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Switzerland
P O P U L A T I O N 7,870,134
C H R I S T I A N 72.1 percent
M U S L I M 4.5 percent
N O T A F F I L I A T E D 20.1 percent
O T H E R 3.3 percent

Country Overview
INTRODUCTION Switzerland is a small, mountainous
country in western Europe with a strong Christian tradition and an increasingly secular population. Bordered by
Germany to the north, Liechtenstein and Austria to the
east, Italy to the south, and France to the west, Switzerland
consists of 26 cantons, or states, and is officially known as
the Swiss Confederation. The landscape is dominated by
the Alps mountain range. Switzerland is a multicultural
country with four national languagesFrench, German,
Italian, and Romansh. Its total land area is 15,443 square
miles (39,997 square kilometers).

Christianity arrived in the territory of contemporary


Switzerland as early as the fourth century CE. For the
Worldmark Encyclopedia of Religious Practices, 2nd Edition

next 1,200 years, until the Protestant Reformation of


the 16th century, Roman Catholicism predominated.
The Reformationa religious and political movement
in western Europe whose aim was to reform certain
practices of the Catholic Church and to make the church
more accessible to all people, not just the privileged or
wealthydivided the Swiss people. Many urban areas
adopted Protestantism, while most rural cantons
remained Catholic. Switzerland, which had first been
organized as a federation of rural areas (Landschaften) and
cities in the 13th century, adopted a new federal constitution in 1848 and was united as a liberal, federal state
based on individual and economic freedom. Due to its
liberal foundations, its relatively early industrialization,
and its neutrality during both world wars, Switzerland in
the early 21st century enjoys high levels of personal
income and social security. This prosperity has led to
widespread secularism (religious indifference or rejection
of religion), as is the case in comparable European
countries such as France and Sweden, and has made
Switzerland an attractive destination for immigrants
and asylum seekers. As immigrants are increasingly
from non-Christian countries, immigration has continually transformed and increasingly diversified the Swiss
religious landscape.
While Christianity remains predominant in
Switzerland, the Swiss population has become increasingly secular and multireligious. Even among Swiss
Christians, there is much diversity; in 2010 almost 39
percent were Roman Catholic and 28 percent were
Reformed (Protestant), with the rest belonging to
smaller Christian denominations. As waves of immigrants arrived in the 20th and early 21st centuries, new
faiths arrived and took root in Switzerland. The Muslim
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population, in particular, has grown substantially. The


percentage of people with no religious affiliation has also
increased significantly, up to 20.1 percent in 2010.
Modern society and its secularizing values have influenced all religious communities, most often in a similar
way; the new generations distance themselves from a
collective and ritualized religion in favor of a more
individualized and reflexive form. Access to a wide
range of spiritualities continues to increase, causing people to explore such options as astrology, mediums, cartomancy (fortune-telling using a deck of cards), therapies
with stones and plants, and clairvoyance. Within this
diversity, however, reactive and sometimes fundamentalist religious trends have also appeared.
RELIGIOUS TOLERANCE In Switzerland state activity
occurs on three levels: federal, cantonal, and communal.
The Swiss constitution guarantees freedom of worship
and prohibits discrimination on the grounds of religion.
Thus, the state guarantees freedom of conscience and
maintains a neutral religious viewpoint. It is the cantons
that regulate the relationship between religious communities and the state. Each canton has explained this relationship in its own way, as defined by its individual
cantonal history, constitution, and laws. Thus, there are
26 different manners of regulating the relationship
between religion and government. This model of local
control results, in part, from the Sonderbund War, a
Swiss civil war between Catholics and Protestants in
1847. Soon after the conflicts end, in 1848, the
Catholic and Reformed cantons were united in the modern Swiss state, a union premised on allowing individual
cantons independence regarding religious matters.
In most cantons only three denominations (Roman
Catholic, Reformed, and Christ Catholic) are recognized
as public institutions, which gives them certain privileges
(for example, the ability to raise a church tax or to teach
in schools). These privileges are considered by some to be
a form of discrimination against minority religions, and
in some cantons, such as Geneva and Neuchatel, a deep
separation exists between the churches and the state.
Other cantons have allowed minority religions a form
of public recognition, with the form and extent of this
recognition varying from canton to canton. Typically,
however, minority churches are not afforded the same
status as the three main churches. For example, even in
cantons where minority faiths are publicly recognized,
the canton typically collects and refunds church tax only
for the Roman Catholic, Reformed, and Christ Catholic
churches. In the early 21st century, efforts by religious

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minorities, especially Islamic communities, to be recognized have led numerous cantons to reexamine the relationship between religion and the state.
While the many traditional stereotypes of the two
large denominations (Roman Catholic and Reformed)
have in the late 20th and early 21st centuries virtually
vanished in Swiss society, certain prejudices against nonChristian religions have arisen. Xenophobia (fear and
distrust of foreigners or outsiders) focuses especially on
Islam. Because nearly 70 percent of Muslims living in
Switzerland do not have Swiss nationality, they are subject to restrictive laws for foreigners. These laws concern
in particular asylum seekers, naturalization proceedings,
the right to family reunification, and access to the labor
market. In 2007 a constitutional amendment banning the
construction of minarets (towers that typically adorn
mosques) was proposed. In a 2009 referendum the
Swiss population approved the ban, thereby affirming a
popular desire to curb the increasing prominence of
Islam in Switzerland.
It is also not uncommon for the Swiss people to
stereotype and discriminate against Hindus and Jews.
Though anti-Semitism is forbidden by law and is not
tolerated in public, attitudes toward Jews are sometimes
unfavorable. Anti-Semitism based on religious grounds
seems to be waning, but a new anti-Zionism (opposition
to the State of Israel) is rising. One cause of this antiZionism is criticism of how Israel has handled its longstanding conflict with the Palestinians; another is backlash
over the pressure Jewish groups put on Swiss banks in the
1990s regarding their actions during and after World War
II (193945), such as hiding the deposits of Holocaust
victims. There is also a popular and media distrust of
evangelical communities, whose missionary activities and
conservative values are often judged harshly.

