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Church Attendance in Post-communist

Church Attendance in Post-communist

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Church Attendance and Religious Belief

in Postcommunist Societies
MARY L. GAUTIERt

II

Research is just beginning to appear about the effects of Soviet repression on the churches and religious beliefs of the countries which constituted the former Soviet Union. Data from an opinion survey conducted in 17 countries of Western and Eastern Europe in 1991 allow some preliminary observations ofa baseline nature about church membership and religious values in these countries. In this paper I compare church membership and religious belief across age categories among Western and Eastern Germans, Hungarians, and Poles. The data show variant patterns of religious affiliation and belief among each of the churches of Central Europe. State repression of churches has substantially affected church membership in Eastern Germany. There is some evidence of a secularization effect among Hungarian Protestants. Polish church membership has been less negatively affected by the years of communism. Mean levels of religious belieffor each of these countries show further evidence of these country-specific patterns. Further research is needed to uncover the longer lasting trends in religious affiliation and belief in these countries.

T he Soviet regime

of the past 40 years in Central and Eastern Europe was ideologically opposed to religion and religious activity. Religious activity was at least discouraged and, in some cases, severely repressed in each of the countries of Central and Eastern Europe under Soviet domination following World War II. The success of this policy of repression varied from place to place, but no country successfully eliminated religion from the lives of its people. Research is just beginning to appear about the effects of Soviet repression on the churches and religious beliefs of the countries which constituted the former Soviet Union (Misztal and Shupe 1992; Neugebauer 1993; Pungur 1993; Swatos 1994). In particular, the churches of Central Europe are important to examine, both for their historical comparability to the churches of western Europe and for the unique role that these churches played in their democratic transitions. East Germany, Poland, and Hungary were the first of the former Soviet-bloc countries to achieve a democratic transformation. Free elections took place March 18, 1990, in East Germany and Hungary, and May 27, 1990, in Poland. All three countries have at least a moderate Western orientation; they have historical ties to the West, consider themselves to be Europeans, and share a primarily Judeo-Christian religious heritage. Even during the years of Soviet domination, the countries of East Germany, Poland, Czechoslovakia, and Hungary referred to themselves as "Central Europe" to distinguish their states from the more Eastern orientation of the remainder of the Soviet Union. Historically, the distinction refers to the split of the Catholic church into Eastern (Orthodox) and Western (Roman) spheres of influence. Like the rest of western Europe the countries of Central Europe were under the influence of the Roman Catholic Church. The rest of the Soviet Union comprised territory under the influence of the Eastern Orthodox Church. During the years of Soviet control, religious believers in each of these countries were discouraged from publicly practicing their faith. However, the particular dynamic of the
tMary L. Gautier is a professor in the Department TX 76129. E·mail: m..gautier'ijtcu.edu of Sociology at Texas Christian University, Box 298710, Fort Worth,

© Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 1997,36 (2): 289-296

289

Copyright © 2001. All Rights Reserved.

