machine
  22. ^ "Population census. The proportion of people with a religious affiliation remains stable, Orthodox Christianity is still the most widespread | Statistikaamet". Retrieved 5 January 2023.
  23. ^ "Eurobarometer on Biotechnology" (PDF). p. 381. Retrieved 1 February 2013.
  24. ^ "DISCRIMINATION IN THE EU IN 2015", Special Eurobarometer, 437, European Union: European Commission, 2015, retrieved 15 October 2017 – via GESIS
  25. ^ Crabtree, Steve; Pelham, Brett (9 February 2009). "What Alabamians and Iranians Have in Common". Gallup. Retrieved 21 February 2010.
  26. ^ 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.
  27. ^ Religious Belief and National Belonging in Central and Eastern Europe: National and religious identities converge in a region once dominated by atheist regimes
  28. ^ Religious Belief and National Belonging in Central and Eastern Europe: 1. Religious affiliation; Pew Research Center, 10 May 2017
  29. ^ "Country specific religious affiliation or denomination: Estonia - weighted". International Social Survey Programme: Work Orientations IV - ISSP 2015. 2015 – via GESIS.
  30. ^ 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.
  31. ^ Freedom House website, Estonia page, retrieved 2023-08-28