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Unearthing Czech religiousity: ... where the spirit of the lord is there is freedom.


Extensive research is necessary in order to guage the degree that religion and religiousness is present in any given society. Religious studies is, however, a poor discipline; it currently lacks the means to tackle extensive research projects. As of right now, research rarely looks further than simplistic statistics provided in population censi, which generally contain a question about religious affiliation. Sociological research is sometimes tapped into as well.

The Misleading Nature of Statistics

Unfortunately, data does not exist regarding religious affiliation in Czechoslovakia between 1950 and 1990. Following the census of 1950, the government adopted a law which forbade state organs to request information about the religious affiliation of the country's citizens. The law rendered religion into a private affair.

Informal observations do reveal that when the twentieth century commenced, different strata of society began to alienate themselves from traditional religiousosity (inhabitants of larger cities, teachers, blue-collar workers, university graduates, etc.). Consequently, when the communist government pursued its anti-religion policies, the majority of the Czech population actually welcomed and supported the campaign.

The population census from 1991 reveals that two groups--Roman Catholics and "non-religious" individuals--each respectively composed 40 percent of the population. Over the next decade, the latter group grew to 60 percent. This data is not, however, very imformative from a religious studies perspetive.

Czech media jumped on this data and declared the Czech Republic an aetheistic state, but other research suggests that real atheists actually only comprise 9 percent of the population. The census category for "non-religious" is misleading because while it used to have a concrete legal meaning, it is now an all encompassing bag into we throw any and every group that is difficult to categorize: religious minimalists ("well there is something, but one shouldn't exaggerate it"), individualists (spiritual individuals who do not ascribe to a specific organized religion), spiritual searchers, and the people who simply do not care about religion or atheism (the largest group by far).

Furthermore, as public as other declared identities may be (publicized missionary speeches, famous celebrities), these religious identities are rather irrelevant from a statistical perspective. According to the census, the Evangelical Church of Czech Brethren and the Czechoslovak Hussite Church follow behind the Roman Catholic Church in ascribers, but each church only claims approximately one percent of the population. Thirty more religious groups lay claim to only a few decimal points of followers.

Dynamism on the Religious Front

The dynamic nature of the Czech religious scene is remarkable. The most dramatic drop in affiliation since 1950 is evident in followers of the Czechoslovak Hussite Church. In its glory days, the church maintained approximately one million followers, or 15 percent of the Czech population in the former Czechoslovakia (the data focused specifically on the Czech population). Today, affiliation has fallen to a tenth of that number.

Nonetheless, the Roman Catholic Church has experienced the largest losses in absolute numbers. In the decade between the censi of 1991 and 2001, the Catholic Church lost 1,300,000 followers. Thus, unless the next population census reveals a directional change, Catholics now comprise about one-fourth of the Czech population. In accordance with other research, a Czech religionist and sociologist Zdenek R. Nespor predicts that numbers will stabilize, if not for that matter increase.

In accordance with the census from 2001, the fourth most ascribed to religion in the Czech Republic is the thriving religious society, Jehovah's Witnesses. Despite experiencing a fall in numbers over the past few years, their success is still very impressive considering many people view them as a marginal sect. Whereas in the traditional three churches most members are inactive and do not, therefore, share all the same opinions or participate in all church activities, almost every member of the Jehovah's Witnesses is active.

While the large churches are on a membership path of tragic decline, small and new and alternative Christian churches and non-Christian religious associations are either stable or growing, even if this growth rate is merely 0.03 to 0.09 percent.

The censi indicate a mysterious category called "others" that is noteworthy because its numbers have exploded. This category consists of everyone who belongs to an unregistered group. These groups are generally characterized by their small, new, and alternative nature, and their desire to revive and inject new life into the slightly tired Czech religious scene.

As the Czech Statistical Office's publications reveal, the self-described "others" cateogory rose from 4,000 to 196,000 between 1991-2001; in other words, the category grew forty times over. Since the last census of 2001, ten of these groups have registered as religious associations: Diamond Way Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, as well as alternative Christian churches such as Faith Alive Church or the Village Christian Church.

Religion in the European Union The role of religion in Europe is unrelated to regime changes, geographical location (Western versus Central versus

Eastern Europe), or the size and wealth of a country. Neighboring Slovakia, with whom the Czech Republic shares centuries-long worth of political and cultural history, has a higher rate of religiousness according to various quantitative data than their Czech neighbors. Furthermore, Slovakia's religiousity is also on the rise.

In Germany, the unification between East and West created equilibrium between Catholics and Evangelists (Lutherans, Reformists, and Unionists). In Austria, religious affiliation is considered official information; thus, religious groups that have signed up with state authorities receive one percent of the income tax of their members. This income is transferred directly to the budgets of these churches. Consequently, one may only change his or her religious affiliation at the beginning of the tax year.

According to some research, Catholics comprise approximately 97 percent of the population in Poland; and while two percent identity as non-religious, the remaining one percent is comprised of approximately lift y other registered religious entities.

Only Ireland, Malta, Cyprus, Romania, Greece, and Portugal come close to Polish religiousity. Meanwhile, Scandinavia, the Baltic States, and the Netherlands lie at the other end of the spectrum. The Czech Republic falls (according to unconfirmed information) second to last in religiousity, losing out to Estonia for last place. Full and reliable data is unfortunately not available.

The European Union maintains a decentralized policy towards the relationship between state and religion, so religious policies in the Union vary from state to state. The Czech Republic has some of the most liberal laws; in contrast, some EU members have a state or a preferred church. But recent statistics reveal that the privileged role of the Lutheran Church is acutally declining in Greece, Malta, England, Scotland and some Scandinavian countries. In other countries, the government must approve the appointment of prominent religious dignitaries (Catholic bishops in Germany) or, in England for example, the state actually appoints the bishops of the Church of England (based on a recommendation from the Church).

Future Prospects

Certainly, the era of renewed religious freedom since 1989 cannot be labeled as an era of religious blossom. What the former despotic regime with its official atheist ideology achieved through state propaganda, control, and repression, continues to occur spontaeously and with a greater intensity under new conditions. To sail between the old regime's Scylla of anti-religious tyranny and the new state's pragmatic and non-religious Charybdis of religious bribery, is truly a task for a real Sheppard.

The freedom which we must protect is that which Apostle Paul alluded to: ... where the spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom (2 Corinthians 3:17).

Suggested Reading

Davie, Grace, Linda Woodhead, and Paul Heelas. Predicting Religion: Christian, Secular, and Alternative Futures. Ashgate Publishing, Ltd., 2003.

Durham, W. Cole and Silvio Ferrari. Laws on Religion and the State in Post-Communist Europe. Peeters Publishers, 2004.

Herbert, David. Religion and Civil Society: Rethinking Public Religion in the Contemporary World. Ashgate Publishing, Ltd., 2003.

Moberg, David O. and Ralph L. Piedmont. Research in the Social Scientific Study of Religion. BRILL, 2006.

Ivan O. Stampach (1946) is a religionist. He was secretly ordained in 1983, and is currently the head of the Department of Religious Studies and Philosophy at the Philosophic Faculty of Pardubice University, the Czech Republic.
COPYRIGHT 2009 Martin Jan Stransky
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2009 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
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Author:Stampach, Ivan O.
Publication:The New Presence: The Prague Journal of Central European Affairs
Geographic Code:4EXCZ
Date:Jun 22, 2009
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