particularly through ties with international organizations (Johnston 1992). Catholics in all three countries could look beyond the confines of their communist regimes for support and legitmation. particularly in East Germany. Sigelman (1977) as well as Campbell and Curtis (1994) find that Copyright © 2001. Nelson and Potvin 1981). was a relaxing of the Party's control and an increase in the relative power of the church in East German society (Scharf 1984. industrialization. they felt that the church had abdicated its legitimate opposition to the regime to preserve a few limited concessions. Catholics tended to remain affiliated with their church in spite of the sanctions imposed on them by the various regimes. and Bruce 1992. Chaves and Cann 1992. and the predominance of the Catholic Church in a society are the most important predictors of religiosity as measured by church attendance (cf. Women of all ages tend to be more religious than males (Nelson 1981. And the global organization of Catholicism provided links with the Western world. . they suggest that countryspecific cultural values and specific sociodemographic characteristics influence religiosity more than level of modernization. Iannaccone 1991. Stark and Bainbridge 1985. with associated advances in communications technology. it lost its credibility among religious believers. Consequently. Consequently. Krisch 1985). industrialization.290 JOURNAL FOR THE SCIENTIFIC STUDY OF RELIGION church/state relationship was unique to each country. Consequently. Other determinants of religious participation include individual as well as household characteristics. Both works find that national differences in secularization contribute to religious belief and involvement. who then disaffiliated in substantial numbers. so did the church. and urbanization. Stark and Iannaccone 1994). the church could be seen as just another arm of the state.S. Both studies find moderate support for the secularization thesis. Hungary has a substantial Protestant population. and East Germany is almost entirely Protestant. All Rights Reserved. These "church within socialism" policies had rather disastrous consequences for the Protestant churches in both East Germany and Hungary. ExPLANATIONS OF REUGIOUS AFFILIATION AND BELIEF Comparative research on religious involvement across societies is an infrequent subject of analysis. for U. But while Poland is almost entirely Catholic. However. One of the few comparative analyses on religious beliefs and church attendance (Sigelman 1977) has been replicated and updated by Campbell and Curtis (1994). the Protestant churches were under more pressure to compromise with the regime in order to maintain their existence. exceptionalism see Greeley 1989 and Ladd 1986). since they are organized as more autonomous State churches. Wuthnow 1977. The advantage of the "church in socialism" policy for the church. Because the church was identified in the eyes of the people as operating in cooperation with the Soviet state. as the state lost legitimacy. religious believers adopted different patterns of church attendance and religious belief in each country. leads to a decline in religious activities and religious beliefs for most societies. By aligning itself with the state. And the Protestant churches had very little external source of support for appeals. except in the United States (see Berger 1969. But some viewed the churches as having sold out to the regime. with wide variation among individual countries. These studies question the secularization thesis and suggest instead that competition among the variety of religious denominations coexisting within modern societies leads to the creation of a "religious marketplace" which contributes to higher levels of church attendance. Secularization theory proposes that modernization. Leaders of the predominant Protestant churches in both Hungary and East Germany established a policy of a "church within socialism" in order to ensure at least a modicum of legitimacy. The Western orientation of Catholicism and its historical significance in both Poland and Hungary helped shape both countries' national identification in terms of Western culture. Other cross-national research finds that urbanization.

or right-of-center political ideology. Greater than 42% of the western German sample are Catholics. In Hungary.8% and 6. there are no Polish Protestants in this sample. political orientation may also affect religious beliefs and attitudes. to approximately 36% of the population (Lemke 1991).4% are Catholics. When Germany was divided into two countries after World War II. Perhaps this modernizing pressure on East German society led to a more rapid secularization of the society.most notably in Poland and East Germany . All Rights Reserved. Conservative. Church Membership Poland and Hungary report the highest rates of religious affiliation. including eastern and western Germany. religious affiliation was very similar between East and West. and 44.1%. The drop in religious affiliation in eastern Germany could be due to at least two contributing factors. reports a nonaffiliation rate of 10. Israel. western Germany. Luckmann 1983). Twenty-nine percent of the eastern German sample are Protestants. the United States. . Eastern Germany has the lowest rate of affiliation. The church played an important role in the pro-democracy movement in several of these countries . younger Copyright © 2001. The 1991 module. If so. only 5. is associated with church affiliation. For most of the postwar period East Germany was the showpiece of advanced Soviet society. Great Britain.7%. This consortium of survey researchers and organizations conducts identical annual self-completion surveys of a probability-based nationwide sample of adults in numerous countries.7% are Protestants. which did not have a policy of official repression of religion. To compare overall affiliation rates. But by 1989 the proportion of adherents in the East had dropped dramatically. respectively. whereas age has a positive effect on both." included approximately 75 questions on religious behaviors and attitudes. In contrast. greater than 64% of the sample claim no affiliation with any organized religion. and the major center-right political party in each country throughout Europe is most often affiliated with the predominant church denomination in that country. RELIGIous AFFILIATION AND BELIEF AFrER THE TRANsmON Data on religious affiliation and religious beliefs come from a survey coordinated by the International Social Survey Programme in 1991. The main religious difference was that East Germany was almost entirely Protestant. Secularization theory proposes that as society modernizes more material values tend to replace traditional values and the place of religion in society is displaced by modem science and technology (see Greeley 1982.and assumed a leadership role in the roundtable discussions which ensued.4% are Protestants. 21.POSTCOMMUNIST CHURCH A'ITENDANCE AND RELIGIOUS BELIEF 291 education and employment suppress church attendance and religious beliefs. in 1950 the proportion of religious adherents was nearly identical in eastern and western Germany. while West Germany was about evenly divided between Protestants and Catholics. Poland and Hungary. The questionnaire was fielded in 17 countries. including several countries of eastern and western Europe. 72. the drop could be caused by a rapid secularization of East German society. In addition to cultural differences and demographic characteristics. entitled "The Role of Religion. Wilson 1982. Ninety-five percent of Poles are Catholics. The survey provides a post transition baseline from which to measure the effects of Soviet repression on church membership and belief in each of these countries.7% are Catholics. exemplifying the very latest in Soviet technology and development. Many scholars view the church as an important factor in the opposition against the repressive Soviet regime for its leadership in the reform movement. New Zealand and the Philippines. approximately 90% of the population. First. with nonaffiliation rates of only 4.