Major Religion
CHRISTIANITY
DATE OF ORIGIN Fourth century CE
NUMBER OF FOLLOWERS 5.7 million

HISTORY Christianity first began to appear in


Switzerland in the fourth century CE. The area that
today makes up western Switzerland was Christianized
during the sixth century; the Christianization of the

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Alamans (an alliance of Germanic tribes) in the east of


present-day Switzerland took place in the following
centuries. In 612 the Irish Catholic monk Gallus settled
in Switzerland, leading to the foundation, in 720, of the
monastery of Saint Gallen, which gave its name to the
city and canton of the same name.
At the beginning of the 16th century, Ulrich
Zwingli (14841531), a priest at the prominent
Zurich church Grossmunster, brought the Reformation
to Switzerland and gave birth to the Reformed Church,
which offered a more radical faiththat is, it went even
further in desacralizing Christianity, or divesting it of its
sacred characterthan the Lutheran faith that had
arrived from Germany in the first decades of the 1500s.
In 1523 the canton of Zurich adopted the Reformation,
and two years later Zurich authorities abolished the
Catholic Mass as well as monastic life in the canton.
Several other cities, including Basel, Bern, Lausanne, and
Neuchatel, followed Zwinglis Reformation. Thanks in
large part to Zwinglis efforts to secure the support of the
government, Zurich became an important center of the
Reformation. In 1536 the French-born reformer John
Calvin (15091564) started to preach in Geneva. His
teaching had a worldwide impact. In response to the
Reformation in Zurich, the Anabaptist movement
under the leadership of Konrad Grebel (14981526)
was born. The Anabaptistswho believed in separation
of church and state, practiced adult baptism, and
opposed warwere fiercely persecuted. Many immigrated to the United States. Elements of the Baptist,
Quaker, and Mennonite faiths can be traced to the
Anabaptist movement.
The Reformation was largely an affair of the cities
and the areas they dominated. Rural areas remained
Catholic and were able to fortify their beliefs and their
attachment to Rome during the Counter-Reformation (a
Catholic resurgence that lasted from 1560 to 1648).
Reformed cities and Catholic rural areas of the Swiss
federation were to be locked in a constant state of tension
during the following centuries, leading sometimes to
war. However, most of the interreligious conflicts were
peacefully resolved by legal means, and, on the whole,
Switzerlands status as a biconfessional federation
(accepting of both the Reformed and Catholic churches)
was accepted.
The 18th century marked a period of appeasement
in the conflicts between Catholics and Protestants, and
religious differences and intolerance progressively diminished. The ideas of the European Enlightenment, which
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focused on reason and scientific rationalism, resulted in a


relaxation of tensions, at least among the educated and
upper social classes. The Enlightenment affirmed the
sovereignty of individual reason in stances relative to
truth and error. This led to exchanges of ideas between
the elites of the two denominations. However, after the
period of the Enlightenment and Pietism (a Lutheran
movement of Protestant renewal), the Swiss federation
was shaken in 1847 by yet another confessional war, the
Sonderbund War (Sonderbundskrieg).
The Sonderbund War was born of tensions between
the predominantly Reformed urban cantons, which
favored a stronger central government, and the predominantly Catholic rural cantons, which favored maintaining
the existing federal constitution. The Reformed faction
was victorious, and in 1848 a new national constitution
was signed, uniting the Catholic and Reformed cantons
and creating a stronger central government. Although the
individual cantons had autonomy regarding religious matters, the newly created Swiss federal state was hostile
toward several aspects of Catholicism. New constitutional
articles limited religious freedom and the right to freedom
of expression. They were primarily intended to limit the
influence of Catholicism in favor of radical Protestantism.
For example, article 51 prohibited the Society of Jesus and
article 52 prohibited the foundation and the restoration of
convents. These revisions led to the rupture of diplomatic
relations between Switzerland and the Holy Seethe seat
of government of the Roman Catholic Churchin 1874.
Thus the Catholics inaugurated new institutions to serve
the Catholic community exclusively. This increasingly
independent countersociety has been called the Catholic
milieu.
Over time Catholic migration to the Reformed,
industrialized cantons led to a mix of denominations
and an appeasement of conflicts. In 1875 the Christ
Catholic Church split from the Roman Catholic Church
in reaction to the outcome of the First Vatican Council
(1870)in particular, in reaction to the councils proclamation of the dogma of papal infallibility, that is, that
the pope cannot err when defining a doctrine of Christian faith or morals. In early 21st-century Switzerland,
the Christ Catholic Church is recognized as being equal
in legal standing to the Roman Catholic and Protestant
Churches. It counts about 13,000 members throughout
the country.
After World War II the relationship between Swiss
Protestants and Catholics improved. This was largely
because of the democratic dynamics of the Swiss federal
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state and the Second Vatican Council (196265), which


marked the opening of the Catholic Church to the
modern world and to contemporary social, cultural, and
religious diversity. Similarly, the differences between the
positive, liberal, and religious-social movements inside
Protestantism were declining.
In modern society the Protestant and Catholic
churches are witnessing a decline in traditional belief,
attendance at worship services, and unquestioned
denominational identity. On the other hand, there has
been a relative rise in Switzerland of evangelical free
churches (churches that are independent of the state
and whose members belong to the group by individual
decision), Catholic movements, new religious movements, and people with no religious affiliation.
The most important
early religious leader in Switzerland was Niklaus von
Flue (14171487). He was a Catholic eremite (recluse)
with political influence who was able to bring peace to
the Swiss federation at the time. Canonized in 1947, he is
the patron saint of Switzerland.
EARLY AND MODERN LEADERS

