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A multi-religious society

The census in Switzerland asked the population the following question: "To what Church or religious community do you belong?" This wording is quite revealing of the country’s multi-religious composition and of the manner in which the point of view of government authorities has adapted itself. Since the first federal census in 1850 up until 1900, a distinction was only made between the Catholic, Protestant and Jewish faiths, all other religions were grouped together in one single category, and the government assumed that each person belonged to a religion. As of 1900, it became possible to distinguish the "other religions". In 1920, Catholic Christians and Roman Catholics were registered separately for the first time and in 1960 the "no affiliation" and "no answer" categories were introduced. Pre-printed spaces for Muslims and Christian Orthodox were used for the first time in the 2000 census.

Nevertheless, we would like to underline that this method of counting reproduces a classic vision of affiliation. Indeed, on the one hand, calculating automatically assigns a certain individual to a certain group, thus standardising affiliation. On the other hand, it does not help to distinguish between different members, nor the reasons they have for belonging to or leaving a certain group. Internal pluralism therefore goes unseen, privileging the continuity of traditional and recognised religious groups who find their historical identity reinforced.

The non-Christian population of Switzerland raises up to 20%. The population "without religious belonging" can be added to this number (11,1%) as well as people not answering the question (4,3%). Therefore, 5,3% of the population living in Switzerland belongs to a religious minority (further details are given under the religious minorities heading).

Sources of Data: Censuses of the Federal Statistics Office.

D 8 October 2012    AJoëlle Sanchez AJörg Stolz

CNRS Unistra Dres Gsrl

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