Religion in Switzerland

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A church in Fischenthal, a village in the canton of Zurich

Christianity is the predominant religion of Switzerland, its presence going back to the Roman era. Since the 16th century, Switzerland has been traditionally divided into Roman Catholic and Reformed confessions. However, adherence to Christian churches has declined since the late 20th century, from close to 95% in 1980 to about 70% as of 2013.

Switzerland as a federal state has no state religion, though most of the cantons (except for Geneva and Neuchâtel) recognize official churches (Landeskirchen), in all cases including the Catholic Church and the Swiss Reformed Church. These churches, and in some cantons also the Old Catholic Church and Jewish Congregations, are financed by official taxation of adherents.[1]

The Federal Statistical Office reported the religious demographics as of 2013 as follows (based on the resident population older than 15 years): 70.0% ±0.4% Christian (including 38.0% ±0.2% Roman Catholic, 26.1% ±0.2% Reformed, 5.8% ±0.1% other), 22.2% ±0.2% nonreligious, 5.1% ±0.1% Muslim, 0.25% ±0.02% Jewish, 1.32% ±0.04% other religions.[2]


Religion in Switzerland – 2011-2013[3]
religion percent
Roman Catholic
Swiss Reformed Church
Other Christian
*Agnostic, Atheist, or Theistic without church membership
Religion in Switzerland (2015)

The country was historically about evenly balanced between Catholic and Protestant, with a complex patchwork of majorities over most of the country. One canton, Appenzell, was officially divided into Catholic and Protestant sections in 1597. The larger cities and their cantons (Bern, Geneva, Lausanne, Zürich and Basel) used to be predominantly Protestant. Central Switzerland, the Valais, the Ticino, Appenzell Innerrhodes, the Jura, and Fribourg are traditionally Catholic. The Swiss Constitution of 1848, under the recent impression of the clashes of Catholic vs. Protestant cantons that culminated in the Sonderbundskrieg, consciously defines a consociational state, allowing the peaceful co-existence of Catholics and Protestants. A 1980 initiative calling for the complete separation of church and state was rejected by 78.9% of the voters.[4] Some traditionally Protestant cantons and cities nowadays have a slight Catholic majority, not because they were growing in members, quite the contrary, but only because since about 1970 a steadily growing minority became unaffiliated (21.6% in Switzerland, 2012) especially in traditionally Protestant regions, such as Basel-City (42%), canton of Neuchâtel (38%), canton of Geneva (35%), canton of Vaud (26%), or Zürich city (city: >25%; canton: 23%).[5]

Immigration has brought Islam (4.9% as of the 2012 census[5]) and Eastern Orthodoxy (1.8% as of the 2000 census) as sizeable minority religions.[6]

Other Christian minority communities include Neo-Pietism (0.44%), Pentecostalism (0.28%, mostly incorporated in the Schweizer Pfingstmission), Methodism (0.12%), the New Apostolic Church (0.38%), Jehovah's Witnesses (0.28%), and the Christian Catholic Church of Switzerland (0.18%) as of 2000.[6] Minor non-Christian minority groups are Hinduism (0.38%), Buddhism (0.29%), Judaism (0.25%) and "other religions" (0.11%). 3.6% did not make a statement on the 2000 census.[6]

Youth: As of 2012, there were 918,126 people aged 15–24 in Switzerland, of which 347,328 (37.8%) were Catholics, 232,634 (25.4%) Protestants, 57,033 (6.2%) other Christian denominations, 2,005 (0.2%) Jewish, 76,502 (8.3%) Muslims, 12,992 (1.4%) other religious communities and 176,969 (19.3%) unaffiliated.[5]

Religion by denomination (% population older than 15)[3][7]
1970 2000 2012 2013
Roman Catholic 46.7 42.3 38.2 38.0
Swiss Reformed 48.8 33.9 26.9 26.1
Unaffiliated 1.2 11.4 21.4 22.2
Other Christian 2.0 4.3 5.7 5.8
Islam 0.2 3.6 4.9 5.1
Jewish 0.4 0.2 0.3 0.2
Others 0.1 0.7 1.3 1.3
No answer 0.4 3.6 1.3 1.3
Total (100%, older than 15) 4.575.416 5.868.572 6.662.333 6.744.794

As in other European countries, the major Christian confessions are losing members whereas the numbers of unaffiliated are growing fast and Islam are slightly increasing and came to a more or less constant amount since 2000. As of 2000, about 80.5% of the Swiss adhered to Christianity down from 97.6% in 1970; already 11.4% were unaffiliated in 2000 and has been steadily growing since about 1980 to the current 21.4%; Islam remained the largest minority religion with 3.6% in 2000 (0.2% in 1970), increasing to 4.9% in 2012.