The major leaders of the Protestant Reformation in


Switzerland were Ulrich Zwingli, Heinrich Bullinger
(15041575), and John Calvin. Zwingli, influenced by
scholasticism and the views of Dutch Renaissance
scholar and humanist Erasmus of Rotterdam (1466
1536), began in 1522 to discard whatever could not be
legitimized biblically. Saints images, monasteries, processions, sacred music, Catholic confirmation, and the
order of the Massall of this was abolished on Zwinglis
recommendation. In addition, Communion was given
much less importance than the sermon and was now
held only four times a year. Especially important was
Zwinglis symbolic view of Communion: bread and wine
were to be understood only as symbols of the body and
blood of Christ. On this he had an unresolvable dispute
with Martin Luther (14831546), founder of
Lutheranism, who argued that the body and blood of
Christ were actually present in Communion. Bullinger, a
friend and successor of Zwinglis in Zurich, was of
international importance in the development of
European Protestantism. One of Bullingers many
achievements was that, together with Calvin, he managed
to reconcile Zwinglianism and Calvinism, a Protestant
theological school of thought that is known for the
doctrines of predestination and total depravity. It teaches
that man became the slave of sin after the Fall, unable to
accept salvation even when it was offered.
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John Calvin
Born on July 10, 1509, at Noyon in northern
France, John Calvin was, along with Ulrich Zwingli,
the originator of the second great branch of Protestantism (after the Lutheran tradition): the Reformed
Church. The initiator of a current of theological
thought that was later called Calvinism, Calvin took
a leading part in the Reformation of Switzerland. His
influence began to be felt in 1541, during his second
stay in the city of Geneva. Through his works and his
social, political, and theological commitment, Calvin
gave the Reformation movement its first systematization of thought, which enabled the reforming current
to solidify and allowed the new churches to organize.
Calvin is a controversial figure in Swiss religious
history. For some, he is considered responsible for the
narrow biblical moralism and strict conceptions that
define certain Protestant churches. Others credit
Calvins religious reforms with opening the door to
capitalism and modern political and social progress.
He also indisputably enabled the ideas of the Reformation to gain an unprecedented geographical expansion. Calvinism profoundly marked the Protestant
churches established in Switzerland, France, Holland,
andthrough John Knox (15131572)Scotland.
Calvin died in Geneva in 1564.

Calvin went to Geneva in 1536 and soon started to


reform the church. In his view the public life of the cities
(politics, economy, and education), as well as the private
lives of the citizens, had to be reorganized in a way
prescribed by the Bible. Individuals who would not
accept this order (sinners) were admonished and
excluded from Communion or punished more severely
still. Calvins Geneva became the center of the second
wave of the Reformation in Europe.
Important leaders on the pietist and evangelical side
were German-born Christian Friedrich Spittler (1782
1867) and French-born Marcel Lefebvre (19051991).
Spittler founded many missionary and social institutions,
among them the Pilgermission Saint Chrischona in Basel.
Lefebvre stood in opposition to the Second Vatican
Council. In 1970 he founded the Society of Saint Pius
X and the International Seminary of Econe, created to
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train seminarians for the priesthood. He was excommunicated in 1988 for having consecrated four bishops
without the approval of Rome. The Society of Saint
Pius X is headquartered in Switzerland and is present
in 64 countries, with about 600,000 faithful.
The major
religious leaders of the Protestant Reformation in
SwitzerlandZwingli, Calvin, and Bullingerwere
also important authors. Significant works of Zwingli
are 67 Schlussreden (67 Proofs), which were published in
152223 and explained his ideas for the reform of the
church, and Commentarius de Vera et Falsa Religione (Commentary on True and False Religion), published in 1525. The
centerpiece of Calvins written work is Institutio Christianae
Religionis (The Institutes of the Christian Religion), the most
important book of the dogmatics of the Reformation
(1536). One of Calvins central theological claims was
his belief in predestination; that is, men are saved by the
grace of God and can themselves do nothing about it.
Good works, therefore, cannot influence the choice of
God; they are, however, necessary to glorify him. Bullinger is recognized for his Confessio Helvetica Posterior (Second
Helvetic Confession), written in 1562 and revised in 1564,
which is one of the most widely accepted confessions of
the Reformed Church.
One of the most important writers of the Enlightenment was Swiss-born Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712
1778), whose influence was felt throughout Europe. He
thought that religion was a matter of natural emotion.
On the Protestant side, Alois Emanuel Biedermann
(18191885), author of The Free Theology (1844) and
other influential texts, was the leading figure of theological liberalism in the Reformed Churcha current that is
still strong in Swiss theological thinking. Karl Barth
(18861968), who reacted to New Protestantism and
theological liberalism by founding dialectical theology
together with othersincluding Friedrich Gogarten
(18871967) and Rudolf Bultmann (18841976)is
one of the most important and prolific theologians of
Protestantism. His best-known works are The Epistle to the
Romans (1933) and the epic 13-volume Church Dogmatics
(published in stages, 193267). As a professor of theology in Germany, Barth cofounded Germanys Bekennende Kirche (Confessing Church) but had to return to
Switzerland, his birthplace, in 1935 because of his resistance to the Nazi regime. The leading thought of his
theology was that a persons knowledge of God depends
completely on the initiative of God. God is thus imagined
to be totally sovereign and superior. On the Catholic

MAJOR THEOLOGIANS AND AUTHORS

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side, Swiss theologian Hans-Urs von Balthasar (1905


1988) was a friend of Barths who observed culture and
Christianity and took an overall ecumenical stance, promoting global Christian cooperation and unity.
Hans Kung (1928 ) is an influential Swiss Catholic
priest, theologian, and educator. Kung is the author of
many works, including Die Kirche (1967; The Church) and
Unfehlbar (1970; Infallible). Many of Kungs works are
controversial, characterized by a critical position toward
the Catholic hierarchy and the supposed infallibility of
the magisterium (the teaching authority of the church).
In 1979 his license to teach theology in the name of the
church was revoked, though he was not defrocked. He
works assiduously for interreligious cooperation and for
peace and development in Africa, Asia, and Central and
South America.
For Swiss
Catholics and Protestants the church is the place of worship, although attendance has been on the decline for both.
Swiss Protestantism is reluctant to give too much importance to churches or so-called holy places. For historical
reasons, however, mention should be made of the two
formerly Catholic churches where the most prominent
Reformers taught and which were converted into important
Protestant houses of worship: the Grossmunster in Zurich,
where Zwingli catalyzed the Swiss Reformation, and the
Cathedrale Saint Pierre in Geneva, where Calvin preached
after moving to Switzerland.
HOUSES OF WORSHIP AND HOLY PLACES