~~.-:-:~::-=:. Church Membership by Age by Country Source: ISSP 1991 This figure shows dramatically that disafliliation occurred across all age groups. Dennis 1988. If repression is the primary cause of disaffiliation. as would be expected if repression of church membership primarily caused the decrease in church membership rates.. As churches are closed and public worship is negatively sanctioned. I also looked at the percentage of church members by age group for non-Catholics (Figure 2). I ~ASTERN HUNGARY e oj LT24 25·34 35·44 45·54 55·64 65+ POLAND Age Category Figure 1. Accounts of the repression of citizens who continued to express their religious faith are also widely documented. though. All Rights Reserved.. the model of Soviet society to the West. may have been especially harsh in East Germany. .. ..292 JOURNAL FOR THE SCIENTIFIC STUDY OF RELIGION East Germans should have disaffiliated at a more rapid rate than their elders.~ _. as they have been more subjected to these modernizing pressures through thp-lr education. by country.7::."'--. Goeckel 1990).-:-:~.~ i I ···~············. when compared to western Germany.=-. However.. - n c c h u r h 60 1 I Country i I 40 WESTERN GERMANY GERMANY M e m b 20.------. Repression. If the secularization process is the primary cause of disaffiliation in eastern Germany then we would expect to see younger eastern Germans disaffiliating in greater numbers than older eastern Germans. Figure 1 illustrates the percentage of church members (of any denomination) for each age group.=-:_. Again.'::-_:~~:-_:. another possible cause of disaffiliation could be the severe repression of the churches by the Soviet authorities. Historical accounts document that religious clergy were harshly sanctioned in East Germany (Childs 1983.. Repression of religious expression.7"::-":':-. affects all age levels of society. One sees immediately that church membership is dramatically lower for eastern Germans across all age categories. No similar effect is seen in any of the other countries. FIGURE 1 CHURCH MEMBERSHIP BY AGE BY COUNTRY p e e ~ t 1001-- t······ 80 r. particularly religious affiliation. Since eastern Germany has a predominantly Protestant tradition (Lutheranism originated in eastern Germany) and Catholics have higher rates of affiliation. 1 Copyright © 2001. church membership is much lower for eastern Germans across all age groups.. then church membership rates should be lower across all age groups in eastern Germany. persons of all age groups are equally affected.·~r·········_'-""" I I ---. i .

