Both ordinary observation and the results of sociological research point to a growth of religiousness in Polish society in the 1980s. In this regard one may put forward several questions: Is it a quantitative or a qualitative growth? Does it tend to strengthen religious life or only social-nationality? Is it connected with the acceptance of religion as a personal and experienced value, or as the common good of the nation? Is it connected only with what is public, or also with the private? Certainly, it will be difficult to give an adequate answer to the above questions in the light of sociological research. Nevertheless, it is important to search for such answers in order to understand the power and character of Polish religiousness.

From the sociological point of view, religiousness is a socio-cultural phenomenon, i.e., a social fact revealed in the consciousness and life of individuals and human groups. This means that sociology deals with religiousness as manifested in the processes of communication, interaction and social groups. This important aspect of scientific research into religion does not exclude, but even assumes, investigating religion in other aspects. Undoubtedly, it does not exclude the influence of grace on the religious life of the believers.

Religiousness means here a system of beliefs which embraces man's everyday experience while pervading and giving a general sense to all domains of his activity.(1) In this definition we may distinguish three basic parameters: a) everyday experience, b) religious culture, and c) religious activities. Experience lies at the basis of the second and third parameters and constitutes the domain of the research of such other sciences as phenomenology and psychology. Generally, it is assumed that there is only one human experience but that this experience is multidimensional, i.e., that it embraces many domains of reality. Among these, two that are basic are sacred reality (sacrum) and profane reality (profanum); consequently, we can speak of two basic experiences: religious and secular. The first is oriented upon the Higher Power which presents itself to the faithful as "tremendum and fascinosum," reveals to them its will, and calls upon them to submit themselves to it. This is the meaning of religion, i.e., knowing, recognizing and submitting oneself to God's will.

The second experience is oriented to "this world"; this means that it excludes the religious point of view in evaluating man, life and the world. Thus, by religious culture here is meant a set of convictions, values and symbols which convey a total sense to the faithful, that is, to people who experience non-empirical reality. Finally, religiousness is the reality of the sacrum. It can be individual and collective, which, in turn, can be mass and interactional activities. Only interactional activities which contain a consciousness of mutual values and aims constitute a basis of religious fellowship and association.

It follows from what we have said that religiousness is closely connected with a religious experience: it is rooted in a person, and above all it constitutes a personal and experienced value. In case of lack of religious experience, one can speak about outer, environmental and cultural religiousness. The sociology of religion appreciates the importance of religious experience, yet it concentrates, first of all, on religious culture and religious activities.

On the basis of much research on Polish religiousness, one can accept the distinction between two levels of its functioning in society, namely, the public level ("the faith of the nation") and the private level ("the religion of life").

The difference between these two levels in Polish society is based on a general hypothesis, which makes it possible to direct further descriptions and analyses, that is: religiousness in Poland preserves its continuity and remains on a high level. It increases in some circumstances, but only on the public level. On the private level, religiousness undergoes considerable changes which tend in different directions, but most of all toward selectivity.


This kind of religiousness can be operational through so-called "global professions of faith."(2) This parameter was introduced to the sociology of religion by L. Dingemans and J. Remy, who did not attach to it great importance. From the positive point of view, this parameter indicates one's affiliation with a religious group; from the negative point of view it indicates weaning from the traditions of one's ancestors. Its authors did not rightly value the indicative function of this parameter.

Within the framework of global professions of faith, usually two autodeclarations are taken from those asked to describe their attitudes towards faith and religious observances. These autodeclarations possess a subjective character, nevertheless they make it possible to uncover the structure of the opinions of the entire Polish population. The following centers provide this information: Public Opinion Research Center, Social Opinion Research Center and the Institute of the Philosophy and Sociology of Religion of The Polish Academy of Science (PAN).

Both indices of the autoidentification with faith and religious observances are high and are characterized by stability over a long period of time. As far as autoidentification with faith is concerned a considerable percentage of people in Poland claim to be profound believers (ca 20 percent). Profound faith is not always identified with intense religiousness because, as has been proven by more thorough investigations, these Catholics who claim to be profound believers very often have in mind a traditional and emotional attachment to "the faith of their fathers." Their faith is profound in the sense of being strongly rooted in tradition, especially family tradition, and of continuity within the framework of religious socialization in the family. The index of believers is also high (ca 70 percent).