On the Catholic side, there are several places of


pilgrimage. The most important one is the internationally renowned Benedictine monastery at Einsiedeln,
which was founded in the 10th century in the canton
of Schwyz. Legend has it that the chapel was consecrated
in 948 by Christ himself. More than one million people
per year pilgrimage to Einsiedeln, where they worship
especially the statue of a black Madonna. The
Jakobswega major route of Saint Jamess Way, an
important pilgrimage to the city of Santiago de
Compostela in Spainleads through Einsiedeln.
Another important place of pilgrimage is Flueli Ranft
in the canton of Obwalden, where Saint Niklaus von
Flue (Brother Klaus) lived in the 15th century. A third
noteworthy place is the monastery of Saint Gallen,
founded in the seventh century and famous for its vast
library of antique books.
In Christianity it is traditionally
God, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost who are
WHAT IS SACRED

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celebrated by a holiday. The Reformed Church repudiates this practice and only celebrates the main Christian
events (Christmas, Easter, Pentecost, and Ascension).
Depending on whether Roman Catholic or Reformed
tradition is followed, different holidays are respected in
different cantons. The Federal Fast Day, instituted in
1832, was decreed a day of action, grace, repentance,
and prayer for the whole Swiss confederation. Fixed at
the third Sunday in September, it is a holiday in all the
cantons. The Federal Fast Day played an important role
in the new federal state born in 1848 by consolidating
the religious and social peace. In the early 21st century,
the cantons of Vaud, Neuchatel, and part of the Bernese
Jura have a day off on the Monday following the event.
Some cantons, including Vaud, Neuchatel, Gene`ve, and
Fribourg, perpetuate the tradition of serving plum tart to
commemorate Federal Fast Day. Originally it was eaten
as lunch; in modern times it is more often served as
dessert.

Among the major pilgrimage sites in Switzerland is Einsiedeln, home of the


statue of the Black Madonna G U I C H A O U A / A L A M Y .

considered sacred, as well as anything that is in close


contact with this Trinitarian God. In the Catholic
Church, the tradition of veneration of the saints is still
to be found, with Einsiedeln as the most important place
of pilgrimage. In contrast, the Reformed Church, following the ministries of Zwingli and Calvin, abandoned the
veneration of the saints, their pictures, and relics as nonbiblical. Among those in the evangelical free churches, a
kind of sacredness is found in the Christian way of life.
The members of charismatic Protestant churches give
central importance to faith and to the gifts of the Holy
Spirit: gifts of prophecy, healing, miracle working, and
speaking in tongues.
The Roman Catholic
Church in Switzerland officially adheres to the traditional church calendar, with a large number of different
saints days, feasts, and special occasions. Each locality,
region, or canton has a patron saint, each of whom is

HOLIDAYS AND FESTIVALS

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The major Christian holidays are the rare occasions


on which the Catholic and Reformed churches are full
of worshippers, because going to religious service is
perceived by many as being part of the holiday. In
Swiss society Christmas is regarded as the most important Christian holiday, though its importance is due more
to its popular rites (for example, the Christmas tree,
Advent calendars, and exchanging of gifts) than its
Christian rites.
MODE OF DRESS Traditionally, the Catholic clergy
was required to wear clothing that conformed to church
law. However, those laws have begun to change, and
clerical dress codes have become less formal. The daily
use of the cassock (an ankle-length robe worn by Roman
Catholic and Anglican clergy) is no longer compulsory in
public. Often, priests simply wear the Roman collar or
civilian clothing with the addition of a cross. The cassock
or full-length ecclesiastical clothing and the prescribed
ornaments remain compulsory during services.

During worship pastors of the Reformed Church


traditionally wore a plain black robe accompanied by a
white collar extended by two white strips (representing
the Old and New Testaments). In modern Switzerland,
however, the pastors are allowed great freedom regarding
the use of the robe. They can wear it in white or black
and can also choose to officiate in civilian clothing.
Among the lay Christian population, modern clothing is prominent, as in all other countries of western
Europe. While there is neither a type of clothing that is
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especially Christian nor one that is especially Swiss, attire


that is too worldly (for example, short skirts or body
piercings) is often not tolerated within conservative and
fundamentalist Christian communities.
The only important dietary
practice in Swiss Christianity is the ascetic rite of fasting,
which was adopted from Judaism. Traditionally, fasting
is expected on a Friday. Only a minority of Roman
Catholics in modern Switzerland adhere to fasting
rules, however. Those who do increasingly see fasting
not only as an act of penitence but also as one of social,
medical, or political importance. Indeed, many consider
it an act of solidarity with the poor around the world.
The Reformed Church traditionally did not emphasize
fasting. Zwingli, in fact, started his Reformation by
beginning a dispute on fasting with the Catholic Church.
In the Reformed Church in the early 21st century, however, fasting seems to be gaining in importance for at least
some members of the Reformed Church. They are drawn
to fasting because it gives a new awareness of the body.
DIETARY PRACTICES

The central activity in both the Reformed


and the Roman Catholic churches remains the religious
service, although worship services are frequented less and
less. Only 3 percent of Reformed and 4 percent of
Roman Catholic members go to church every Sunday.
More than half of the participants are over 60 years old.

