Estonia is a Baltic republic with 1.3 million inhabitants. Based on the European Values Study 1999–2000, Estonia is one of the least religious countries in Europe, if to consider under theby religion the we are thinking of traditional Christianity. In the first half of the 20th century, 98 percent of Estonians considered themselves Christian; by the end of the century this number had declined to 30 percent.
Estonians’ low level of participation in religion is also noteworthy. In 2000, only half of those who described themselves as religious, and a quarter of those who defined themselves as religiously inclined belonged to a religious association. At the same time, many of the unchurched do not identify themselves as non-believers or atheists. This may reflect the rupture of ties with the dominant churches, and their inability to satisfy people`s spiritual needs, which have nevertheless persisted. In this sense, one can speak of the individualization of religious faith.
Analysing 77 Religious Life Stories
In matters of religious belief, there has been a withdrawal from the traditional and an adoption of the new. According to the Eurobarometer 2005, only 16 percent of Estonian residents believed in God, a smaller percentage than in other European countries; however, 54 percent said they believed in some sort of spirit or life force, which was the largest percentage among European countries. Quite widespread is the idea of reincarnation; 28 percent of Estonians believe in it.
These statistics reveal the great changes that have taken place in the last half century in the religious sphere in Estonia. There is a noticeable tendency toward church-free spirituality. At the same time it is not known what this means for the life of the individual. For this reason, I conducted a research project to understand what this change that has taken place implies for individual identity. I analyzed 77 religious life stories that I collected from men and women of varying ages and self-definition. people who differed in sex, age and religious self-definition. A life story is an expression of a person`s identity, which emerges in the course of social interaction.
The surrounding culture provides the stories through which self-identification takes place. Until recently, western culture has offered the Christian myth of religious identity, which follows the narrative axis of creation-fall-redemption-judgment. This Christian myth structured the life stories of the Christians of the older generation, where a personal God, depicted in the Bible determined their destiny, saved, healed, loved, protected, granted good fortune, built, provided daily bread and possessions, in exchange for faithfulness and obedience.
Traces Of New Age Mysticism
He also meted out punishments for transgressions of his commandments. However, the motifs of choice and struggle were frequent in autobiographical narratives. Choices were made between God—the good and the true -- and evil and falsehood. An obedient and devoted religious person would earn God’s favour, love, protection, and blessing. In most cases this is how members of the older generation pictured themselves in their narratives – as people loved and cared for by God, fulfilling their duty toward God through choosing his side and living a life in keeping with religious standards.
In contrast, there was no sign of the Christian myth in the life stories of individually religious people who claimed that they have their own faith. Seemingly full of eclectic beliefs, the solid structure could still be found in their life stories – the myth of New Age, which tells the story of the spiritual development and self-realization, and where the central role is played by the individual, not by God. In general they viewed themselves as wayfarers with intuitive wisdom and learners of the lessons of life, who are running their course, and developing spiritually into the perfection from one reincarnation to another.
In the life stories of the Christians from younger generation, the influences from both myths could be traced. They still mentioned God, but not as an active player in their lives. As the aim of faith, they cited not the seeking of God and the fulfillment of his orders but their own spiritual development. They did not think of suffering as a punishment or as a result of sin, but lesson, likewise the people with individual religiosity. Their life stories mention new beliefs, such as the idea of reincarnation or karma .
These developments indicate that the sources for the construction of a religious self-image have changed in Estonia. Life stories bear witness to the dissemination and influence of the New Age myth. In conclusion, one can claim that in the area of religion, fundamental changes are taking place in Estonia. A new monistic-holistic paradigm has come to take its place alongside the monotheistic-dualistic paradigm that has been the foundation of Christianity for centuries.