Roma embrace of evangelical Christianity far from mimicry

A strong Pentecostal movement has been growing among the Roma people for more than a decade, but the suspicion still follows the group that they are pursuing this faith for economic gain. A recent study suggests otherwise. The Roma people are believed to have pursued what is called “extrinsic religion” throughout their still mysterious history—adapting to different faiths was a form of mimicry to gain social acceptance. In the journal Religion in Society in East and Central Europe (December), Hungarian researchers Gellert Gyetvai and Zoltan Rajki look at history and their own research on Hungarian Roma and find that the Romany evangelicalism “produces radical changes in Roma lifestyle and thinking, rooted in intrinsic religiosity.” A popular historical view is that the Roma have not had a religion for most of their history, but the researchers find that “Romany stories, songs, and most of the myths that can generally be found in ethnographic collections usually have some Christian roots.”

To test this finding, they conducted a study of historical texts and their own survey of Roma churches in Hungary from 2012–2014. They find that early on, there were Roma groups who “were religiously integrated with religiously committed attitudes.” There may have been mimicry, but there was also intrinsic religiosity (believing in a religion for its own sake). The latter tendency was the strongest in their study of 705 Roma Christians in 27 denominations, finding that 91.6 percent of the population prays every day, with little difference between the genders. In contrast, the rate of Hungarians who rarely pray is up to one-third among both genders.  Almost two-thirds (65.5 percent) of Roma respondents say they read the Bible daily compared to only two percent of Hungarians. Based on a social distance scale, where respondents rate how much they allow sacred figures in their lives, more than two-thirds of Roma answered in a deeply religious way, and another 18.6 percent also answered within the favorable category. In an open-ended question about changes in their lives after joining the church, almost 99 percent of Romanies reported some change, especially in the area of lifestyle and behavior (48.9 percent). After their conversion, Romanies distinguish between “good Roma” and “bad Roma,” with the former being converted and the latter unconverted.

(Religion and Society in Central and Eastern Europe,