On 2 March at 16:15 Liina Kilemit will defend her doctoral thesis „Why do people in Estonia today join Christian congregations?”.
Senior Research Fellow Lea Altnurme, dr theol
Prof Mikko Lagerspetz, Åbo Akademi
Estonians are sometimes considered to be areligious, however, according to the census, almost a quarter of our population have admitted belonging to some religion. Every year, quite a few Estonian people become members of one or another Christian congregation. When our land is said to be so secular, the question arises: why do people join the church congregations at all? Liina Kilemit, PhD student of the School of Theology and Religious Studies of the University of Tartu, tried to shed light on this topic. As a result of the research, it has been found that the causes which can lead people to congregations are numerous. Among the most important ones there is an example of friends, family members, or otherwise sympathetic people, and an aspiration to explain and ponder about their own experiences and what is happening in the world, to target their lives with firm and holistic views and values. Accidents and psychological crises frequently push people for religious searches, and people can, among other things, turn to religion to find a way out. Though it is sometimes assumed that for Estonians Lutheranism is not strongly associated with our national culture and identity, the Kilemiti’s study revealed that this is not the case. Those who joined the Lutheran Church highlighted the association of this church with our national traditions, customs and history as a reason for joining. Although the Soviet occupation has led to an interruption in the transmission of religious traditions in our society, the old traditions of family and next of kin, where Christianity was in its place, are still remembered and held by some people. These traditions are mostly remembered by the grandparents’ generation. The research also showed that the choice of confession is far from being random. Some people may be in a long-term search for a church whose teachings, views, sacraments, prayers, and worship arrangements are meaningful and eloquent to them. Another key factor for new members is having warm and friendly interpersonal relationships in the congregation. The journeys of Estonians to church communities at the beginning of the 21st century are numerous and diverse. Religious searches may start far from Christian congregations, sometimes people may first probe other religions or new spiritual teachings, and only then turn to Christianity. Liina Kilemit’s doctoral thesis was based on interview surveys as well as on numerous in-depth interviews, in which those who joined all major Christian denominations and individual congregations in Estonia were studied.