The relocation of transcendence: Silence and the sacred of the seculars around the Baltic sea


The Foundation for Baltic and East European Studies

Project type


The peoples of Denmark, Estonia and Sweden stand out when it comes to their views of religion and nature. When asked whether religion occupies an important place in their lives, a vast majority (82%) answers in the negative. Here these three peoples constitute an extreme position in the world. If they are asked whether they believe in some sort of “spirit or life force”, their position is equally extreme. But to this question they answer “yes” to a higher extent than any other Europeans. Combined with other findings, these statistics indicate that the marginalisation of organised Christianity around the Baltic Sea combines with what may be called a sacralisation of nature, and that this is a process that has gone further in these countries than anywhere else.

We will in this project approach the sacralisation of nature among the mainstream of Danes, Swedes and Estonians. We hypothesise that the transcendence and the existential depth that before was sought and believed to be present in the Christian church, for many, has been relocated to the nature outside the urban centres. A brief look at popular culture provides a good illustration to this phenomenon. In fitness magazines, pop-song lyrics and real estate advertisements, nature is portrayed as a place for spiritual and transcendent experiences. But although this relocation is observable, it is also conspicuously unarticulated. Our previous research has shown that many feel reluctant to describe whatever it is they experience in nature with words.

In this project, then, we will approach this area of silence by means of surveys and ethnographic fieldwork in three sites where mainstream people go to experience nature: the coastal horizons of Denmark, the recreational forests of Sweden and the hiking routes of Estonia. Our ambition is to further our understanding and to contribute to the theorizing of one of the most prominent cultural features of the Baltic Sea region: secularisation and sacralisation of nature.

The project members are senior scholars of anthropology, sociology and history of religions from the three countries in focus. There will be one PhD-student and an advisory board with world leading scholars in the field. The involved scholars will work in cooperation, taking part on the fieldworks of all there sites. The project will result in several symposia, one international conference, several conference papers, four single-authored and four co-authored articles, one edited volume and a PhD-thesis.

Cecilie Rubow (Anthropology, Copenhagen University)

Atko Remmel (Study of Religion, Tartu University)

Research area / geographic area

Historical and Contemporary Studies Study of Religions Historical Studies Philosphy & religion History Baltic

Project time

2017 — 2020


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