The combined figure for believers and profound believers in 1960 was 83.8 percent for the village and 75.6 percent for the town. In 1984 the same index was 94.9 percent for the village and 87.2 percent for the town.(3) Both environments experienced a growth of religious attitudes, especially after 1980, of more than 11 percent. Those indicators establish that a generous majority of people in Poland are basically sacrum oriented and, what is more, search for meaning and identity in this sphere. The spread and affirmation of such an attitude points to the continuity of religiousness in both rural and urban environments; recently, there has been an increase in religiousness in big cities.

People indifferent to religion fell into a distinct category of the persons being studied. In 1960 the percentage of people who claimed to be indifferent was 14.6 percent in villages and 21.3 percent in towns. In 1984 we could observe a considerable decrease in the population of indifferent people, i.e., in the village to 3.4 percent and in the town to 9.2 percent.(4) This can be explained by the industrial situation of the country. Religious indifference is characterized by an orientation on the values of the world (the profanum) which are instrumental and businesslike. When people cannot realize these they become oriented to ultimate values. Special attention should be paid to non-believers in the socialist state. An atheistic attitude is characterized by an orientation to the values of the profane world which are treated as having ultimate meaning with which one identifies. One can treat such an attitude as a sort of substratum of religion, because in this attitude there is a tendency to absolutize and assign broader functions to humanistic values, e.g., to that of finding an overall view for everyday life. Based on a general country-wide questionnaire, the index of irreligious people is unstable for the most part. In 1960 it equalled 1.1 percent for the village and 3.1 percent(5) for the town; in 1984 1.6 percent for the village and 3.5 percent(6) for the town. Not only believers, but religiously indifferent people as well resist conversion to atheism.

Like autoidentification with faith, autoidentification with religious practices maintains a high level in Polish society and does not undergo change. First of all, the indices of those who practice systematically exceed 40 percent in Poland. The indices of those who do not practice systematically are also high (over 30 percent). Both indices can be treated jointly because Catholics who fall into those categories constitute a community of the so-called Sunday Catholics, i.e., those who at least take part once a month in Sunday Mass. In 1960 the indices of those who practice systematically and unsystematically were 80 percent for the village and 69.6 percent(7) for the town. The lack of division in further research into the village and town does not allow for a more precise comparison of those indices. Research shows that for the whole country this index equalled: 79 percent in 1984 and 78 percent in 1985.(8) These indices show a certain stability for the various kinds of religious behavior and their apparent growth in recent years.

Aside from Sunday Catholics there is a category of Catholics who practice rarely and can be classified as holiday Catholics. G. Le Bras describes them as going "to church when the bell is tolling in order to declare that they observe their ancestors' customs."(9) The index of this category of practicing Catholics was 12.8% for the village in 1960 and 17.9% for the town;(10) it was 15% in 1984, 19% in 1985.(11)

There remains still a category of the non-practicing to consider. In 1960 this was 6.3% in the village and 12.3% in the town.(12) In the 1980s a decrease of the number of the non-practicing took place to 5.7% in 1984 and 7.3% in 1985,(13) respectively.

Generally speaking, the indices of religious autoidentification remain high and are characterized by stability. It is difficult to say to what extent the ritual kinds of behavior were an expression of accepting non-empirical reality and whether they are formed by this reality.


By this kind of religiousness we understand here a conventional religiousness which in its own way is experienced and practiced every day. This religiousness can be more or less interiorized: its range may or may not overlap with "church" religiousness. Undoubtedly, it is multidimensional, e.g., it is operationalized by many parameters and indices. In accord with the distinction drawn above let us look first to religious culture and then to religious activities. Both parameters will be treated as examples, i.e., within their frameworks only some indices taken into account in much prior sociological research on religiousness will be discussed.