RITUALS

In the Protestant free churches, however, some 85 percent of members attend church service every Sunday.
About 40 percent of the participants are between 35
and 60 years old, and 33 percent are between 18 and 35.
Reformed worship is practiced in temples, which are
not considered to be sacred buildings. As a rule,
Reformed religious services are not very well attended,
except during major holidays such as Christmas or Easter.
While the rates of baptism, church attendance, and
religious marriage are declining among the general population, church funerals remain important for the Swiss
population.
Religious festivals are very popular in some areas.
The procession of Holy Week, which takes place in
Mendrisio on Holy Thursday and Friday, brings together
a large number of members of various brotherhoods
(more than 600) and spectators. In Savie`se Corpus
Christi is celebrated with an important procession
though the village, followed by the celebration of a
great Mass.
The practice of pilgrimage is also present in Switzerland. The Church of the Convent Einsiedeln in the canton
of Schwyz alone hosts more than 500,000 pilgrims annually. Many dioceses organize pilgrimages to Lourdes,
France, or Santiago de Compostela, Spain. Pilgrims flock
to a multitude of countryside buildings or churches dedicated to Mary or various saints.

The sanctuary of Madonna del Sasso, overlooking Lake Maggiore at Locarno, Switzerland, is a popular destination for
pilgrimages. M A R Y 4 1 6 / S H U T T E R S T O C K . C O M .
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RITES OF PASSAGE Baptism, confirmation, and First


Communion represent a persons passage toward being a
full Christian. In modern Switzerland child baptism is
common in both the Reformed and the Roman Catholic
Churches. In the Protestant free churches baptism of
adults is more common, often presupposing a confession
of faith. More than 96 percent of all Christians living in
Switzerland claim to be baptized, with only a small
minority baptized as adults.
Confirmation (Firmung) in the Roman Catholic
Church is considered to be a sacrament, or sacred Christian rite, and is administered at the age of 12 or 13. A
new movement in the Catholic Church promotes confirmation after the age of 17 or 18. Confirmation in the
Reformed Church is preceded by confirmation classes of
normally one or two years and is usually performed at age
15 or 16. It is not a sacrament but is regarded as a means
of giving the individual enough knowledge to be a full
Christian and as an act of public worship for the
individual.
Communion is practiced in Roman Catholicism at
every Mass. First Communion, which in Switzerland
must be preceded by confession, is taken at the age of
nine or 10. In the Reformed Church, Communion is
performed less often; the frequency varies (in the Zwingli
tradition, Communion took place only four times a year).
Children and adults who have not been baptized are now
often allowed to take Communion in the Reformed
Church.
Two further rites of passage are marriage and funerals. In modern Switzerland marriage is a matter of civil
right. Marriage in a church can follow but is not necessary. The number of married people in Switzerland is
dropping, and the percentage of Christian marriages
among marriages in general is also falling. There is also
a trend toward new, personalized elements in Christian
wedding ceremonies, where, for example, bride and
groom recite speeches or poems that they have selected.
Church funerals are still much the norm. Here, too,
is a trend toward deinstitutionalization and individualization. The number of nonchurch rituals is rising; for
example, a member of the family may choose to say a few
words in commemoration of the deceased.
Even as individuals become decreasingly religious,
they do not necessarily want to give up traditional rites of
passage. As a result, various secular associations and
businesses offer individualized ceremonies. Secular ritual
specialists offer help to those who would like to organize
a ritual without religious aspects. They provide advice

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about the organization of ceremony, such as place, texts,


and music. There is even a school that teaches these new
rites of passage.
As of 2013 there were 1,750 Catholic
and 1,094 Reformed local communities (congregations)
in Switzerland. For theological as well as financial and
legitimating reasons, the Roman Catholic and Reformed
churches draw no clear boundaries between members and
nonmembers. Instead, the churches are open to anybody
wishing to join their activities, and they try to propagate
religious dialogue and refrain from internal mission.
Thus, they can argue that they provide a service to the
whole society, which means they should continue to be
subsidized by the state.

MEMBERSHIP

Although most Swiss are born into one of these two


major churches, for many contemporary Swiss people
this inherited religious affiliation has little significance,
as religious knowledge and enthusiasm are rarely handed
down to the new generations. This leads to considerable
disaffiliation. Another important factor in declining
membership is that members must pay a church tax,
which dissuades many from maintaining their involvement in their inherited faith. Christian faith and religious
practice play a fundamental role in the lives of only 15
percent of Reformed members and 23 percent of
Catholics. The majority are distanced members for
whom religion is a part of life only on certain occasions,
such as holidays.
Protestant free churches and certain Catholic movements, on the other hand, typically accept only members
who have experienced a personal conversion and who
act according to a fairly strict moral code. For 85 percent
of the members of the evangelical churches, religion plays
a major role in their life. Communal life remains very
important, and the connections between members are
strong. Such groups are therefore more closed and are
usually active when it comes to missionary activities.
Evangelization (spreading the Word of the Christian
Gospel) is a central aspect of their faith. Modern means
of communication are widely used, and community activities are diversified to attract new members, especially
young people. These churches develop comprehensive
Web sites and are present in social media. The worship
services are dynamic and sometimes look like rock concerts. The members of these churches can also develop
their talents, such as in music, arts, or sports, in various
small groups.
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SOCIAL JUSTICE Although the Swiss churches provided aid to refugees who managed to get into the
country during World War II, they stayed mostly silent
regarding the persecution and murder of the Jews in
Germany and did not protest against the restrictive
Swiss policy of admission for Jewish refugees. In modern
Switzerland several Reformed and Roman Catholic
organizations focus on helping the needy in poor countries. Especially important are the efforts to aid immigrants and asylum seekers.

The national churches provide a multitude of social


benefits. The primary targets for their services are not
only church members but anyone in need of and seeking
support. For most of the Swiss population, the value,
legitimacy, and significance of the recognized churches
lie precisely in their extensive social commitment. Swiss
Interchurch Aid (Entraide Protestante Suisse), which
was founded in 1946 to provide emergency aid and
help combat the causes of famine, injustice, and social
poverty, is the cooperative work of the Federation of
Swiss Protestant Churches (Federation des Eglises
Protestantes de Suisse). On the Catholic side, the Swiss
Catholic Lenten Fund also works among the needy of
Switzerland and in countries of the Global South. The
various social aid associations and foundations collaborate among themselves and with secular and state associations, and the religious dimension of these groups is
decreasing in importance. The Protestant free churches
also work to improve social justice; in contrast to the
large churches, however, they combine their aid more
clearly with an evangelizing intent.
Interconfessional marriage between
Reformed Protestants and Roman Catholics has risen
steadily since the 1960s. Whereas previously it was
generally socially undesirable to marry a person belonging to a different confession, in the early 21st century
marriages between members of different Christian confessions or between Christians and the nonreligious are
common.

