Folkloristic Contributions towards Religious Studies in Estonia: A Historical Outline


  • Ülo Valk University of Tartu



Folk Religion, Vernacular Religion, Estonian Folklore, History of Folkloristics


The article outlines the historical development of the study of folk religion and mythology in Estonian scholarship. It shows how the changing ideological and political context and formation of folkloristics as an autonomous discipline have shaped the construction of its object – Estonian folk religion. The roots of conceptualizing folk religion as an inherited set of survivals of heathendom lies on the one hand in the systematic work of the Lutheran Church in strengthening the Christian worldview by eradicating superstitions. On the other hand, the ideology of national awakening depicted Estonian folklore as a huge and valuable reservoir of pre-Christian traditions, including the oldest survivals of Finno-Ugric cultural heritage. Later, during the period of Soviet occupation, Marxist evolutionary views contributed towards considering folk religion as an archaic form in human development; in addition, anti-clerical ideology reinforced a stereotype of the people’s adherence to their indigenous religion and contrasting this with Christianity as an alien ideology of oppression. The last part of the article discusses scholarship after the re-establishment of Estonia’s independence in 1991, as the former ideological framework slowly faded away and new conceptual developments emerged. 

Author Biography

Ülo Valk, University of Tartu

ÜLO VALK is Professor of Estonian and Comparative Folklore, University of Tartu. E-mail:




How to Cite

Valk, Ülo. (2014). Folkloristic Contributions towards Religious Studies in Estonia: A Historical Outline. Temenos - Nordic Journal of Comparative Religion, 50(1), 137–164.