Religious knowledge is one of the basic aspects of religious culture. It does not have any exceptional importance for the religious life of Catholics; some even assume that there is no relation between religious knowledge and other aspects of religiousness. Nevertheless, it is also assumed that the process of enriching knowledge in the sphere of religion positively influences the attitude of faith and religious commitment.(14) Nowadays this influence seems greater than ever before. Earlier, religiousness was supported by tradition, opinion and the pressure of the environment, religious institutions, etc., but at present it demands a conscious motivation, option and choice--in other words, a personal commitment. What is more, the increase in the role of education and the general standard of culture in these days is a danger to religiousness among people of low religious knowledge. One can say that the higher the standard of "secular" education and participation in culture, the greater the demand for religious knowledge in order to support and develop religious life.

In the division between "open" and "closed" religious formation, only the first influences the attitude of faith and religious commitment in a positive way. It depends on continuously supplementing religious knowledge both in the sphere of doctrine and in the sphere of knowing "facts and dates" from the life of the Church. The recognition of this by many Catholics in Poland is the reason why they read books and Catholic papers, take part in talks, belong to debating clubs and religious fellowships.

Nevertheless, despite the growth of interest in religion and the Church, the standard of strictly religious knowledge is rather low, especially compared to the standard of religious convictions. Perhaps K. Grzymska-Moszczynska is right when she points out that her sociological research into religiousness tends to grasp a certain state of "theoretical" knowledge, which is not necessarily "practical" and of importance for a human individual in his everyday life. She notes that the majority of tests of knowledge "deal with the analysis of cold knowledge," whereas genuine information about the degree of information by the person under study might have regarded the degree of their "hot" knowledge, i.e., that which concerns those religious problems which are subjectively important for them." We do not deny the subjective element in religious knowledge, but it does not change the fact that a low standard in this sphere constitutes a specific characteristic of traditional religiousness.

As has already been mentioned, religious convictions are formed on a considerably higher level, though the so-called total acceptance of the truths of faith is a more and more rare phenomenon. Questioning or negating the truths of faith depends to a great extent on their character. More theoretical truths, less binding upon Catholics in their lives, are more readily accepted than the practical truths which imply obligations in a Catholic's daily life. This is exemplified in the results of sociological research carried out in 55 parishes in Poland in two contrary environments: urban (u) and rural (r). Belief in: the Trinity was 88.3 percent (u); the redemption of humanity through Christ: 81.6 percent (u), 99.4 percent (r); Divine Motherhood of Mary: 92 percent (u), 92.2 percent (r); creation of the world: 73.2 percent (u), 94.9 percent (r); immortality of the soul 67.4 percent (u); 79.4 percent (r); resurrection of the body: 59.9 percent (u), 83.8 percent (r); existence of hell: 48.5 percent (u), 79.6 percent (r).(15) These degrees of people's acceptance of the dogmas of faith show that in the sphere of beliefs Polish religiousness is theocentric ("there exists a God," "Higher Power," "Holy Trinity") Christocentric and Mariocentric; it is also inconsequent, unorthodox and selective. This gap between the levels of acceptance in both environments is particularly surprising. Taking account of the extreme variations in indices, it is 43.5 percent in urban environments and 23.8 percent in rural environments. The indices at the same time of faith in God (Holy Trinity) and negation of the immortality of the human soul as well as of the existence of hell prove that it is a "faith without Christian hope."

One can explain the above-mentioned phenomena and processes by two different socio-cultural contexts: the contexts of traditional society and pluralistic society. In the first, greater importance is given to religious orthodoxy connected with the experience and practice of faith. In the second, it is the contrary: believers emphasize religious experience, religious attitude and authentic religious fellowship; objectivized religious dogmas, religious institution and tradition are of lesser importance. Using W. James' terminology, the believers in the pluralistic society are more "experience oriented" than "tradition-oriented":(16) "Fruits" are more important for them than "roots." That is why there is an increase in the number of Catholics who are not faithful to religious institutions in everyday life.

This unfaithfulness is even stronger within the sphere of moral convictions. It is found most often in research into basic (principal), ambivalent (indirect) and purpose-centered (instrumental-pragmatic) attitudes. The first of these expresses a basic moral orientation, i.e., acceptance of ethical principles despite circumstances; the second allows hesitation according to circumstances; the third concentrates rather upon these circumstances (situational morality).

