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Switzerland TravelSwitzerland guide / Religion in Switzerland

Religion in Switzerland

Switzerland, like many western nations has fewer and fewer people who claim allegiance to an organized religion. However, Switzerland has a growing Muslim population as church attendance by Christians is falling
Switzerland, like many western nations has fewer and fewer people who claim allegiance to an organized religion. However, Switzerland has a growing Muslim population as church attendance by Christians is falling. But Swiss leaders continue to emphasize that separation of church and state and religious freedom must not be compromised by the increase in citizens of some faiths. Because Catholic and Protestant Swiss have a common cultural and language base, the arrival of Muslims introduces something very different both religiously and culturally. The question of Muslims building minarets has come up in religious dialogue and in political dialogue. Currently there are two mosques in Switzerland: one in Zurich, and one in Geneva.

Some non-native religions in Switzerland have had easier acceptance into Swiss society than others. In the case of Islam, the matter of putting the construction of minarets to a public vote could become reality, while other non-native religions do not have that same standard applied to them. The city of Wangen in Solothurn, is located very close to the Wat Thai center, where the Buddhist faith in Switzerland is headquartered. A Buddhist temple has also opened in recent years. A commune near Wagen approved plans for construction of a Hindu temple. Yet the construction of Muslim structures is seen as a threat by some Swiss (but by no means a majority). More than half the Muslims in Switzerland are under age 25. Because they are second generation Swiss they are said to be more thoroughly integrated into Swiss society.

The perceived threat of Islam has grown even as Switzerland itself becomes more secular, which may mean that a focus on Islam may have to do more with political strategy than with faith. On the Swiss political stage, right wing politicians from the Swiss People's Party have said that the construction of the Muslim structures would "create more trouble than the [were] worth." The two official national Swiss parties that claim to have religious basis are the Protestant Party and the Federal Democratic Union, which together hold five of the 200 seats in the House of Representatives.

More than 10% of the population of Switzerland claim to have no religious affiliation, a number 60% higher than a decade earlier. They are, in fact the third largest "religious group" behind Protestants and Catholics. Furthermore in a recent census, over 300,000 Swiss (three times more than a decade ago) gave no indication of their religious orientation. Some religious experts say that not claiming a religious orientation does not mean they are non-believers, but rather that they have not yet found a religious outlet to become part of.

This is not to say that Swiss believers are a quiet lot. Pentacostal churches similar to the popular American versions are modern, with cafes, bands, and shops. A church in Bern called Pfimi is often standing room only. Members say that they feel accepted and loved at Pfimi. Churches like Pfimi that do not receive a share of the canton level church tax conduct services that are quite modern, yet preach content that is quite traditional and conservative. The reputation these churches have is that of changing lives and exercising a lot of social control.

The distribution of Catholics and Protestant regions of Switzerland are pretty evenly balanced. Large cities like Geneva, Basel, Zurich, and Bern tend to be Protestant, while Central Switzerland and the Italian speaking canton of Ticino are traditionally Catholic. The geographic distribution of religions does not coincide with the distribution of languages. The constitution of 1874 guaranteed religious freedom but at the same time prohibited settlement by Jesuits and affiliated societies. This was finally repealed in 1973.

Buddhism and Hinduism together represent 0.5% of the Swiss population. They are concentrated in Zurich and Bern. The popularity of these faiths is growing as young Swiss in search of spiritual experiences turn to these eastern religions. Throughout Switzerland, there are a number of very small communities that practice Buddhism and Hinduism.

The Swiss are known for honesty and a strong work ethic, though the reasons for it vary by region. In Geneva and Zurich, which are Protestant cities, the driving force behind the strong work ethic is morality and the concept that only those who work hard will be redeemed. In rural and in Catholic cantons, the work ethic has been the only means of survival for many poverty stricken people. Though the citizens there today are much better off, the work ethic remains strong and still traces its roots to religious beliefs.

Immigration has definitely shaped the Swiss religious landscape, particularly increasing the number of Swiss who adhere to non-traditional (to the Swiss) religions. Immigrants are free to exercise their religious convictions, and are encouraged to do so. The exodus from traditional churches can be seen in Switzerland and throughout western Europe, while immigrants bring their own religious convictions to Switzerland, further reshaping the concept of religion in Switzerland.

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