. Western German church members are more likely to have completed secondary school education <secondary technical or trade school} than eastern German church members.• .-- . however. Between a quarter and a third of church members would vote for either a center-left or a Copyright © 2001. '"" .. In that country only 44% of church members placed themselves to the right of the mean ideology score for their country... However.. This membership pattern suggests. ' '.. ' ~ 60 1 ... . Hungarian Protestants below age 45 are much less likely to be church members than are older Hungarians.... This is not to say that Hungarian society is secularized. that membership rates in Hungary's Protestant churches may continue to decline as younger. .2 As for vote intention. Females in eastern Germany are slightly more likely to be church members than their counterparts in western Germany. Hungary. . Characteristics of Church Members These data also provide a glimpse into the demographic characteristics of church members in eastern Germany. and Poland.. . Church members tend to espouse a somewhat right-of-center ideology in all countries but eastern Germany.>:"' ' c h M u r f.. German church members have less education than church members in either Hungary or Poland... church members show little support for radical political parties on either end of the ideological spectrum.······ 40 Country I . Church Membership by Age by Country (Non-Catholics) Source: ISSP 1991 The pattern for Hungarian Protestants shows the effect predicted by secularization theory. since the older cohorts have not disaffiliated to any significant degree.. . followed by western Germany. Hungary. figures for western Germany are included as a point of comparison.. or Poland.POSTCOMMUNIST CHURCH ATTENDANCE AND RELIGIOUS BELIEF 293 FIGURE 2 CHURCH MEMBERSHIP BY AGE ABY COUNTRY (NON-CAmOLICS) p e ~ n t 100'1 80 I e 1' I r------_~ ----_.. more affiliated cohorts. as reported above. _". less affiliated cohorts replace the older. _------- _---~- ~~~~--.*-':. Church membership rates in Hungary overall are still nearly 95% of the population.) WESTERN GERMANY EASTERN GERMANY : e e m b 20r-------~--------~' oj LT24 25-34 35-44 45-54 55-64 65+ r HUNGARY Age Category Figure 2. and eastern Germany. All Rights Reserved.. Again. Poland has the highest proportion of church members under age 25. One-quarter of eastern German church members are age 65 or older. In contrast to East German Protestants. Hungarian Protestants show more of a secularization pattern in their church membership. Hungary.

However. heaven. Hungarians and western Germans the next highest. Mean levels of belief reach their lowest levels with the 35-44 age group and then rise again in the older age groups. even during the years of Soviet domination. Religious Belief Perhaps more illuminating to an understanding of the persistence of religion in posttransition societies than formal affiliation with a church is the persistence of religious beliefs. Almost all church members are employed.to 54-year-oIds. Church Attendance While church membership rates can tell us something about the extent of Soviet repression in Eastern Europe. All Rights Reserved. For example. and miracles. but this trend reversed in West Germany. about one-fourth of Hungarian church members and about one-fifth of Polish church members are white-collar workers. Older people in both East Germany and Hungary expressed higher levels of belief. religious participation increases with age (Hout and Greeley 1987). However.294 JOURNAL FOR THE SCIENTIFIC STUDY OF RELIGION center-right party. as expected. Also consistent with the previous trends is the finding that eastern Germans report lower mean levels of belief across all age categories (again. with church membership rates at only about 35%. This group was most heavily influenced by the antireligious message of the Soviet regime. in all countries except Poland. Age. at least for Hungary and western Germany. over 21% say they never attend services. That is. The mean levels of belief for Hungarians and western Germans show the life-cycle effect typically found in modem Western societies (Hout and Greeley 1987). political ideology. particularly in Hungary. church attendance is a better measure of religious attachment. that church attendance was the most important predictor of religious beliefs for each of the countries. but even there less than 10% of church members are unemployed. restricting the sample to Protestants only shows more clearly the effect of age on participation. hell. I found. Studies suggest that. Nearly half the church members in both parts of Germany have white-collar occupations. with the interesting exception that younger Hungarians are less likely than eastern Germans of the same age to believe in miracles). and labor-force participation also predicted religious beliefs. the devil. at least in the United States. . This pattern suggests a curvilinear relationship between age and belief. where younger Copyright © 2001. Poles consistently show higher mean levels of belief across all age categories (except that younger western Germans have slightly higher levels of belief in miraclesl. so few Poles were willing to identify with a political party in the survey (somewhat under 15%) that meaningful comparisons are not possible. the lowest rates. although about 89% of western Germans belong to a church. Respondents were asked their level of belief in six different items of religious faith: God. young adults tend to report lower levels of religious belief as the leave home to form their own families and establish careers. the expected age effect does not hold for eastern German Protestants. their participation rates resemble those of older eastern Germans. one would expect average levels of belief to be low in eastern Germany. Since Catholic participation rates are higher than Protestant rates across all age groups. an afterlife. the cohort which came of age during the imposition of the communist regime in East Germany. Younger cohorts appear not to be as influenced. Participation is lowest among the 2534 year old Hungarians and rises with each age cohort. Poles have the highest rates of church attendance. and eastern Germans. This is not surprising.f This finding reflects the strong position of the Catholic church in Polish society. Poland has the highest percentage of church members who are unemployed. Participation rates for eastern Germany are at their lowest among 45.

