Unearthing Czech Religiousity: ... Where the Spirit of the Lord Is There Is Freedom

By Stampach, Ivan O. | The New Presence: The Prague Journal of Central European Affairs, Summer 2009 | Go to article overview

Unearthing Czech Religiousity: ... Where the Spirit of the Lord Is There Is Freedom


Stampach, Ivan O., The New Presence: The Prague Journal of Central European Affairs


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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. …

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