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Historical survey

Historical Roman-Catholic dominance

Historically speaking, Austria has been a predominantly Roman-Catholic country for many centuries. Religious minorities, foremost Jews, suffered from recurrent prosecution. After the Reformation, (...)

Historically speaking, Austria has been a predominantly Roman-Catholic country for many centuries. Religious minorities, foremost Jews, suffered from recurrent prosecution. After the Reformation, Protestantism became the dominant faith in large parts of the Habsburg territories. Encouraged by the nobility, two thirds of the population of the capital Vienna have become Protestants by the end of the 16th century. During the Counter-Reformation of the 17th century, the house of Habsburg and the Roman-Catholic church successfully used every possible means to accomplish the re-Catholisation of the population. Protestants had to flee the country or practise their religion in secret. This only changed with the Toleranzpatent (edict of tolerance), issued by Emperor Joseph II in 1781, which allowed Protestant and Greek-Orthodox Christians a restricted form of religious practice. In 1782, an edict of tolerance that granted some freedom to Austria’s Jews followed.

Source:
- Peter Thaler, Protestant Resistance in Counter-reformation Austria, London, Routledge, 2020, 40.
- Peter F. Barton, Evangelisch in Österreich: ein Überblick über die Geschichte der Evangelischen in Österreich, Studien und Texte zur Kirchengeschichte und Geschichte, Reihe 2 11, Wien [u.a.]: Böhlau, 1987.
- Michael Berenbaum und Fred Skolnik, Hrsg., "Toleranzpatent“, in Encyclopaedia Judaica, 2007.

D 21 February 2022    AAstrid Mattes AKerstin Wonisch

Religious tolerance in the Habsburg territories

Subsequent to Joseph II’s establishment of tolerance in the politics of religion, strategic regulation of religion became a characteristic of the Habsburg reign, although the clear dominance of (...)

Subsequent to Joseph II’s establishment of tolerance in the politics of religion, strategic regulation of religion became a characteristic of the Habsburg reign, although the clear dominance of and loyalty to the Roman Catholic Church was never in question. The edicts of tolerance planted a seed for a growing openness towards religious minorities, but a rights-based approach to equality was not to ensue before 1848. The uprisings of 1848 paved the way for the Basic Law of the State on the General Rights of Citizens of 21 December 1867, which grants individual civil rights and holds a provision on fundamental rights for Churches or Religious Societies recognised by the law. In 1874, the Law on the Recognition of Churches specified the procedures for the “legal recognition” of religious communities, which was first applied for the Old Catholic Church in 1877. The recognition of the Jewish community followed in 1890 and replaced previous regulations.

Source:
- Rupert Klieber, Jüdische, christliche, muslimische Lebenswelten der Donaumonarchie 1848-1918, Wien, Böhlau, 2010.
- Richard Potz, "Die Donaumonarchie als multikonfessioneller Staat", Kanon 12, 1994, 49–65.

D 21 February 2022    AAstrid Mattes AKerstin Wonisch

Legal Recognition of Islam in Austria

Following the occupation of the Ottoman provinces of Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1878 and their subsequent annexation in 1908, a significant number of Muslims came under Austro-Hungarian rule. In (...)

Following the occupation of the Ottoman provinces of Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1878 and their subsequent annexation in 1908, a significant number of Muslims came under Austro-Hungarian rule. In 1912, the Islam Law was passed as an attempt to institutionalise Islam, to allow for the legal exercise of religion, and to reduce the institutional influence of the Ottoman Empire. The Law granted legal recognition specifically to Muslims belonging to the majority Sunni-Hanafi tradition. This historic recognition of Islam is a rather unique aspect of Austrian politics of religion.

