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La religion dans le recensement de la population estonienne de 2021

Estonia’s 2021 population census was conducted using a combined method : Statistics Estonia collected the necessary information from nearly 30 national databases, and combined this data with a sample survey. This is the first time such method is used. In previous censuses (2000 and 2011), it was a complete enumeration, with data was collected through home visits.

In 2011, a combined method was used. For the first time in the history of Estonian population censuses, in addition to home visits, an e-census which allowed everyone to count themselves and their households online was also used to collect data.

A combined method – although of a different sort – was also used in 2021 census, because in addition to the databases, a survey also took place, in two stages. From 28 December 2021 to 22 January 2022, all residents of Estonia were invited to answer an online survey. Even though Estonian residents were invited to answer it voluntarily, the survey also had a mandatory group of respondents. A random sample of some 60,000 residents were contacted by email and required to respond. The answers of this random sample included 40,712 addresses from all local governments across Estonia. The data was made public on 2 November 2022.

All in all, almost half of the Estonian population answered the question about religion. According to Statistics Estonia, the results can be generalized to the entire population. All people aged 15 and over were first asked if they had any religious affiliation, and when they answered “yes”, they were asked to name that religion. Other questions were for example whether a person was a member of a church, congregation or a non-Christian religious association, whether he/she was baptized and attended church regularly, were not asked.

According to the census, an estimated 29% of Estonian people consider themselves religiously affiliated. This figure has remained stable in the last three censuses. However, compared to previous censuses, the percentage of those who do not identify themselves as affiliated with any religion has increased - it was 54% in 2011, and it is 58% according to the 2021 census.

The most common forms of religion are still Eastern Orthodoxy and Lutheranism, only 5% of the population believe in other religions. Out of the entire population (from the age of 15), 16% consider themselves affiliated with Eastern Orthodoxy and 8% consider themselves as Lutherans. While the percentage of Orthodox believers has remained unchanged, the percentage of people affiliated with Lutheranism is on a downward trend : in 2000, Lutheranism was mentioned by 14%, in 2011, 10% and by 2021 it has decreased to 8%.

As for religious diversity, Christianity is still the most common religion in Estonia. 93% of believers are Christians. This has slightly decreased, in 2011 the percentage was 97%. Apart from Eastern Orthodoxy and Lutheranism, representatives of other Christian confessions or other religions make up a marginal part of the population, and their proportion has generally remained the same or increased slightly ; for example, the percentage of Catholics (0.4% in 2011, 0.8% in 2021) and Muslims (0.1% in 2011, 0.5% in 2021) has increased by 0.4 percentage points.

Affiliation varies by gender, age, level of education and ethnicity. Religious self-determination is more common among women than among men. 32% of women were religiously affiliated and 55% were not, while 25% of men consider themselves affiliated with a certain religion and 63% have no religious affiliation.

Although 43% of people aged 65 and older consider themselves religiously affiliated, only 14% of the age group 15–29 have such identification. Judging by the level of education, the acceptance of religion is higher among people with higher education – 34%. The corresponding figure for people with basic education is 21%.

Compared to other major ethnic groups living in Estonia, Estonians are the least likely to believe in any religion – 17%, while 71% say that they don’t believe in any religion. The largest proportion of people who say that they have a specific religious belief is found among the Slavic peoples – 65% of Belarusians, 56% of Ukrainians and 54% of Russians. 50% of Russians consider themselves Orthodox, 48% of Ukrainians, and 58% of Belarusians. The main religion of Estonians is Lutheranism – 11% of Estonians consider Lutheranism as their religion, while 3% affiliate with Eastern Orthodoxy.

So far, only a few comments have been published. Among them Urmas Viilma, the Archbishop of the Estonian Evangelical Lutheran Church, was the first one to react. He claimed that the results reflect the lack of religious education in Estonian schools. Religious education in Estonian schools is organized on a voluntary basis, with less than 10% of schools giving religious education as a separate subject. In Viilma’s opinion, people cannot define themselves as religious because they lack education and knowledge about religion.

Atko Remmel, Associate Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Tartu, emphasized that the transmission of religion is related to the socialization in faith, in which the family is the primary and biggest influencer, while the influence of school, friends, etc. is secondary. The transmission or non-transmission of religion is mainly connected with the change of generations, which also explains the decreasing numbers : older Lutherans simply die, and there are no new generations coming to replace them. Already, 50% of Lutherans are older than 64 years. This proves the disruption of religious tradition among Estonians. At the same time, the transmission of Eastern Orthodoxy is ensured (at least to some extent) with the Slavic national identity. The Lutheran church has generally become a niche phenomenon, providing an opportunity for the middle-aged and elderly educated people who want to stand out from the general mass. According to Remmel, the declining popularity of Lutheranism points primarily to the church’s lack of ability to speak to people about matters important to them, be it culture, morality, climate change or other green topics.

D 10 novembre 2022    APriit Rohtmets

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