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Enseignement et recherche

1. History of theological training

Until the 18th century, the college of theology and the seminary of the diocese were identical. Several diocesan (Tridentian) seminaries were entrusted to the Jesuits in the course of the counter-reformation and Protestants have set up their schools for training ministers in the 16th century. Ministers of religion were trained at denominational institutions until Josephinist tendencies emerged (Joseph II ruled Hungary as Emperor from 1780 to 1790). During the Josephinist era seminaries were centralised to four major centers (Eger, Pest, Zagreb and Bratislava). The training of the clergy in these institutions was strictly controlled by the state. From the late 18th century to the communist takeover, a part of the clergy received higher education in theology at denominational theological faculties of state/public universities (seminaries obviously remained church institutions). The first actual university of Hungary having a Catholic faculty of theology was set up by Cardinal Péter Pázmány in 1635. Besides public institutions, there also existed a number of both Catholic and Protestant institutions run by the respective church organs. These, however, had no university status but qualified as “colleges”.
The university set up in 1635 by Cardinal Pázmány, archbishop of Esztergom (as his seat was under Ottoman occupation he resided in Tirnava, today Slovakia) was put under state control under Maria Theresa in 1769 and moved to its present seat in (Buda)Pest in 1777. In 1950 the Faculty of Theology was detached from the University and entrusted to the Bishops’ Conference. Whereas for centuries the Faculty served exclusively the training of clergy, from the late 1970s lay students are admitted too. Discussions on an eventual reintegration to the state university were rejected both for constitutional reasons (the interpretation of separation seemed to rule out mixed – non-neutral – public institutions), and by the Church that decided to launch a Catholic University based on the Faculty of Theology in 1992.
The Reformed (Calvinist) Theological College (University) was founded in 1538 in Debrecen. In 1912 it became the Faculty of Reformed Theology of the University of Debrecen. Since 1949 it is independent from the state university, maintained by the Church District of the Reformed Church. Training in Reformed Theology was provided at schools from the 1530s in Sárospatak and Pápa. The Reformed Theological Academy in Budapest was launched in 1855. Whereas in Sárospatak and Pápa the Theological Colleges were reopened after the fall of communism, in Budapest the Reformed Theological Faculty did not cease to exist and is still active as the part of a Reformed University. The most important Lutheran institute of theological training was founded in 1557 in Sopron. The institute was incorporated to the University of Pécs in 1923 (almost 300 km from Sopron). In 1950 it was detached from the university and a year later, the Lutheran Academy of Theology moved to Budapest where it functions nowadays as the Lutheran University of Theology.
The Rabbinical Seminary was set up by a ministerial decree in 1877 as an important step of Jewish emancipation. Since 1999 the institution functions as the “Rabbinical Seminary – Jewish University” where not only rabbis and cantors receive formation but courses in Judaism are offered too. The university is maintained by the Alliance of Jewish Congregations of Hungary, with is in fact the major, conservative Jewish congregation in Hungary.

2. Theology at universities

There are no theological faculties at state universities in Hungary since 1950, when theological faculties were detached from the state universities and their maintenance was entrusted to the respective religious communities. After the collapse of the communist system, the interpretation of separation and neutrality ruled out the reintegration theological faculties to public universities. Courses on religion may be delivered at State institutions, but courses of religion may not. Religious training and training in theology can be provided by church-run institutions of higher education. These institutions have the right to provide training in fields other than theology too.

Church institutions can be acknowledged by the state to issue recognised degrees. The state acknowledgement does not change the purely ecclesiastical nature of church institutions. A list of the theological institutions – extended several times – is annexed to the Act on higher education. Besides the institutions themselves, the courses are also accredited and acknowledged. The content of theological courses is not subject to scrutiny, only material conditions (like the existence and the quality of the library) and the qualification of the personnel are controlled. Degrees are recognised by the State. The law has detailed provisions which provide exemption for church institutions from various obligations, while in other cases no distinctions are made. Differences partly derive from the ecclesiastical nature of theological colleges, but a practical aspect plays a role too as the size of theological institutions is usually very small in comparison to public institutions. For example, theological institutions are not bound by the principle of equal treatment with regard to religion (they may have exclusive policies both for their teaching staff and their students), but they are certainly bound by other elements of equal treatment’s policies, like accessibility. Theological higher education is exempted from the entrance examination regulations, but high-school graduation is certainly required.

At present, there are five church universities (a Catholic, a Lutheran, a Jewish and two Calvinist), as well as twenty-one other institutions of higher education, ten of which are Catholic (one Greek Catholic). Religious orders run a Catholic theological college in Budapest, concurring with the nearby Catholic Theological Faculty of Péter Pázmány Catholic University. Seven colleges belong to various smaller Protestant churches that are not particularly numerous in Hungary (Baptists, Adventists, Pentecostals, etc.). There is also an accredited Buddhist Theological College and an ISKCON college. Some of these institutions may function with a very low number of students. Due to the limited number of Muslims in Hungary, the creation of an Islamic institution of higher education has not been envisaged so far.

The institutional arrangement does not mean that the reality of church institutions would be cut off from other institutions of higher education. This is determined by local arrangements between church institutions and universities. In some cities the church institution and the public university have elaborated a close cooperation with a number of students who frequent courses in both institutions.

Accreditation is done by the Hungarian Accreditation Committee. This is an independent national body of experts assessing quality in education, research and artistic activities in higher education, and examining the operation of the institutional quality development scheme. Courses in secular sciences that are provided by church-run institutions of higher education are subject to the same scrutiny of procedures towards accreditation as public universities. Degrees have the same value, and the institutions are funded to the same extent as public institutions, as they participate each year at a competitive system of distributing state funded student places (further tuition-paying students can be accepted).

D 11 février 2021    ABalázs Schanda

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