Source:
- Kroissenbrunner, Sabine, “Turkish Imams in Vienna”, in W.A.R. Shahid and P.S. van Koningsveld (eds.), Intercultural Relations and Religious Authorities: Muslims in the European Union, Leuven/Paris/Dudley, Peeters, 2002, pp.184-185.
- Dominique Bauer und Astrid Mattes, "Austria", in Yearbook of Muslims in Europe, hg. von Egdūnas Račius u. a., Bd. 10, Leiden, Brill, 2018.
- For an overview see Richard Potz, 100 Jahre Islamgesetz, Wien, Bundesministerium für Europäische Angelegenheiten und Integration, 2012.

D 21 February 2022    AAstrid Mattes AKerstin Wonisch

A Catholic Authoritarian State

With the dissolution of the Habsburg Monarchy after World War I, the laws on religions remained a part of the legal framework. Religion, more precisely secular vs. church-oriented politics, (...)

With the dissolution of the Habsburg Monarchy after World War I, the laws on religions remained a part of the legal framework. Religion, more precisely secular vs. church-oriented politics, quickly became an important political line of division. In 1933/34, the deeply divided population of the First Republic of Austria experienced a civil war and political radicalisation resulted in the establishment of an authoritarian regime officially supported by the Catholic Church. The Christian Social Party, forerunner of the Austrian People’s Party, used a conflictual situation in parliament to abolish the democratic system, call out a “Christian state” in Austria, and install a dictatorship built on Catholic teachings. The Austrian Concordat with the Holy See was established during this period.

Source:
- Anton Pelinka, Die gescheiterte Republik: Kultur und Politik in Österreich 1918-1938, Böhlau Verlag, 2017).
- Ernst Hanisch, Der lange Schatten des Staates: österreichische Gesellschaftsgeschichte im 20. Jahrhundert, Studienausg, Wien: Ueberreuter, 2005, 77.

D 21 February 2022    AAstrid Mattes AKerstin Wonisch

Religion and nazism

This so-called Austro-fascist system was replaced by Nazism after the unification with Germany (Anschluss) in 1938, which was in part supported by Austrian churches. In 2018, the ecumenical (...)

This so-called Austro-fascist system was replaced by Nazism after the unification with Germany (Anschluss) in 1938, which was in part supported by Austrian churches. In 2018, the ecumenical council issued an official statement acknowledging the churches’ contribution to the “Anschluss”. During the Nazi regime, more than 130 000 Austrian Jews were expelled and more than 66 000 Jews were murdered. Apart from ethnic minorities, political opponents, and disabled persons, the Nazis also persecuted the small religious group of Jehovah’s Witnesses, killing 145 members.

Source:
- City of Vienna, Expulsion, Deportation and Murder - History of the Jews in Vienna, 2021.
- Aigner, Franz, "Überblick über die Verfolgung der Zeugen Jehovas 1938–1945", in Dokumentationsarchiv des österreichischen Widerstandes (Hg.): Zeugen Jehovas – Vergessene Opfer des Nationalsozialismus?, Wien, 1998, 37–44.

D 21 February 2022    AAstrid Mattes AKerstin Wonisch

Historical roots of contemporary governance of religious diversity

The legal framework on religion that Austria readopted after World War II dates back to the Habsburg monarchy. After World War II, consensus orientation became the guiding principle among (...)

The legal framework on religion that Austria readopted after World War II dates back to the Habsburg monarchy. After World War II, consensus orientation became the guiding principle among Austrian political and societal actors. While the conservative Austrian People’s Party retained close ties with the Roman-Catholic Church, they now fostered a general religion-friendly approach that included religious minorities, resulting in the Austrian model of inclusive politics of religion. Both Conservatives and Social Democrats fostered consociationalism regarding social and labour-market politics, and went along with consensus orientation in the field of the politics of religion.

Source:
Astrid Mattes, "Turning away from tolerance: Governance of religious diversity on Austria", in Religion and Illiberal Politics, hg. von Anja Hennig und Mirjam Weiberg-Salzmann, Frankfurt am Main, Campus Verlag, 2021.

D 21 February 2022    AAstrid Mattes AKerstin Wonisch

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