Welcome to the web-page of the first empirical sociological research of new religious and spiritual movements in Slovenia.

The goal of the research is the first catalogue of religious and spiritual groups in Slovenia with a data base and an adequate analytic upgrade. The catalogue should fill an important and often controversial gap in the understanding of the religious/spiritual segment of Slovene society. We are trying to assess the experience of the western school of sociology of new religious movements which explicitly presupposes neutral starting points as regards theology and values.  

We are interested in the actual number of new or alternative religious and spiritual communities in Slovenia, in their origins, in how long and in what form they have been active, what are their basic ideas and rituals, what is the number of their adherents, what is their relationship with their surroundings and wider society, etc. We carefully prepared theoretical starting points, the criteria and a reference catalogue of new religious and spiritual groups, formed a questionnaire for a structured interview with their members, found co-workers who have been sufficiently prepared beforehand. The fieldwork has been under way since 2003.

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The research

The need for systematic research on new religious and spiritual movements in Slovenia was obvious, at least to some of us: in spite of the unquestionable presence of these movements, there were no cumulative data on them. Established public opinion surveys and censuses of the population, housing, and households are not directed towards this segment of the population’s religious/spiritual attendance, and they also fail to register such small and dispersed phenomena by themselves. There is no specialized or other state institution to collect such information or engage in such research, and even the few scholars interested in the subject would not dare to generalize the findings of their selective fieldwork. The authors therefore decided to produce a catalogue of new religious and spiritual movements in Slovenia, thereby documenting the subject of their studies as a complete phenomenon. For a preliminary report on this research, see also Črnič and Lesjak (2006).

Proceedings and criteria

We designed a semi-open questionnaire in order to obtain information concerning five thematic fields: (1) the sources and cultural background of the particular movement, (2) its timeframe and formal organization, (3) its membership, (4) its material (financial) dimensions, and (5) its relations with the broader community and society in general. Structured interviews with well-informed members were conducted from 2003 to 2006, with the occasional help of over 100 students at the University of Ljubljana’s Faculty of Social Sciences. Interviews took place in the environment that was structured, or at least chosen, by that particular movement; interviewers also attended at least some of the activities of each group and gathered as much additional material about it as possible. The initial list of current new religious and spiritual movements was composed from official records of registered religious communities (there were 42 of these at the end of 2006) and registered associations (there were more than 300 registered “associations for spiritual life” in May 2005), as well as from our field observations. We systematically monitored specialized weekly papers, bookstores, advertisements, relevant public events, and Internet resources for over three years. This led to the list being extended by some additional groups that hold no or different legal status (which may allow for-profit activities). All of the final 79 entries in the catalogue were filtered through the criterion of being an alternative religious and/or spiritual group. This was constructed from very inclusive definitions of religion (cf. Barker 1989: 145) and social group (cf. Turner 1982: 15), the requirement that it exist in the territory of Slovenia for no more than 100 years, and the requirement that it deviate from the traditional Slovene religious pattern (which includes Catholicism, Lutheranism, and Judaism). In addition, all of these groups had to be active and primary – they had to hold the primary religious and/or spiritual allegiance of their supporters or followers, supplying them with full religious and/or spiritual service (cf. Melton 1999). We found 71 active and 8 inactive groups, and conducted 62 interviews (5 requests for interviews were denied); 58 alternative religious and/or spiritual movements were clearly recognized as primary social groups. Of these, only 9 had emerged between 1905 and 1980, whereas all others began their activities after 1980. Based on this, and without entering the debate on their other characteristics, we provisionally labeled the latter as new religious and spiritual movements.This decision proved to be useful. “Alternative religions” distinguished themselves from “new (alternative) religions” by having a considerably higher number of adherents, in having more structured social groups, and quite often in a “demarcative” attitude. The Theosophical Society, for example, literally expelled numerous New-Agers that were looking for an institutional forum for their activities in the 1970s.

