Materials and methods

Research on the vocation of male and female members of religious orders in Hungary

In 1989-1990, 88 Catholic orders were able to resume the organisation of communal life with 3,858 members of religious orders. In 1997, a sociological study of the entire membership began. At that time 3,439 male and female members lived in Hungary, 568 of whom responded to our questions. This demonstrates only 16.5 per cent of willingness to respond as explained in later interviews with the order’s superiors and from the order’s statistics. When the orders could restart, with the exception of four orders that had continued to function during the Communist period, the youngest of the members were over 60 years old, and there were only a small number of younger members. A scattering of those members who had survived the prohibition of functioning religious orders in the 1950s lived under constant monitoring and control in Hungary and were fearful of responding to our survey after long years of significant repression. Faced with these facts, the high rate of denial is also a rather eloquent part of the historical view.

Finally, over 30 per cent of male and over 50 per cent of female religious orders took part in the research in 1997. We collected 568 questionnaires altogether - 113 from male and 455 from female religious - at the time of the research; in 1997, there were 938 male and 2,441 female religious in Hungary, that is, 11.3 per cent of male and 18.6 per cent of female religious answered our questions. Almost the half of our respondents (48.2 per cent) were over 70 years old at that time. The rest of our respondents were equally distributed among the other three age groups. The purpose of the 1997 survey was to obtain a first picture, after the resumption, of the motivations for re-establishing orders, of the motivations for re-establishing their religious life freely, in the community, and for new entrants. Also examined were the attitudes towards religious life and the Church before entry into orders, how they perceived the social role, tasks, opportunities for social integration of their order and religious life, where they came from and what they expected from their life within a religious order.

Many of the questions from the 1997 survey were repeated in 2012 in an online survey among members aged 18-40 years. During the 15 years between 1997 and 2012, strong generational changes began to take place among members. It was presumed that generational differences would also appear in the responses of the newcomers. The question arises of why we talk about the group of 18-40-year-old members as being young members: the average age of male and female religious is higher in the Hungarian population. On the other hand, those who have not yet professed their final vows are also called ‘young members’ of the order. In the online survey of 2012, young people were questioned regarding choice of vocation, motivation for entry and community integration. In 2013, for superiors and masters of novices were asked the same questions regarding newcomers. In each of the three surveys, the response was voluntary and all religious orders were invited to participate in the survey. In a 2012 survey of members aged 18^40 years, 77 men and 29 women from 10 male and 11 female orders responded, making a total of 106 respondents from this age cohort. This means that received responses from 30.7 per cent of males, 12.8 per cent of females, total of 22.2 per cent of the members of this age group. Because of the relatively low response rate, the data were used with greater caution and the results are interpreted in terms of responding members rather than the entire age-appropriate member of the population. However, because the invitation to participate in the researches was extended to all religious orders and convents, the researcher did not select the respondent orders and in the participating orders all members were invited, the collected data are valid, but not representative.

In a 2013 survey of superiors and masters of novices, a questionnaire was completed by 19 male and 16 female orders, by 22 superiors and 13 masters of novices. The analysis relies on the responses of these 106 young members and 35 superiors or masters of novices. Where possible, it compares the responses of young members with those of the appropriate age in the 1997 survey. The three nodes examined are family-social background, relationship between pre-entry expectations and reality and the reality of community life.

In 2019, research began on the generation change of superiors. From ten religious orders, five male and five female superiors gave interviews up to the present time. The three main types - namely, those male orders that functioned legally, those male and female orders who tried to survive illegally and those who had emigrated during the socialist period - were represented among the interviewees.

Research methods

Research methods were multi-modal, using written document analysis for historical background, and repeated cross-sectional surveys with questionnaires and structured interviews. All these investigations were designed as a full-scope research, all religious orders and all their members were invited but those who decided to participate were limited in number. Methodological difficulty is the double filter of possible participants. The ‘filters’ are the superiors on the level of institution and the members within the participant institute. This double filter is functioning as a manifestation of organisational loyalty and personal obedience.

From 1997 until now, there remain some very important topics and questions: the personal motivations of those entering orders and remaining, the illusions and realities of religious life, the question of recruitment, the possibilities of change within the traditional ministry. After almost 30 years since the resumption of religious life in orders, other questions arise such as: changing generations in governance and its effects on religious life, questions of structural change, possibilities for new directions in a static, overinstitutionalised Church and the difficulties faced by religious orders within the Church and the civil world.

For historical background, archival documents such as diaries and registers of religious orders were examined, and interviews were conducted with old male and female religious.

Questionnaires were circulated among male and female religious to determine the motivations of those entering orders and staying, illusions and realities concerning religious life, questions regarding recruitment, keeping or changing the ministry and difficulties experienced by religious orders within the Church and civil world. Individually constructed interviews with superiors and masters of novices were also conducted.

Research on young male and female religious was repeated around 15 years later on motivations of entering and staying within orders, illusions and realities of religious life in order to compare the data. In addition, we completed a study on the connection between happiness and life expectancy among the religious in Hungary. For this we used the archives of religious orders.

In 2019, we began another research project on change of generations in governance and its effects on religious life, the question of structural change, new directions in a static, over-institutionalised Church and the difficulties experienced by religious orders within the Church and civil world. The research method comprised structured interviews with superiors of religious orders.

Obstacles to full-scope planned researches

When trying to carry out pre-planned full-scope research with questionnaires, there were obstacles in all cases. Before starting any research, we sought permission from the superiors. Several superiors refused to participate for a variety of reasons. In 1997, some remained nervous following previous research ordered by State Office for Ecclesiastical Affairs (AEH) or some other descendant of that body. In 1997, other religious orders might have been willing to participate, but most of their members were old and infirm, so questionnaires and interviews would have been too demanding for them. In 1997 and for some time later, some refused to participate in the research due to their aversion to sociology and because of a suspicion that sociology could not give an accurate description of their situation.

 
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