SOCIAL

LIFE

However, marriages between Christians and members of non-Christian religions are sometimes still seen as
problematic. Christian-Muslim marriage is especially
controversial. As the Islamic population has increased
in Switzerland, though, such marriages are increasingly
common. In response, a number of pastoral aids have
been created to provide guidelines for those wishing to
have a Catholic-Muslim wedding. The Swiss Bishops
Conference offers cards with pastoral guidance for
Worldmark Encyclopedia of Religious Practices, 2nd Edition

priests, deacons, and lay pastoral agents who want to


perform a Catholic-Muslim wedding. They address the
most important elements of Muslim marriage and practical issues related to marriage between Catholics and
Muslims (for example, the question of children and their
education).
Marriage is considered in the Catholic Church to be
the basis of social and family harmony and orientated
primarily to procreation. For this reason, even though
there has been increasing acceptance of homosexuality
throughout society, gay marriage is prohibited by the
church. The official view of the Catholic Church also
advocates clerical celibacy. However, since late 2000 the
subject has been under debate, and some bishops have
expressed the wish to ordain married men as priests.
In the 21st century, in most Swiss Protestant
denominations, women can be pastors and the pastors
can be married. In 2012 the synod (a governing council
convened to rule on doctrinal matters) of the Evangelical
Reformed Church of the canton of Vaud consented to
establish a rite for homosexual couples in a registered
partnership. As of 2013, 10 Protestant denominations in
Switzerland provide a rite for homosexual couples.
Historically, Christianity defends a traditional conception of the family and gender roles; that is, the man
has a leadership role and makes decisions, and the woman
submits to his authority. In the early 21st century, the
Swiss population questions this traditional assignment of
gender roles, but gender roles in the family have often
remained quite traditional. Men mostly engage in fulltime employment, and women spend more time on
domestic tasks. This situation is not legitimized by
religious arguments but by economic and practical reasons. Among evangelical churches there remains a religiously legitimized and rather traditional distribution of
gender roles. This view is based on a number of biblical
texts.
Historically, the antagonism
between the Reformed Church (based in mostly urban
cantons) and the Roman Catholic Church (based in
mostly rural cantons) was central to politics, resulting
in several wars throughout the centuries. Cantons differ
from one another concerning the way they regulate religion. Total separation of church and state exists in some
cantons (for example, Geneva and Neuchatel), while
close links between the state and officially recognized
religions (usually the Reformed Church and the Roman
Catholic Church) exist in other cantons (for example,

POLITICAL

IMPACT

303

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SWITZERLAND

Vaud and Zurich). In cantons where church and state are


closely associated, a recurring political question is
whether the situation should be changed; in these areas
some have proposed total separation of church and state,
while others would like to expand official recognition
(along with the designation as public institution) to
additional religious groups.
In political, economic, ecological, and social debates,
the leaders of the Swiss Christian community typically
take public stands and offer their opinions, especially on
social issues. In the early 21st century, the Christian
leadership (Catholics and Protestants) has opposed
toughening laws on asylum and immigration and has
spoken out about its opposition to abortion.
One important political party with explicit Roman
Catholic roots is the Christliche Volkspartei (ChristianDemocrat). While the party has emancipated itself on an
ideological level from political Catholicism, its electorate
remains mainly Catholic. The Federal Democratic Union
(UDF) is a political party that defends traditional family
values such as heterosexual marriage, and speaks out
against anything it deems threatening to these values.
Its members regularly engage in anti-abortion protests.
The UDF was fundamental to the ban against building
minarets that the Swiss population passed in a referendum in 2009.
Until the late 20th century, controversial issues in Swiss Christianity revolved
around the antagonism of the two leading denominations
(for example, concerning mixed marriages, acceptance of
baptism, and reception of Catholic bishops). Modern
Swiss Christians face completely different controversies.
Mainstream Christians and churches often have humanitarian goals and speak out for immigrants and asylum
seekers who may suffer from restrictive governmental
policy. Since 1981 the Swiss asylum law has undergone
multiple revisions, leading to a restrictive immigration
situation. For example, in June 2013 the population
accepted the 10th revisionthe removal of the asylum
procedure via the embassiesresulting in asylum seekers
no longer having the possibility to apply for asylum in a
Swiss embassy abroad. They can submit their application
only on the Swiss border or inside Swiss territory.
Antagonists of the churches in these matters are the
political Right and Far Right. Evangelical Christians
(often organized in free churches) and Christians from
the traditional Catholic side oppose homosexuality and

abortion. Their opponents are left-wing parties, homosexual rights groups, and womens rights groups.
Even as religion has become less important for Swiss
individuals, it remains an important subject of debate in
the public arena. In the late 20th and early 21st centuries,
education and training have become areas of controversy.
Some cantons provide a Christian education and courses
oriented to other religions, while others replace denominational teaching with state teaching. Some individuals
coming from the conservative Christian groups question
the Darwinian theory of evolution or the inclusion of
courses on sex education. Several private Christian
schools provide private teaching and homeschooling
that places much emphasis on biblical principles.
CULTURAL IMPACT Whereas Christian tradition and
biblical narratives once substantially influenced
European artistic production, religion has only a minor
impact on modern music, art, and literature in
Switzerland. An exception to the rule is the writer
Friedrich Durrenmatt (19211990), who received an
honorary doctorate from a theological faculty in Zurich
for the theological themes treated in his books.
Switzerland remains a central place in the history of
Protestantism. Zwingli and Calvin greatly contributed
to the international cultural influence of the country of
Switzerland and the cities of Zurich and Geneva, which is
known as the city of Calvin.