and Poland points to some interesting similarities and differences. mean levels of belief decline across age categories until somewhere around age 40. In all four countries. And when Catholics are removed Hungarian Protestants show the life-cycle effect predicted by Hout and Greeley. the variables explain nearly a third of the variation in religious beliefs in western Germany. and anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments on earlier drafts of this paper. These findings demonstrate that religious belief remains alive and well in these posttransition societies. The pattern of church membership by age dramatically illustrates that Soviet repression suppressed church membership in Eastern Germany. The figures for church attendance demonstrate a similar pattern. but had little effect among Catholics in both Hungary and Poland. NOTES This paper is a substantial revision of a paper presented at the 1994 SSSR Conference in Albuquerque. Copyright © 2001. . Hungary. These data indicate that church membership and church attendance were primarily affected by Soviet repression among the Protestants of East Germany. across all age groups. Beliefs also conform to this curvilinear pattern. All age groups there show evidence of a decline in participation. and Poland. Further research is warranted to help determine the longer-term consequences of these years of repression on the religious beliefs and behaviors of the citizens of Central Europe. but attendance drops off significantly as people become involved in careers and families. The data also show a moderate secularization effect for Protestants in Hungary. as is more commonly seen in other countries of western Europe. Those who place themselves on the right politically expressed higher levels of belief. the youngest cohort attends church. Altogether. seemingly unaffected by Soviet repression or by any other modernizing trends. Poles show the highest mean attendance rates. there is a vitality to religious belief in these countries that reflects well when compared to that of religious believers in western Germany. probably for several generations. and nearly 40% of the variance in eastern Germany and Hungary. with the age groups born after the imposition of communism most strongly affected by the pressure to disaffiliate. The pattern is most dramatic in Hungary. Although the effects of repression of the churches will continue to be felt. Ji1l Kiecolt. K. Finally. All Rights Reserved. Attendance and affiliation have remained at very high levels in Poland. Ralph Hood. I am indebted to Andrew Greeley of NORClI'he University of Chicago for sharing these data with me. Among Hungarian Protestants the evidence points more toward a slight secularization or life-cycle effect.. That is. as did white-collar employment in eastern Germany. even though we do not see evidence of a similar trend in western Germany. CONCLUSIONS This preliminary analysis examining religious values in the postcommunist societies of Eastern Germany. unemployed persons in West Germany and Hungary expressed higher levels of belief than those who were employed. People under age 25 attend church at higher rates and express higher mean levels of religious beliefs than the next higher age cohort in each country. Jr.POSTCOMMUNIST CHURCH ATI'ENDANCE AND RELIGIOUS BELIEF 295 people expressed higher levels of belief. I also thank Frederick Weil. and then gradually rise again. in all countries except Hungary+ Extremist vote intention predicted lower levels of belief in both regions of Germany. East Germans show the lowest mean attendance rates. Another encouraging finding here is the relatively higher rates of church attendance and religious beliefs among the youngest cohort in each of the countries of Central Europe. attendance increases among the older cohorts. with only the very oldest age cohort approaching levels of participation similar to their co-religionists in West Germany.

