Changing state-church relations in Hungarian public education

Principal investigator: Eszter Neumann

Grant: CEU Institute for Advanced Study Fellowship

Period: October 2019 - June 2020

Research questions and objectives:

With the dismantling of the welfare state, nation states have gradually retreated from providing social protection and educational services across Europe. While in Western Europe, market actors have been involved at a growing extent, following the victory of the right-wing populist coalition, a characteristically different mode of governing has been unfolding in Hungary. State officials and key politicians have repeatedly and publicly confirmed the alliance of the church and the state, and historical churches have been incentivised with generous state subsidies to take a greater part in service provision. My project focuses on the changing institutional landscape of public education and the involvement of the churches as policy-making actors. I am especially interested in how these immense changes affect social segregational processes, reshape local power relations and access to public services in disadvantaged regions.

Research methods:

In the current, first year of the project, I am conducting desk research and a pilot study at a micro-region in Hungary.

The main research questions that guide my project are the following.

  • What are the main discoursive shifts in education policy? What are the new ways of constituting subjectivities in church schools? How do theological, expert and other discourses come together in this new assemblage to define the normative boundaries of the ideal community, and enact the boundary-making work between the deserving and the undeserving poor?
  • What are the churches’ dominant strategies, policy approaches and policy narratives in the area of public education? What is the churches’ approach to the social integration of disadvantaged and Roma?
  • What are the main social justice consequences of the changing relationship between the state, the church and citizens in contemporary Hungary? What are the main geopolitical and social characteristics of the church-run education systems (regional differences, internal social heterogeneity)?
  • What is the role of the church in social and educational provision in disadvantaged regions? How does the involvement of the churches affect local power relations, the social polarization of schools and access to education in disadvantaged regions? How do parents view the unfolding school system and think about school choice?


My pilot study will focus on one disadvantaged micro-region and will explore the involvement of the different churches in the local contexts. Following important actors from the bottom up, I will approach the regional and national key church actors to explore key actors’ perspectives on church education system at the regional and the national-level.

The main methods of inquiry are as follows:

  • Document analysis (main legislative documents, school documents)
  • Budgetary analysis (the analysis of the redistribution of public funding at the micro-regional level and the use of EU funding for public service development between 2010-2020)
  • Statistical analysis (mapping the changing geographies of schooling by analysing the National Assessment of Basic Competences and the KIRSTAT educational statistical databases)
  • 20 interviews with key policy actors at the micro-regional level (school and kindergarten principals, mayors, the head of the school district, the local representatives of the churches, pastors and priests, head of social services, representatives of the Roma community)
  • 10 one-to-one interviews with parents (Roma and non-Roma), 4 focus group interviews with parents attending church schools