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Spiritual Austrians, Religion in the life of the Austrian people from 1970 to 2000

Austrian Science Fund (FWF) : 17 October, 2002  (Technical Article)
The results of a representative long-term study on the significance of religion in the life of the Austrian people concludes that religion is currently undergoing a process of transformation. Paul Zulehner from the Institute of Pastoral Theology at Vienna University, sponsored by the Austrian Science Fund, has been investigating the question of religion in the Austrian population and has recorded the current trends. The remarkable results offer insight into several interesting developments in Austria's religious culture.
'The return of religion?' is how Paul Zulehner's ecumenical research team entitled the first volume of the results of the long-term study on religion in Austria. And the question is legitimate; the assumption made by some experts that the increasing secularisation of mankind would bring about a reduction in people's religiousness has not proven well-founded. On the contrary: the more modern and secular a society is, the more spiritual the people are.

If, however, this is the case, then the question is: Why are the churches diminishing if the yearning for spirituality is booming at the same time? 'The assumption that the churches are generally losing their significance has not been proven. What we can see is an urban/rural discrepancy. Whilst the churches in the city, e.g. in Vienna, are increasing in importance again, those in the country are decreasing in significance,' explains Zulehner. Today, churches are being challenged to transform, to start moving towards re-spiritualisation. While the churches were chiefly dominated by moral issues during the 1970s, the clear trend now is toward exploration of spiritual questions.

Consequences for religious and church politics
The growing individualisation of people's religiousness, their understanding of religion and their expectations of the institutional churches set completely new challenges for modern religious and church politics. 'In the future there will be freer forms of alliance between individuals and religious institutions than was previously usual,' says Zulehner. This situation is a great opportunity for the Christian churches.

The second volume of the summary of results, due to appear soon, is therefore concerned with models of religious politics with a promising future, church politics and individual life-style. Zulehner: 'One result of our study is clear: the people in Austria test the religious movements and their institutions very thoroughly and are extremely critical as to their trustworthiness. A religion can only convince with authentically lived-out spirituality.'
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