CONTROVERSIAL ISSUES

304

Other Religions
The number of people in Switzerland affiliated with
Islam has risen steadily since 1980, when Islam accounted
for just 0.9 percent of the population. In 2010 researchers
estimated that between 340,000 and 400,000 Muslims
lived in Switzerland, which represented 4.5 percent of the
total population. According to researchers, in 2013 only
10 to 15 percent of Muslims in Switzerland actively
practiced their faith. Swiss Muslims can be divided into
five different groups: (1) manual laborers who emigrated
mainly from Yugoslavia and Turkey in the 1970s
and 1980s (plus their children, or, the second generation
of Muslims, often born in Switzerland); (2) asylum seekers
from Turkey (often Kurds), Iran, and Lebanon; (3) Muslim businesspeople or officials of international organizations; (4) immigrants (often students) from the Maghreb
(Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia); and (5) Swiss converts
to Islam.
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The first two of these groups account for more than


75 percent of the Muslim presence in Switzerland. In
2010 some 42 percent of Muslims in Switzerland were
from the former Yugoslavia, 14 percent of Muslims were
Turks, and 9.7 percent were from countries in Africa, the
Middle East, and Asia. Most were Sunnis, followed by
much smaller numbers of Shiites, Alawites, and others.
More than half of the Muslim population (57 percent
from the Balkans and 12 percent Swiss) residing in
Switzerland thus has roots in Europe. There were
about 350 Islamic associations in Switzerland as of the
early 21st century. Many of these associations focus more
on ethnic, national, and cultural affiliation than on purely
religious matters. On the other hand, some extremist
organizations, such as the Islamic Central Council of
Switzerland, founded in 2009, militate resolutely for
Islamic conservative values such as gender segregation
and veil wearing. However, these organizations do not
have much support, and their influence remains small.
The vast majority of imams and Muslim leaders of
cultural association in Switzerland distance themselves
clearly from these groups.
Among much of the mainstream Swiss population,
there is a pervasive lack of tolerance toward Muslims. As
a result, in order to avoid attracting attention, most
mosques are not easily recognized from the outside;
they are located in houses or office buildings that have
been rebuilt to fit the needs of the respective communities. In Switzerland only two large mosques are easily
recognizable as such: one in Zurich (built in 1963 and
belonging to the Ahmadayyia movement) and one in
Geneva (built in 1978 and financed by Saudi Arabia).
Muslims have encountered certain impediments to their
religious practice in Switzerland. For example, they are
not afforded time off for daily prayers or Islamic feasts,
there are prohibitions regulating and limiting ritual
Islamic slaughter, and there is little acceptance of the
hijab, or traditional female head scarf. The most significant tension between Switzerlands Christian and
Muslim populations is over the visibility of Islamic
symbols and rites in the public space. Many Swiss perceive such visibility as a threat to traditional Swiss values.
This tension has given rise to numerous political and
social debates in the media, and Muslim building projects
are the regular subject of protest. The presence of hijabs
has also provoked much tension and debate. In addition,
while certain public schools with enough interest from
Muslim students have incorporated courses in Islamic
religion into their curricula, right-wing political parties as
Worldmark Encyclopedia of Religious Practices, 2nd Edition

well as certain evangelical groups have opposed such


teachings in schools.
The majority of Muslims in Switzerland do not have
Swiss citizenship and have, on average, lower education
and professional status than the average Swiss citizen.
With the increasing growth and age of the Muslim
community and with the appearance of the second generation, a political conscience is emerging among
Muslims, who are increasingly demanding their rights.
Through a network of associations and federations, the
Muslim community has entered a dialogue with the state
and the mainstream population. This dialogue has helped
Swiss Muslims confront one of the weightiest problems:
the perception that they are unwilling to engage in social
discourse. As Muslims advocate for public recognition
equal to that of the national churches, some cantons have
begun to examine this possibility. While no such recognition had yet been achieved as of the early 21st century,
Swiss society has slowly begun to accept Islamic religion
and culture as part of the national religious landscape.
Of the Hindus living in Switzerland, 8,000 to
10,000 are from India, almost 40,000 are from Sri
Lanka, and a few thousand are converted Swiss.
Hinduism took root in Switzerland in the latter part of
the 20th century. In the first half of the 20th century,
almost no Hindus were to be found in the country.
Contemporary Hindu presence is chiefly the result of
three factors. First, there was significant immigration of
Tamils (people of Indian origin living in Sri Lanka) in
the 1990s, mainly as asylum seekers fleeing ethnic conflict. Second, Hindu gurus (religious teachers and spiritual guides) have been able to build small groups of
converts, often of Swiss nationality. This process started
in the 1950s and has continued, with notable gurus
including Paramahansa Yogananda (18931952),
Swami Sivananda (18871963), and Satya Sai Baba
(19262011). Third, the teaching of yoga, often without incorporating the spiritual background of the technique, has been quite successful and has led some
practitioners to develop deeper interest in Hindu spirituality. The first Swiss school of yoga was opened in
1948 in Zurich by Selvarajan Yesudian (19161988).
Hundreds of yoga groups had sprung up in Switzerland
by the early 21st century, as well as several professional
schools that train yoga teachers. Yoga as a healthy activity is not subject to intolerance, except from certain
evangelical Christians who have some reservations
about the practices origins in the Hindu faith.
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SWITZERLAND