General religious picture of Slovenia

Slovenia, is a small and a young country, born in 1991 after the dissolution of Yugoslavia; but, unlike other parts of the former Republic (Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Macedonia and Montenegro), it is ethnically, linguistically and religiously very homogeneous. A large majority of its two million population is of Slovene nationality and as far as religion is concerned, a total of 43 religious groups have reported their existence to the appropriate State authority; however, 42 of these do not account for more than about 5 percent of the total population (see Table 1). The Roman Catholic Church is by far the largest religion, accounting for about 60% (57,8% according to population census 2002, 71,6 in 1991) to 80% of Slovene citizens (if we take baptism as the formal criterion). According to the data provided by the Public Opinion and Mass Communication Research Centre of the Faculty of Social Sciences at the University of Ljubljana, which has been conducting Slovene Public Opinion Surveys for over thirty years, around 70 percent of Slovene citizens consider themselves to be “adherents” of the Roman Catholic faith.

Although almost three-quarters of the Slovene population declare “adherence” to Roman Catholicism, Catholics are considered decidedly heterogeneous, most of them being far from orthodox in their adherence to Roman Catholicism in its strictest sense. Indeed, the majority of formal Catholics are very selective when it comes to dogmatic belief, freely combining elements of Catholicism with elements of secularism. According to the 1992 Slovene Public Opinion Survey, only 20 percent of adult Slovenes believed in a “personal God” (a further 39 percent said they believed in “God as an ethereal spirit” or “God as a life force”). In 1997 a mere 24 percent of the Slovene population believed in the existence of God without any doubts; 29 percent of adult citizens believed in “the Resurrection”; 37.5 percent of Slovenes believed in Heaven and 24 percent in Hell. About half of the respondents (51 percent) stated that they are religious in their own personal way; and only 18 percent claimed that they are religious in accordance with Church doctrine. Detailed statistics reveal that only one-quarter to one third of “formal” Catholics fully accept the key doctrinal tenets of the Catholic Church. On this basis Slovene sociologist Marjan Smrke (1999) concludes that, spiritually speaking, secularised Catholics are the largest single segment of the population of Slovenia.

An analysis of the results of the international survey known as “Aufbruch der Kirchen” (Conducted in 1997 by national samples in Poland, Croatia, Lithuania, Slovakia, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Slovenia) suggests similar conclusions. Using these data, Niko Toš demonstrates (with an extensive analysis of 15 variables measuring three dimensions of religiosity: orthodoxy, belief in God and belief in life after death) that approximately one fifth of the Slovene respondents (19 percent) practice Church religiosity, one fifth (21 percent) practice autonomous religiosity, and three fifths (60 percent) are not religious. A comparison of the seven Eastern and Central European countries of the survey shows Slovenia (along with the Czech Republic and Hungary) at the lower end of a scale of religiosity, with Poland and Croatia at the upper end (Toš, 1999).

Brief Summary

The cumulative data of the reserch showed an impressive diversity of beliefs: we recorded Asian (37%), Christian (33%), Esoteric (12%), Neopagan (4%), and New Age (4%) families of new religious and spiritual movements, and also some radical innovations (10%); the most frequent were Hindu (20%) and Pentecostal (12%) groups (see Table 2). The temporally condensed emergence of religious and spiritual innovations helped explain why these have not attracted wider attention – new religious and spiritual movements emerged during (and not after) the change of political system (1991), which encompassed public sentiment and approval of more profound social changes; in addition to this, most of the impulses for their origin came with the migration of ideas (from our neighborhood), not of people.

The new religious and spiritual movements found in Slovenia were predominantly small. None of them exceeded 500 members, and most of them did not even exceed 50 members (see Table 3). Approximately half of these groups introduced the institution of membership (52%), although only five did not approve of their adherents belonging to other religious or spiritual groups as well (10%). Their age-structure was balanced in most cases (34%) but, when a specific category prevailed, this was usually a group of middle-aged adherents (28%). Due to special social circumstances, these groups have most frequently formed “religious communities” as legal persons of private law (see Table 4). This research confirmed the predominantly urban nature of new religious and spiritual groups in Slovenia. A great majority of them were located in Ljubljana, the capital of Slovenia (76%), and most of them were active at only their sole location (60%). Furthermore, they seemed to be regionally self-sufficient (only 12% confirmed cooperation or formal ties with other Slovene groups), but were more closely attached to similar or parental groups abroad (60%).

