Along with the Czech Republic, surveys show Estonia as being the least religious country of Europe. However, this does not prevent many Estonians from combining a low level of religion with a high level of beliefs in supernatural phenomena, as made clear in several papers presented by scholars from the University of Tartu at the international CESNUR conference, that took on June 17-20 in Tallinn (Estonia) and that RW attended. That Estonia is a secular society was made quite clear by statistical data summarized by Ringo Ringvee: 12 percent of the resident population of Estonia describes itself as “believers” (but this is down to 6 percent among ethnic Estonians) and 27 percent say they are “inclined to belief” (25 percent of ethnic Estonians). Only 2.7 percent are reported to attend religious services at least monthly. Twenty-nine percent of the population is religiously affiliated. While that percentage has not changed between the census of 2000 and the census of 2011, religious diversity has increased. Lutheranism is steadily decreasing (from 152,000 in 2000 to 108,000 in 2011), and the smaller Catholic, Baptist, Pentecostal, Seventh-day Adventist and Methodist denominations have also lost members. On the other hand, the Orthodox Church, with a majority of people from non-Estonian background, had increased from 143,000 to 176,000. Christian-free churches, Buddhists and local neo-Pagan groups have also increased.
But beliefs in a spirit or life force are very strong in Estonia, Ringvee stresses; 20 percent “fully agree” and 45 percent “rather agree” with the statement: “There is some power, life force or energy, that influences people and everything that happens in the world.” The belief that some people can foresee future events is even higher, as is the belief in the healing powers of some individuals. However, another presenter, Marko Uibu, warns that these beliefs express sympathy and openness rather than actual practices: 77 percent of Estonian population say that they believe that psychic healers can cure, but only 12 percent have actually used methods of alternative healing themselves. When it comes to such practices, there is a curiosity for them rather than an embrace. According to figures presented by Atko Remmel, one could still be tempted to speak of “spiritual atheism” in Estonia. Among people stating that they have no religious faith, the level of such beliefs (including that plants have a spirit or that animals have a soul or spirit) is very high and only slightly lower than the average population. Only when it comes to stating that humans have a soul do “atheists” rank significantly lower than the rest of the population (around 22 percent for atheists, compared with 42 percent average).