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Less religious Than Ever – Data on Religious Affiliation of the 2011 Census in Hungary

The Hungarian Central Statistical Office has published the detailed date of the census carried out in October 2011, which shows a huge drop in the number of people who associate themselves with traditional churches. The number of persons of “other” denominations increased by 70%, while the number of persons who stated that they do not belong to any denomination increased within ten years by one fifth. This latter figure includes atheists. While the 2001 census does not give separate data specifically for atheists, the 2011 census does, with the intention to put religious people/believers without affiliation in the “no affiliation” box, and counting atheists separately. However, strictly speaking “atheist” is not a proper answer to the question asked, especially considering that there is no atheist community in the country (“agnostic” was not a possible answer). The exact question was “What religious community, denomination do you feel you belong to?” (“Melyik vallási közösséghez, felekezethez érzi tartozónak magát?”), i.e. the data are about belonging to denominational communities, not about belief itself. The “linguistically natural” answer for atheists, agnostics, non-believers and non-denominational believers is the “no affiliation” box. If the statistics office really wants to have data on belief, next time it will have to ask about belief itself (or include belief in all the answers, such as “believer affiliated with denomination X”, “non-believer affiliated to denomination X”, “believer without affiliation”, and “non-believer without affiliation”) instead of introducing a single answer about belief in the “denomination” question.
So it will be interesting to see the data interpreted by religious politicians – my guess is that they are going to lump the “no affiliation” group under the “believers” header (as a polling institute did recently in Germany:

But let’s see the table:





Roman Catholics





Greek Catholics





Catholics together





Orthodox Christians





Reformed (Calvinists)















Other denomination





No religious affiliation







Nones and atheists together





No answer provided



(Between 1949 and 2001, the census did not cover religious data.)

Note that the drop in people identifying as Catholics is almost as big for the last 10 years than for the 62 years between 1949 and 2001 which included 40 years of communism when churchgoing was (to varying degrees) not encouraged.

The question itself, by the way, resulted in a somewhat strange incident about the affiliation of a handful of Roma in the village of Sajókaza who declared themselves Buddhists (while their religious tradition is Catholic), because they answered the question exactly: their school and community building is maintained by a Buddhist community (since religious schools got twice as much funds from the central state budget than NGOs, it would have been virtually impossible not to have a church run this special school).
The framing of the question itself biases data in favour of including looser affiliations, family tradition and the like (as compared to a question like “do you follow the teachings of a denomination, and if yes, which?”). One could fill in a community (the online version listed several hundred communities, and the Catholic church complained that the Catholics didn’t find their church, because they looked under “catholic”, not “Roman catholic”, where it was listed), or tick the “no religious affiliation”, the “atheist” and the “no answer provided” box,
Also, although it was possible to fill in the form online or on paper, much data was collected even in 2011 via personal interviews, however, any household member could answer on behalf of the whole household (with the result that elderly family members living with their adult children would answer the census while their children were away at work). In some places, the arrival of a “state person” is still somewhat of an event, so not only the whole family gathers around the questioner, but also the neighbours, which of course means that the answers will tend towards the expected norm.
It should also be added that the churches campaigned to persuade people to identify themselves in the census as their members, and they pushed their more active members to enlist as census interviewers and go collecting data.
Since the motivations of those refusing to answer may be complex and may vary, it is difficult to interpret the answer. The group probably includes believers (more likely of non traditional religious minorities or Jews) and non-religious people who are either afraid to answer (e.g. because the interviewer happens to be the churchgoing teacher of their nephew in the next village) or just believe that it is none of the government’s business to poke into their lives, and people who just don’t spend much thoughts on religious issues. It may even include some traditional churchgoing believers who just don’t agree with their church’s political statements (such as e.g. Catholics who don’t want to endorse the church’s and KDNP’s policies regarding family planning, abortion and homo- and heterosexual relations outside marriage, or Lutherans who are not happy with some prominent churchmen’s affiliation with the far-right Jobbik).
Still, there is one thing we can without doubt say about those who did not answer for sure: they do not want to endorse the “official” churches, who do not speak neither for them, nor for the “nones” and the “atheists”.

The data can be downloaded here: (1.1.7. Vallás is the one about religious affiliation), all detailed data for 2011 are available here: ).


No agnostics in Hungary

Census is up and running in Hungary, and as I mentioned earlier, due to an intervention of the former president, László Sólyom, the Statistics Office has to ask about religion, though answering is not compulsory this time, either. The Catholic church and one of the Jewish communities have launched campaigns to reach not really closely affiliated people, but there’s also a Facebook event that calls Jedis to arms.
The question itself is not too badly phrased, asking „What religious community or church do you feel you belong to?.
The online version offers first a long list of religious communities, taken from the free text answers given in the last census and the tax office’s database that contained all religious communities that were entitled until now to receive 1% of income taxes. Anyway, the Catholic church protested that one has to chose either Roman Catholic or Greek Catholic (the Hungarian term for Greek rite), so a „Catholic” without adjective has been added. As to the Lutherans, they find it will confuse their flock to find four synonyms of their denomination.
As a second answer, the questionnaire offers „No religious affiliation”, and as a third item, „Atheist”. So at least, unaffiliated believers can tick no affiliation with good conscience, and the division is clearly between religious affiliation, unaffiliated and atheist.
But no jedis, and no agnostics.

Sound catholic maths

The Hungarian Catholic Church is encouraging their followers to enrol as census officers for this autumn’s general census. The bishops justified their call with the need „to ensure that the census is carried out adequately from all aspects”, considering (as they said) that the population will be asked also about their religious affiliation. The weekly HVG (No 30 of 30 July, page 13) commented that ’the Bishops’ Conference seems to distrust the National Statistics Office’.

Which reminds me of a friend who had some trouble in convincing the census officer to tick the „no religious affiliation” box last time, 10 years ago.

New government, new census

After having waited impatiently for four years, in April, the liberal-turned conservative Fidesz have won the elections, carrying on their back the clerical Christian National Democrats (KDNP), who on their own don’t even make the 1% limit for getting state funding, not to speak of managing to tackle the 5% threshold for getting into parliament. While the new government has still not yet taken over (as they want to govern with a totally new structure, meaning very few ministers [so a medical researcher is designated to govern health, education, culture, welfare and sports issues] and a huge amount of state secretaries, they first have to amend the constitution), the parliament is already up and working: three MPs (two of them Christian Democrats, of whom one especially famous for bashing singles and designated deupty prime minister) have initiated a change to the census law in order to add (among others) a question on religious affiliation. According to their initiative, answering would not be compulsory–as in 2001, when over 10% of the population declined to answer, and the rest of the data was quite meaningless, as most people just answered based on their family tradition.
Conclusion: another way to throw out a lot of money when we are short of it…

Census questions

The next census in Hungary is due in 2011. The parliament decided not to include any questions regarding religious affiliation (as well as regarding special needs and the number of children), but the president, Mr László Sólyom returned the act to the parliament, which affirmed it.
As during WWII, the census was used for deportations, these data are considered very sensitive, and at the last census in 2001, it was not compulsory to answer. The big churches urged their followers to pledge their faith, while smaller ones and Jewish faith leaders dissuaded their followers. Over 10% of the population did not provide any data on their religious affiliation. In addition, contrary to their promise not to use these data in any way, the government later tried to reshape the distribution of state funding among churches according to the census figures, and leaders of bigger churches used the data to show their influence (for a discussion, see the FActs and figures page at the top of the blog!).

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