Tamil immigrants are relatively well respected, yet


their religious affiliation is not even known to most
Swiss. Since the end of the 1980s, the Tamil Hindus
have created no less than 20 Hindu temples and many
Tamil cultural associations in Switzerland. These places
of worship are mostly located in former industrial buildings that do not look like sacred constructions. Tamil
Hindus have partly adapted their religious practices to
the conventions of Swiss life; for example, shortening the
length of the religious and cultural celebrations and
moving their worship times to the weekend.
Buddhism was introduced in Switzerland in 1910
when German-born Buddhist monk Nyanatiloka (born
Anton W. F. Gueth; 18781957) went to live in
Switzerland for two years. In 1942 Max Ladner
(18891963) founded the Buddhistische Gemeinschaft
Zurich and published the Buddhist magazine Einsicht. A
breakthrough occurred in the late 1960s and 1970s,
when a large number of Buddhist centers were opened.
Buddhism is found mostly in urban areas. Important
Buddhist places in Switzerland include the Rabten
Choeling Institute for Higher Tibetan Studies (Mont
Pe`lerin, near Lausanne), the Haus der Besinnung
(Dicken, canton of Saint Gallen), and the Theravada
cloister in Kandersteg (canton of Bern).
Of Switzerlands Buddhist population, about
10,000 are from Thailand (of which 90 percent are
women), nearly 6,000 are from Vietnam, about 4,000
are from Tibet, approximately 2,000 are from Laos and
Cambodia, and 5,000 are Swiss converts. The great
majority of the Buddhists of Asian origin are of Swiss
nationality. The Tibetan (Vajrayana), Theravada, and
Zen Buddhist communities have continued to grow in
the early 21st century, largely through the addition of
Swiss converts.
Judaism is the oldest established non-Christian religion in Switzerland. Jews have lived in Switzerland since
as far back as Roman times. In the Middle Ages (especially after the plague in 1348) Jews were accused of and
persecuted for allegedly poisoning the wells. In 1776 a
federal law was passed that restricted the establishment
of the Jews in Switzerland to the municipality of
Endingen and Lengnau (Surbtal Valley) only, and they
had to wait until 1866 to receive rights equal to those of
non-Jewish Swiss citizens. In the 19th century, Jews from
Surbtal, Germany, and France (especially Alsace) settled
in the bigger cities of Switzerland. At the end of the 19th
century, some 4,000 to 5,000 Jewish refugees emigrated
306

from Russia and Poland, and in the 1950s and 1960s


Jews emigrated from northern Africa.
The percentage of Jews in Switzerland has been
continuously diminishing since the 1920s. In 1970
there were 21,700 Jews, but by 2010 the Jewish population numbered around 18,000. The reasons for this
decrease are mainly the rising number of mixed marriages
between Jews and non-Jews, the defection (from Judaism) of these couples children, and immigration to Israel.
As of 2013 there were 33 Jewish communities in Switzerland divided among the four distinguishable forms of
contemporary Judaism: Orthodox, Conservative, Liberal,
and Reform. The conditions of membership of the
Orthodox and Conservative Jewish communities are
demanding. For example, they reject the idea of the
equal participation of women in religious life and require
the conversion of non-Jewish spouses. The Liberal and
Reformed Jewish communities, on the other hand, are
actively committed to gender equality and to the social
and religious integration of non-Jewish members.
Whereas the Orthodox and Conservative Jewish communities lost members during the late 20th and early
21st centuries, the Liberal and Reformed communities
have grown. Half of Switzerlands Jewish population
attends synagogue only on special family occasions or
never at all. About three-quarters of Jewish households
are located in or near Switzerlands four largest cities
Zurich, Geneva, Basel, and Bernwhere, consequently,
most synagogues are also found.
In Switzerland, as in other Western countries, there
are various new religious movements, many of which
have a Hindu or Buddhist background. Other new religious movements have roots in Scientology, Rosicrucianism, the Unification Church, and Raelianism. Their
memberships are generally quite small, with less than
0.1 percent of the Swiss population belonging to such
groups.
Switzerlands new religious movements belong, in
part, to the cultic milieu, a loose network of individuals
and groups interested in alternative spirituality. They
consist of members with shared worldviews regarding
such concepts as psychic energy, reincarnation, or vegetarianism and encompassing diverse elements including
astrology, Oriental wisdom, and parapsychology. Few of
these groups were founded in Switzerland. The most
important exception is the spiritist movement Orden
Fiat Lux (Latin for Let There Be Light), which was
founded in Zurich in 1980 by Uriella (Erika
Bertschinger, 1929 ). Another Swiss example is the
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SWITZERLAND

Saint Michaelsvereinigung in Dozwil (in the canton of


Thurgau), a movement with a Catholic background
founded by Paul Kuhn, whose followers believed him
to be the reincarnation of the Apostle Paul. The most
important movement, in regard to size and cultural
impact, is perhaps the Anthroposophical movement,
founded by the Austrian Rudolf Steiner (18611925).
The most notorious of these new religious movements
was the Ordre du Temple Solaire (Order of the Solar
Temple), founded in Geneva in 1984 and based in
Switzerland and Canada. The groups leaders organized
the collective murder and suicide of its members in 1994,
1995, and 1997.
Cultic seekers explore different products or practices,
moving between one therapy and the next or from one
guru to the next. It is not easy to determine the size of the
cultic milieu. In an early 21st-century survey, 9 percent of
people living in Switzerland claimed to be attracted by
holistic and esoteric beliefs and practices. More women
than men support alternative beliefs and practices, and
more than half of those involved in these alternatives
have a higher education. The cultic milieu in Switzerland
is visible through the numerous esoteric bookshops, an
esoteric fair (Lebenskraft, which takes place in Zurich
every March), and two esoteric magazines (Recto-Verseau
and Spuren). Both Hinduism and Buddhism are incorrectly
perceived by many as belonging to this cultic milieu.
The number of people without any religious affiliation has risen steadily. Most have left one of the two
large Christian churches for reasons that include the lack
of a feeling of membership, lack of faith, a critical
attitude toward church positions on public issues, and
the wish to avoid church tax. People with no religious
affiliation are mostly young, highly educated, and on the
political Left. Despite their assertion that they are without affiliation, they are among the most interested when
it comes to products or therapies from the cultic milieu.
Jo rg Stolz
Revised by Emmanuelle Buchard and Jo rg Stolz

See Also Vol. 1: Christianity, Reformed Christianity, Roman


Catholicism

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