In Tallinn's medieval Old Town, the primary tourist attraction of the Baltic seaport capital, Estonia’s Christian heritage is ubiquitous. Gothic church spires and crosses are the architectural leitmotif.
Despite prominent symbols of faith in public spaces, Estonia is noted as one of the world’s most agnostic nations. A history of foreign occupation and cultural imposition has left an ambiguous relationship between Estonians and the role of religion in their lives.
But Estonia is not so much a nation of atheists – France led the way in that category in the latest poll of European religious sentiment, the Eurobarometer survey of 2010 at 40 percent – as an amalgam of the utterly indifferent and the spiritually seeking.
“The image of Estonia as the most atheistic country seems to exist only in the Estonian popular imagination,” explains Atko Remmel, a scholar of Estonian church history at the University of Tartu, the country’s leading research institution.
Indeed, many Estonians have faith of a sort. Half of respondents to the Eurobarometer poll expressed belief in “some sort of spirit or life force." Where Estonians are irreligious is in lack of church attendance and specific religious affiliation, in part due to the country's historical legacy.