Research carried out in the 70s proved that basic attitudes are had by no more than one quarter of adults in Poland, and such attitudes are adopted to a still lesser degree by youth. Ambivalent attitudes are more popular, especially in rural and provincial environments. Purpose-centered pragmatic attitudes are most popular, especially in urban environments.(17) This testifies to a distinct tendency to be directed in everyday life by calculation, to choose appropriate means in order to accomplish a purpose, and to adjust existing and well-known moral principles to one's own concepts of life and action in a particular social environment. Thus we can speak of a relativism of moral norms, even of deviation from religious-moral norms; conscience gains in importance as a subjective norm in disregard of objective norms.

The above-mentioned situational ethic is found most often within the marital-family sphere. On the basis of much research one could think that there is no relation between religion and this kind of morality. Here, traditional-environmental and contextual-cultural demands are more important than profession of an ethical code. There is, however, a certain differentiation as far as the social relevance of a norm is concerned. Thus, for example, the prohibition of marital unfaithfulness and of abortion are more accepted socially than are other norms. This does not change the fact, however, that this domain of morality is particularly incoherent when confronted with faith and morality.

In a sense J. Szczepanski is right when he writes in a somewhat simplified manner that:

Poles relatively rarely apply themselves to the principles of their religion in the course of their work, in their everyday family duties, and in their everyday family life. On the other hand, they fulfill their religious duties ardently when these duties concern rites, worship and attendance at church. Hence, such religiousness does not penetrate family life; in particular neither a religious ethic of labor is created, nor a sense of religious duties resulting from religion.(18)

Apart from the character of religiousness, one has to take into consideration the social-economic situation which certainly has a bearing on the "moral outlook" of Poles.

Concerning religious activities let us consider first the emphasis in Polish religiousness upon religious practices. Those practices can be described as ritual behavior commanded or recommended by the church. Two kinds of behavior constitute the subject-matter of sociological researches, namely, attendance at Sunday mass (dominicantes) and the reception of the Eucharist (communicantes).

According to estimates, the number of participants in Sunday mass all over the country remains steady and at a quite high level. In 1980 the range of the indices extended from 35.3 percent in the diocese of Lodz to 73.2 percent in the diocese of Tarnow; in 1982, from 38.3 percent in the diocese of Lublin to 78.6 percent in the diocese of Przemysl. Generally, one can assume that the number of people who observe this practice increases, but this is not certain since in some dioceses the high indices of dominicantes decreases. For example, in the diocese of Katowice the state of this practice was: 1963 - 82.4 percent, 1974 - 63.1 percent, 1980 - 56.2 percent, 1982 - 55.6 percent. A certain decrease in the number of dominicantes has been found also in the dioceses of Tarnow, Krakow and Bialystok.(19)

It must be emphasized that Catholics who practice systematically constitute the majority of Sunday mass participants. This means that there is a certain "core" of people who practice continuously. One can regard them as believers who possess a mature sense of attachment to the Church and to a parish. Mass constitutes a certain religious value for them which they particularly appreciate. One can assume that their participation in it is an expression of their inner faith, and from this a continuum of religious life is revealed in outer behavior.

Obviously, the number of those who receive communion while participating in Sunday Mass remains at a considerably lower level. On an all-Polish scale this index in relation to those who were present at Mass in 1980 ranged from 10.2 percent in the diocese of Przemysl to 19.7 percent in the diocese of Gorzow; in 1982 from 12.1 percent in the diocese of Przemysl to 22.7 percent in the diocese of Czestochowa. Thus, one can speak of a slight growth in the index of communicantes in Poland.

Comparing the indices of dominicantes and communicantes, the more the dominicantes the less the communicantes. Participating in a mass without receiving the Eucharist is a characteristic feature of Polish folk (mass) religiousness. The high indices of communicantes in relation to the indices of dominicantes in the Western and Northern parts of Poland is worth noting. All dioceses situated on this territory exceed the country average of communicantes, which may prove that they have become the leading dioceses in the work of forming a conscious and profound religiousness.