Minaret at the mosque of the local Turkish cultural association in Wangen bei Olten. Inaugurated in July 2009, after four years of legal and political controversy, this minaret, a Turkey-made plastic construction placed on the roof of the Turkish cultural center, was the initial motivation for the popular initiative voted upon later in 2009 which led to a nationwide ban of further minarets.

The Swiss constitution of 1848, written by the victorious pro-union Protestant cantons after the Catholic-Separatist Civil War of 1847, consciously defines a consociational state, allowing the peaceful co-existence of Catholics and Protestants. However, the Catholic Jesuits (Societas Jesu) were banned from all activities in either clerical or pedagogical functions by Article 51 of the Swiss constitution in 1848. The reason was the perceived threat resulting from Jesuit advocacy of traditionalist Catholicism to the stability of the state. In May 1973, 54.9% of Swiss voters approved removing the ban on the Jesuits (as well as Article 52 which banned monasteries and convents from Switzerland);[8] the vote reflected sharp divisions between the cantons, with 92% of Valais supporting, but 71% of Neuchâtel opposing removing the ban.[citation needed]

The settlement restrictions placed on Swiss Jews in various instances between the 14th and 18th centuries were lifted with the revised Swiss Constitution of 1874.

A popular vote in March 1980 on the complete separation of church and state was clearly opposed to such a change, with only 21.1% voting in support, to the effect of the retention of the Landeskirchen system.[9]

In November 2009, 57.5% of Swiss voters approved of a popular initiative to ban the construction of minarets in Switzerland. The four existing Swiss minarets, at mosques in Zurich, Geneva, Winterthur and Wangen bei Olten are not affected by the ban.[10]

Freedom of religion[edit]

Full freedom of religion has been guaranteed since the revised Swiss Constitution of 1874 (Article 49). During the Old Swiss Confederacy, there had been no de facto freedom of religion, with persecution of Anabaptists in particular well into the 18th century. Swiss Jews had been given full political rights in 1866, although their right to settle freely was implemented as late as 1879 in the canton of Aargau.

The current Swiss Constitution of 1999 makes explicit both positive and negative religious freedom in Article 15, paragraph 3--which asserts that every person has the right to adhere to a religious confession and to attend religious education—and paragraph 4, which asserts that nobody can be forced to either adhere to a religious confession or to attend religious education, thus explicitly asserting the right of apostasy from a previously held religious belief.

The basic right protected by the constitution is that of public confession of adherence to a religious community and the performance of religious cult activities. Article 36 of the constitution introduces a limitation of these rights if they conflict with public interest or if they encroach upon the basic rights of others. Thus, ritual slaughter is prohibited as conflicting with Swiss animal laws. Performance of cultic or missionary activities or religious processions on public ground may be limited. The Jesuit order was banned from all activity on Swiss soil from 1848 to 1973. The use of cantonal taxes to support cantonal churches (which has been argued as constituting a breach of "negative" religious freedom[according to whom?]) has been ruled legal by the Federal Supreme Court.[11] Some commentators have argued that the minaret ban introduced by popular vote in 2009 constitutes a breach of religious freedom.[12]


Traces of the pre-Christian religions of the area that is now Switzerland include the Bronze Age "fire dogs". The Gaulish Helvetii, who became part of Gallo-Roman culture under the Roman Empire, left only scarce traces of their religion like the statue of dea Artio, a bear goddess, found near Bern. A known Roman sanctuary to Mercury was on a hill north-east of Baar.[13] St. Peter in Zurich was the location of a temple to Jupiter.

Basilique de Valère (12th century) in Sion

The Bishopric of Basel was established in AD 346; the bishopric of Sion, before 381; the bishopric of Geneva. in c. 400: the bishopric of Vindonissa (now united as the Diocese of Lausanne, Geneva and Fribourg), in 517; and the Diocese of Chur, before 451.

Germanic paganism briefly reached Switzerland with the immigration, from the 6th century, of the Alemanni, who were gradually converted to Christianity during the 6th and 7th centuries, with the establishment of the Bishopric of Constance in c. 585. The Abbey of St. Gall rose as an important center of learning in the early Middle Ages.

The Old Swiss Confederacy was Roman Catholic as a matter of course until the Reformation of the 1520s, which resulted in a lasting split of the Confederacy into Protestantism and Catholicism. This split lead to numerous violent outbreaks in Early Modern times and included the partitioning of the former canton of Appenzell into the Protestant canton of Appenzell Ausserrhoden and Catholic Appenzell Innerrhoden in 1597. The secular Helvetic Republic was a brief intermezzo and tensions immediately resurfaced after 1815, leading to the formation of the modern confederal state in 1848, which recognizes Landeskirchen on a cantonal basis: the Roman Catholic and the Reformed Churches in each canton, and since the 1870s (following the controversies triggered by the First Vatican Council) the Christian Catholic Church in some cantons.