J. Review of Religious Research 22: 268-85. Politics and religion in Central and Eastern Europe: Traditions and transitions. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 29: 297-314. CT: JAI Press. Luckmann. J. In Research on democracy and society: Democratization in Eastern and Western Europe. Journal for the Scientific Study of &ligion 16: 289-94. editor. 1985. 2 Political ideology was not reported for Hungary. Misztal. 1982. Religious practice: A human capital approach. In Research on democracy and society: Democratization in Eastern and Western Europe. Weil. Secularization . J. Robert. Unwin Hyman. Religious involvement across societies: Analyses for alternative measures in national surveys. MI: Eerdmans Press.296 1 There are so few Polish non-Catbolics were dropped from this figure. 19401984. Regulation. DDR (The causes of the 1989 upheavals: Political socialization in the former GDR). 3 Figures for each of the individual items of religious faith. Sehriften des Zentralinstituts ffir sozialwissenschaftliche Forschung (Works of the Central Institute for Social Scientific Research). 1988. Edited by F. 1986. Contribution of the Reformed Churches to the fall of Communism in Hungary and Romania. Childs. D. Rodney and Laurence Iannaccone. Robert. The sacred canopy: Elements of a sociological theory of religion. Sigelman. Laurence. Edited by Bronislaw Misztal and Anson Shupe. 124-32. Bronislaw and Anson Shupe. are not reproduced here. REFERENCES Berger. Stark. Gautier. Hart M. Journal for the Scientific Study af Religion 33: 230-52. Thomas. Westport. 1990. Neuhaus. Dennis. Journal for the Scientific Study of &ligion 33: 215-29. 1969. Robert and James Curtis. The future of religion: Secularization. Cornell University Press. Lee. Nelsen. Scharf. Huffman and M. 1991. D. Christiane. Religion in sociological perspective. Stark. The Free Press. Mark and David Cann. Nelsen. 1981. Campbell. In Unsecular America. Johnston. London. Gender and regional differences in the religiosity of Protestant adolescents. 1992. denomination. William H.A contemporary myth. Boulder: Westview Press. The Lutheran Church and the East German State. and family processes upon church decline and apostasy. Oxford: Clarendon. Secular and religious America. Religious conformity in an age of disbelief: Contextual effects of time. Everett. Religion and politics in comparative perspective. Religion: A secular theory. Westport. 1982. The GDR: Moscow's German ally. 1994. Pungur. Bruce. Greeley. edited by R. Wuthnow. David. American Sociological Review 46: 632-40. Ladd. Huffman and M. Bryan. Joseph. Henry. CT: Praeger. Hout. 1977. Grand Rapids. American Sociological Review 52: 325-45. 1994. Review of the polls: Multi-nation survey of religious beliefs. 1994. Chaves. Religion and modernization. Religious nationalism: Six propositions from Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union. CT: Praeger. Goeckel. 1983. Berkeley: University of California Press. by age and by country. so had to be omitted from that model. 14-30. Bd. 1981. 1993. CT: Praeger. Copyright © 2001. The German Democratic Republic: The search for identity. 1984. In Life-world and social realities. Hart and Raymond Potvin. Edited by F. cross-national indicator of societal religious commitment. Change and the transition of the East German political system: A chronicle. 1987. had that variable been available. CT: JAI Press. 111-32. Weil. Bradley. However. 299-326. Peter. Neugebauer. and religious market structure: Explaining religious vitality. 1992. Michael and Andrew Greeley. C. In Religion and Politics in Comparative Perspective. Wilson. The center doesn't hold: Church attendance in the United States. Francis Pinter. Westport. but are available from the author on request. 1992. I expect that the same relationship would hold in the Hungarian model. 1985. Rationality and society 4: 272-90. Boulder: Westview Pres s. London. 4 This variable was not reported for Hungary. 1983. Steve. JOURNAL FOR THE SCIENTIFIC that they are not even represented STUDY OF RELIGION Thus they in all age categories. Political change in East Germany. 67-79. Gero. Westdeutscher Verlag. pluralism. Rodney and William Bainbridge. Garden City. Krisch. Opladen. A supply-side reinterpretation of the 'secularization' of Europe. New York: Oxford University Press. 1992. Hank. Lemke. 1993. Swatos. Die Ursachen des Umbruche 1989: Politische Soziialisation in der ehemaligen. M. A longitudinal. Greenwich. Greenwich. 1977. Gautier. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 16: 87--99. 62. revival and cult formation. N ew York. Ithaca. NY: Doubleday. . London: Heinemann. The German Democratic Republic. Iannaccone. All Rights Reserved. Andrew. 1991.

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