Participating in a Mass and receiving the Eucharist strengthens the sense of religious ties with institutions which fulfill a religious mission. This is especially the parish which, though it loses the character of a fellowship, yet is a milieu in which religious fellowships can be established. Contemporary changes "atomize" parishioners, but at the same time create new possibilities for entering into direct and personal contacts. This raises two interesting problems: the degree of attachment to a parish and whether believers are willing to belong to religious fellowships.

It is a characteristic feature that attachment to a parish is becoming evidently weaker, especially in relation to the "openness" of the social environment. In view of much research into the parish carried out by the Catholic University of Lublin one can say that 34.9 percent of people (u) 59.9 percent (r) identify with their parish, with their diocese: 4 percent (u), 7 percent (r); with the Church in Poland: 20.2 percent (u), 13.6 percent (r); with the universal Church: 31.7 percent (u), 17.2 percent (r); with none in particular: 7.3 percent (u), 2.1 percent (r). That is, of the four religious institutions the most important is the parish, then comes the universal Church, the Church in Poland, and then the diocese, which, however, is more important than the parish from the theological point of view. At present, the parish loses importance while there is a gain by the universal Church, or in the broader sense of the word, Christianity, or, still broader, religion and a general outlook on life (ecumenism). Nevertheless, it is difficult to understand that the Church in Poland is not so emphasized, when at the same time that there exists "religion of the nation."

This apparent inconsequence becomes even more evident in relation to religious groups. The statistics on the membership is the following: debating groups: 20.2 percent (u), 48.1 percent (r); instructional groups: 12.2 percent (u), 32.6 percent (r); formation groups: 16.8 percent (u), 35.5 percent (r); apostolic charitable groups: 3.6 percent (u), 19.8 percent (r). From the sociological point of view it is difficult to explain why in the rural environment there is a much stronger tendency to participate in religious groups than in the urban environments. Religious fellowships especially among the youth come into existence and develop in big cities. Their existence in villages, however, depends upon the parish priest, and one does not find such a spontaneous search for the sense of life and for identification as among big city inhabitants.

Probably, these two phenomena can be explained by the character of Polish religiousness, which is conditioned more on the level of everyday life than on that of the nation. These changes which find their expression in culture, social structure (although the political also has a certain importance here), and personality urge Poles to take up various quests on the basis of religion, e.g., towards an authentically increased religiousness or even towards treating religion instrumentally as a means to save values of a lower order.

Regarding the interdependence between demographic-social features and religious culture and religious activities, in the limited framework of this paper we shall merely make note of certain factors. The basic patterns proved by much earlier research remain unquestioned. Nevertheless, one can assume on the basis of research that in the 80s there was a revival in the sphere of the three parameters: religious experience, religious culture and religious activities. This revival was more widespread in the domain of religious experience and religious activities than in the sphere of religious culture. It took place more often among men than women, among young people (including students) rather than older people, among the educated rather than those of other categories, especially farmers; it was more frequent among the rich than the poor (which is incongruous with Marxism), and rather in big cities than in other social environments. The variable of party membership, omitted here, has great importance, especially as regards religious autodeclarations.

In view of the above general information which concerns culture and religious activities, one can attempt to show the basic direction of changes, and at the same time, provide a typology of attitudes towards religion which enables one to understand better the "religion of everyday life". Such a typology consists of: traditional religiousness, increased religiousness and selective religiousness.

- Traditional religiousness which formerly included masses of believers is now a thing of the past. Nevertheless, there are believers who live independently of the ongoing social-cultural changes and stick to folk religiousness. This manner of religiousness is able to provide them with a sense of meaning and identification, though it is not entirely identical with what the Church demands, i.e., with the model of institutional religiousness. Traditionally, believers are rather "traditionalists." If they negate or question the tenets of faith or moral principles, they do so primarily in a thoughtless and unmotivated manner; it is a consequence of religious neglect which finds its expression in losing contact with the Church and parish.

- Increased religiousness can be expressed on two levels: institutional and fellowship. On the first we find more and more Catholics who identify themselves with the Church both in doctrine and behavior. On the one hand, they appreciate Church authority, her doctrinal and political demands; on the other hand, they apply themselves to her recommendations in private, family and social life. This manner of religiousness is manifested by frequent confession and the Eucharist, participation in exclusive religious associations, support for parish festivals, etc. On the other hand, we find ever more rich varieties of religious movements and fellowships which are characteristic of the Polish Church. With few exceptions they do not seek their own purposes, but join in the revival of Catholicism or, more broadly speaking, of Christianity within the framework of the parish together with their priests. Hence, these movements are desirable in promoting changes in Polish folk religiousness; they concentrate on authentic evangelical religiousness and its influence upon everyday life.

