Q: How did Slovaks become Lutheran?
Unlike most Slavic nations, the Slovaks have been pluralistic in their religious life.
Self-declared religion, plurality by contemporary municipalities: yellow - Roman Catholic; blue - Lutheran; lighter brown - Greek Catholic (Byzantine); green - Calvinist; darker brown - Eastern Orthodox. Adapted from Štefan Poláčik, Atlas der Religionen [...] in der Slowakei.
During the Reformation in the 16th century, not only Slovakia (usually called the Upper Country in the Kingdom of Hungary), but most of Central Europe became Protestant. Martin Luther’s reforms spread among the Slovaks and Germans, while the acceptance of John Calvin’s reforms was more usual among the Hungarians. A translation of Luther’s Catechism published in Bardejov, eastern Slovakia, in 1581 became the Slovaks' first printed book.
in Habsburg Hungary [i.e., mostly today’s Slovakia and western Hungary], hardly a tenth of the population are Catholics, the rest are of the Lutheran, or Calvinist persuasion.
During the Counter-Reformation, most of the parishes were made Roman Catholic. But the Kingdom of Hungary remained somewhat more tolerant of non-Catholic Christians than the rest of the Habsburg lands for a host of reasons. Essentially, the noblemen of all ranks were not restricted in their faith, and the religion of the nobleman, but also his attitude, decided about the religion of the farmers on his lands. As a result, the Protestant minority remained substantially more significant among the Slovaks than among the Czechs before they were joined in one country in 1918. (That is also why there was some influx of “political refugees” – Protestants – from among the Czechs during the early stages of the Counter-Reformation, which the Habsburgs started earlier and more forcefully outside of the Kingdom of Hungary.)
1781 Religious equality
After Emperor Joseph II lifted most restrictions on the Protestant Churches in all the Habsburg lands in 1781, dozens of Slovak Lutheran ministers from the Kingdom of Hungary embarked on missions to the Czech-speaking areas of the monarchy, aware that Protestantism had been all but eradicated there. Lutherans became the dominant group among the Slovak activists in the 19th century.
According to the 1930 census, 16.7% of the population of Slovakia were members of a Protestant Church, including 12% Slovak Lutherans, 0.04% German Lutherans and 4.4% Calvinists (another 71.6% were Roman Catholics)
Communist statistics did not register religion, except in 1950 when 12.9% said they were members of the Lutheran Church and another 3.2% of the Calvinist Church.
The number of people who declare a religion has dropped since then. In the second post-communist census in 2011, 5.9% of the population said they were Lutherans (and 1.8% Calvinists; 62% Roman Catholics, 13.4% non-believers, 10.6% no response, 3.8% Greek Catholics — i.e., the Byzantine Church in the U.S., 0.9% Eastern Orthodox). Practised religiosity is much lower, including on major holidays, about two-thirds do not attend Christmas Mass.
For historical reasons (see Counter-Reformation above), members of the largest Churches are not distributed evenly over Slovakia. Some are particularly dominant in certain areas.
There are over 300 municipalities with a Lutheran majority. 25 counties (okres) have a higher-than-average percentage of Lutherans. The former counties are given in parentheses below for historical, as well as current reference. The names, some in existence since the late Middle Ages, are still used in Slovakia to identify regions informally (similar to the use of, e.g., “New England” in the U.S.), but they were abolished as administrative units in 1920. The much smaller counties of 2001 are all named after their seats.
In Central Slovakia they include the counties of:
Liptovský Mikuláš 37% (formerly E. Liptov County)
Martin and Turčianske Teplice 25%-35% (formerly Turiec County)
Rožňava 22% (formerly N.E. Malohont County)
Lučenec 19% (formerly Novohrad County)
Banská Bystrica 17% (formerly N. Zvolen County)
Veľký Krtíš 16% (formerly S.W. Novohrad/S.E. Hont Counties)
Rimavská Sobota 13% (formerly S.W. Malohont County), and more.
In West Slovakia the 2001 counties are:
Nové Mesto nad Váhom 23%
Bánovce nad Bebravou 15%
Pezinok, Trenčín, and Bratislava’s Old Town have a marginally higher percentage of Lutherans too.
In East Slovakia the 2001 counties are:
Vranov nad Topľou 12% (formerly E. Šariš County)
Bardejov 9% (formerly N. Zemplín County)
Poprad 9% (formerly E. Spiš County)