These and some other findings (only 22% of new religious and spiritual movements owned a place for gathering and/or worship, and 56% of them did not possess any assets at all - see Table 5) suggested a comparatively low level of development of a “cultic milieu,” but fieldwork demonstrated quite the opposite. Numerous and very diverse groups were active beyond any doubt; their adherents behaved supportively (62% of groups received voluntary financial support from their adherents, which should not be mistaken for “a gift in return for a received service”) and even cohesively (adherents of 72% of groups maintain at least some contact outside group activities). What we really saw was an extensive interweaving of the “religious” and “spiritual” domains (cf. Heelas and Woodhead 2005) – a predominant organizational type of new religious and/or spiritual movement that may demonstrate some characteristics of a congregation, but is also holistic in terms of having undefined outer borders and inclusive religious and/or spiritual identities of their adherents. This is why the concepts of “religious and/or spiritual movements” are being used simultaneously, and that is why ultimately the notion of a “movement” with the category of social group was operationalized. Even “Religions of the True Self” (cf. Clarke 2006) form social groups, and some of these groups may be residential (such as the Federation of Damanhur) or even charismatically-led (as is the Slovene homegrown Holy Family). Thus, findings on membership and social structures of new religious and/or spiritual groups in Slovenia have to be understood in a broader context. Because the study focused on social (as opposite to individualized) religiosity and/or spirituality, a significant number of individuals outside these social groups were lost from view. Because the study focused on Slovene groups, the important fact that many movements participate in organizational structures (and others, including human resources) of maternal groups abroad was also obscured. Such an understanding would place new religious and/or spiritual movements in Slovenia firmly in line with the Western “spiritual revolution” (Heelas and Woodhead 2005).

The distinction between social and individualized new religions and/or spirituality led to another interesting insight. The social innovations recorded were by far predominantly of the lowest type, or “organizational creativity” (82%), which denotes simple transplantation of doctrine and organization, and non-problematic relations with the homegrown or foreign maternal group; this was also the only type of religious and/or spiritual creativity until 1991. Only after this period did several more structured domestic innovations come to the fore, being either “contextual” (which considerably deviate from the doctrine and/or practice and/or organization of the maternal group, but cannot be fully understood without reference to the maternal group; 14%) or “radical” (in which doctrine and practice are without parallels, and are entirely unique; 4%). Groups with higher types of creativity were evidently smaller than others (they were small even by Slovene standards) and thus very close to individualized religion and/or spirituality, which has itself demonstrated a considerable amount of radical creativity. Typically, Slovene religious and/or spiritual innovations (with the important exception of the Holy Family) therefore have not demonstrated any distinctive social dimensions and charisma, but have been almost as a rule individually stated and consumed.

Overall, this study of non-residential, small, less structured, loosely organized, age-balanced, and predominantly world-enhancing groups did not reveal any other powerful social dynamics (e.g., what is evident in “recruitment” and “coercive persuasion”); we have not encountered any totalitarian groups. Most frequently, the undemanding or nonexistent institute of membership may suggest that even processual conversion to new religions in Slovenia represents an exceptional event. A much more probable reason for commitment to their activities may be found in the constant but socially unstable quest of individuals for spiritual wisdom and/or quality of life. We found no evidence or even a clue that would indicate that this disposition and/or process would make these individuals socially, spiritually, mentally, or in any other way “deprivileged.” Thus, the general insight into contemporary new religious reality in Slovenia also revealed a social structure and social actors to whom statements on “brainwashing in cults” cannot be applied.

Some further characteristics of Slovene NRMs are discussed in connection with the attitude of the Slovene state towards new religions.