The Jesuits (Societas Jesu) were the subject of a bitter controversy in 19th century Switzerland. The order had been dissolved in 1773 by Clement XIV, but it was re-instated in 1814 by Pius VII.

Over the following years, the Jesuits returned to the Swiss colleges they had owned prior to 1773, in Brig (1814), Sion (1814), Fribourg (1818) and Lucerne (1845), and especially Fribourg became a center of the Council of Trent. The Protestant cantons felt threatened by the re-appearance of the Jesuits and their program of traditionalist Catholicism, which contributed to religious unrest and the formation of the Sonderbund of the Catholic cantons, and at the Tagsatzung of 1844 in vain demanded the expulsion of the Jesuit order from the territory of the Swiss confederacy. The Protestant victory of the Sonderbundskrieg of 1847 led to the realization of such a ban in the 1848 Swiss Constitution, expanded even further in the revised constitution of 1874, so that all activity of Jesuits either in clerical or in educational function was outlawed in Switzerland until 1973, when the paragraph was removed from the constitution by a popular vote.[14]

See also[edit]

Notes and references[edit]

  1. ^ "Die Kirchensteuern August 2013" (PDF). (in German (French and or Italian)). Berne: Schweizerische Steuerkonferenz SSK, Swiss Federal Tax Administration FTA, Federal Depertment of Finance FDF. 2013. Retrieved 2014-04-05.  External link in |website= (help)
  2. ^ (100%: 6,744,794, registered resident population above 15 years). Roman Catholic: 2'5 62'396 ±0.5%; Reformed: 1'762'892 ±0.6; other Christian: 389'608 ±1.6%; Judaism: 16'830 ±7.5%; Islam: 341'572 ±1.8%; other religions: 89'259 3.4%; nonreligious: 1'497'521 ±0.7%; unknown religion: 84'717 ±3.3%. "Ständige Wohnbevölkerung ab 15 Jahren nach Kanton und Religions- und Konfessionszugehörigkeit 2013" (XLS). (Statistics) (in German). Neuchâtel: Swiss Federal Statistical Office. 2015. Retrieved 10 July 2015.  External link in |website= (help)
  3. ^ a b "Ständige Wohnbevölkerung ab 15 Jahren nach Religions- / Konfessionszugehörigkeit, 2011-2013" (XLS). (Statistics) (in German). Neuchâtel; Switzerland: Swiss Federal Statistical Office. 2015. Retrieved 2015-05-29.  External link in |website= (help)
  4. ^ "Volksabstimmung vom 2. März 1980" (in German, French, and or Italian). Berne, Switzerland: Schweizerische Bundeskanzlei. 28 July 2015. Retrieved 2015-07-31. 
  5. ^ a b c "Ständige Wohnbevölkerung ab 15 Jahren nach Religions- / Konfessionszugehörigkeit, 2012" (XLS). (Statistics) (in German, French, and or Italian). Neuchâtel: Swiss Federal Statistical Office. 2014. Retrieved 2015-06-07.  External link in |website= (help)
  6. ^ a b c Bovay, Claude; Raphaël Broquet (December 2004), "Introduction", Recensement fédéral de la population 2000 (PDF) (in French), Neuchâtel, Switzerland: Swiss Federal Statistical Office, p. 12, ISBN 3-303-16074-0, retrieved 2015-07-31  Cite uses deprecated parameter |coauthors= (help)
  7. ^ "Wohnbevölkerung nach Religionszugehörigkeit, 1910-2013" (XLS). (Statistics) (in German (or French and or Italian)). Neuchâtel: Swiss Federal Statistical Office. 2015. Retrieved 2015-07-30.  External link in |website= (help)
  8. ^ "Volksabstimmung vom 20.05.1973" (in German, French, and Italien). Schweizerische Bundeskanzlei. 20 May 1973. Retrieved 2015-06-08. 
  9. ^ "Volksabstimmung vom 02.03.1980" (in German, French, and Italien). Schweizerische Bundeskanzlei. 2 March 1980. Retrieved 2015-06-08. 
  10. ^ "Abstimmungen – Indikatoren: Eidgenössische Volksabstimmung vom 29. November 2009" (in German, French, and Italien). Statistik Schweiz. 29 November 2009. Retrieved 2015-06-08. 
  11. ^ BGE 107 Ia 126, 130[year needed]
  12. ^ Malte Lehming (30 November 2009). "Ein schwarzer Tag". Zeit Online (Hamburg, Germany). Retrieved 2015-06-08. 
  13. ^ Baarburg at 47°12′18″N 8°33′18″E / 47.205°N 8.555°E / 47.205; 8.555; Tages-Anzeiger 5 June 2008 [1]
  14. ^ Franz Xaver Bischof: Jesuits in German, French and Italian in the online Historical Dictionary of Switzerland, 2008.


External links[edit]