- Selective religiousness is the most common character among a variety of changes and is revealed in both consciousness and religious behavior. In the former it appears rather in morality than in religion as those who believe selectively undertake processes of rationalization, privatization and individualization. Through those processes they undervalue the role of religious tradition, religious authorities, religious doctrine, and their professed outlook; they question or reject first the moral principles, then the dogmas of faith, and, finally, lose their ties with the Church. It is not a neglect, however, as in the case of traditional Catholics, but "a choice" connected with an individual's life project.


From the above analysis, religiousness in Polish society appears to be characterized by continuity, especially on the nationwide level. Probably, the "80s" contributed little to this religiousness: perhaps, they contributed to the revival of "consequent religious parameters," though not on a global scale. On a nationwide scale religion functions as a common value inherited from ancestors which conveys meaning and identification for the great majority of people. This value is confirmed by practices of a mass character which are motivated religiously and nationally. In such a situation, religion easily fulfills an integrative function according to Durkheim's principle that it is not important what one believes in, but how strong the faith is and to what extent this faith penetrates people's life. Such a people observe religious practices, but without great consequences in everyday life.

On the level of daily life Polish religiousness undergoes desirable changes in many directions: less toward being more profound, but rather towards selectivity. This means that in religiousness in Poland spontaneous factors are more decisive than those which are controlled and conducive to maintaining a certain type of religiousness, namely, one that is traditional and constant.

The Catholic University of Lublin

Lublin, Poland


1. 1. . Cf. P. Berger, Th. Luckmann, "Secularization and Pluralism," Internationales Jahrbuch für Religionssoziologie (Opladen: Köln Univ., 1966), p. 75.

2. 2. . L. Dingemanns, J. Rèmy, "Kryteria zywotnosci katolicyzmu, Ludzie - Wiara - Kosciel," Analizy socjologiczne (Warszawa, 1966), p. 117.

3. 3. . Cf. A. Pawelczynska, "Postawy ludnosci wiejskiej wobec religii," in: Roczniki Socjologii Wsi. Studia i Materialy, VIII (1968). p. 73; A. Mikolejko, "Autoidentyfikacja religijna, motywacje i przeobrazenia religijnosci w opinii spoleczenstwa polskiego" (typescript, p. 2).

4. 4. . Pawelczynska, p. 73; Mikolejko, p. 2.

5. 5. . Pawelczynska, p. 73.

6. 6. . Mikolejko, p. 2.

7. 7. . Pawelczynska, p. 74.

8. 8. . Cf. S. Kwiatkowski, "Religia i polityka," in Przeglad Tygodniowy, 1987, nr. 8.

9. 9. . G. Le Bras, Etudes de sociologie religieuse (Paris, 1955), I, 5.

10. 10. . Pawelczynska, p. 74.

11. 11. . Kwiatkowski, nr. 8.

12. 12. . Pawelczynska, p. 74.

13. 13. . Kwiatkowski, nr. 8.

14. 14. . Cf. G. Kehrer, Das religiose Bewusstsein des Industriearbeiters (München, 1967), p. 74.

15. 15. . R. Kaminski, "Przynaleznosc do parafii katolickiej," Studium pastoralne (Lublin, 1987), pp. 182-193.

16. 16. . W. James, The Varieties of Religious Experience: A Study in Human Nature (New York, 1961), p. 195.

17. 17. . Cf. J. Marianski, "Religijnosc w procesie przemian. Szkice socjologiczne" (typescript) p. 106.

18. 18. . J. Szczepanski, "Wymiary polskiej religijnosci (glos w dyskusji)," Znaki czasu, (nr. 6, 1983), 9.

19. 19. . Cf. The investigations in Poland conducted by W. Zdaniewicz (Pallottinum). The results are presently being drawn up.