Estonia is reported to be among the most atheistic of countries, but a study of the Baltic country’s last elections showed that religion is playing a new role in its national identity and politics.
An article in the journal Religion, State & Society (September) by political scientist Alar Kilp argues that the 2011 parliamentary elections showed a trend toward “desecularization” in the country as church buildings became symbols of ethnic and political loyalty and the predominant Lutheran and Russian Orthodox churches reinforced ethnic identity. He notes that desecularization does not necessarily mean an increase in affiliation and religious belief, but it does indicate only that religious objects, buildings and symbols are connected to cultural identity.
During the elections, politicians from the ruling party took part in the opening of St. John’s Lutheran Church in St. Petersburg, Russia, and declared that the church was the center of Estonian culture and its aspirations toward freedom and independence. At about the same time, opposition party leaders took part in ceremonies at a prominent Orthodox church for the country’s Russian population in the capital city of Tallinn. Politicians also publicized their donations to these and other churches during the campaign. While these events “predict the persistence” of political religion in Estonia, such activity is unlikely to spill over into increased religious devotion and affiliation, Kilp concludes.
(Religion, State, and Society, http://www.tandfonline.com.)