eurel     Sociological and legal data on religions in Europe and beyond


Approximately 0.4% of people living in Switzerland say they are Hindus. Among them, 81.8% come from Sri Lanka (Tamils), 7.6% from India and 7.5% are Swiss. Several factors are behind the development of Hinduism in Switzerland, a phenomenon that is relatively recent. First of all, in the 50s certain Hindu gurus – swamis like Vivekananda for example – began to form small groups of followers, often of Swiss nationality. The majority of these groups arrived in Switzerland in the 70s and the movement still continues today with such important names like Yogananda, Sivananda or Sai Baba.
This awareness of the Swiss population to Hindu theories is certainly not unrelated to the fact that yoga has become so popular in Switzerland over the last decades. It is interesting to underline that most people who practice yoga have never looked into the details of its religious origins. Today there are many professional yoga schools - the first Swiss school of yoga opened in 1948 – and groups that practice it. Moreover, there was an important immigration of Tamils in the 90s, mostly refugees.

While most Tamils describe themselves as Hindus, the affiliation link is not as clear when it comes to the followers of Hindu gurus, and even less clear when it comes to people who take yoga classes. That is why it is difficult for observers to estimate and define the boundaries of Hinduism.
The tolerance of Swiss society towards Hindu movements varies according to the kind of group. On one hand, Tamil immigrants are relatively well respected among the Swiss population (it should be underlined that most people do not make the connection with religious affiliation) and yoga is generally considered a physical technique that is good for your health. On the other hand, however, since the Swiss are very critical of "gurus" and "sects", there are many prejudices and groups are lumped together, thus causing problems with the movements. In the case of the Divine Light Zentrum (founded in 1966) in Winterthur, for example, with Swami Omkarananda and his followers being in conflict with their neighbours, the situation got out of hand and turned violent and the religious leader and some of his followers ended up in prison.

D 8 October 2012    AJoëlle Sanchez AJörg Stolz

CNRS Unistra Dres Gsrl

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