Religions in Switzerland: Catholic, Protestant Or Otherwise?

religions switzerland

If you are looking to move to, visit, or do business in Switzerland then understanding the Swiss religious landscape is a good idea. It has changed a lot over the years but religious freedom is always upheld in Switzerland and religious discrimination is not taken lightly either.

This makes all religious communities feel safe to engage in their religious activities regardless of what they are. But, there is a lot more to religion in Switzerland than that.

Join me as we take a deep dive into the official statistics of the different religions in the country, the history of religion in Switzerland, and lots more.

Religions in Switzerland – Demographics

St. Ursenkathedrale
St. Ursenkathedrale

According to the Swiss Federal Statistical Office, the largest religion followed in Switzerland is the Roman Catholic Church or Christian Catholic Church with 37% of the Swiss population following Roman Catholicism.

The next most popular religion in Switzerland is Protestantism with 25% of the Swiss population being Protestants. This data also includes the Reformed Evangelical community the majority of which are protestants.

It might surprise you to hear that the next most popular religion in the country is to have no religious affiliation. 24% of the Swiss population have no religious affiliation which means it is close to taking over Protestantism and it is not far behind the Roman Catholic church either.

In 1970, only 1% of Swiss people had no religious affiliation, so it has increased a lot!

Around 5% of the Swiss population are Muslims. Muslim communities are mainly in the cities and are formed of residents who moved from Turkey and the Balkans.

2% of Swiss people follow Orthodox Christianity and 0.2% of the Swiss population practice Judaism. Not many Swiss people are Jewish, as you can see, but there are large Jewish Communities in Zurich and Geneva, as well as 10 other towns in Switzerland.

The remaining 4% of the total population follows other Christian denominations and other Christian groups along with religions like Buddhism and more.

As you can see, the religious landscape of modern Switzerland is predominantly Christian in one way or another, but freedom of religion means they all exist together peacefully.

History

Historical monastery
Historical monastery

It is estimated that Switzerland was a Roman Catholic country for about 1,000 years. This makes sense considering the Romans brought Catholicism with them as they conquered Europe, preaching catholicism and converting the locals to Catholics. There is even a longstanding Benedictine Abbey in Engelberg that has just celebrated 900 years!

The Catholics remained the most popular religion in Switzerland until the 16th century which is when the Protestant Reformation of Switzerland began.

Geneva and Zurich were the protestant centers of the country and there were many battles between the catholic cantons and protestant cantons over the years.

Jews were banished from Switzerland in the 16th century, which oddly coincided with the Protestant reform. But Jewish people were welcomed back into the country in 1874.

In the 1980s when Sri Lanka broke out into civil war, a lot of Tamils from Sri Lanka who practice Hinduism moved to Switzerland.

The 1980s saw around 30,000 Muslims living in Switzerland but by 2000 Muslims increased by 500% due to unrest in the Balkans and lots of Muslims migrating to Switzerland from Turkey.

Major Religions in Switzerland

The Major Religions in Switzerland are Roman Catholic, Reformed Evangelical Protestants, and people with no religious affiliation at all.

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Most Swiss Cantons affiliate themselves with either Roman Catholicism or Protestantism, as you would expect looking at the country’s religious history.

People in these cantons have to pay a church tax, if they have registered as followers – can you believe it? The percentage changes from Canton to Canton and can be as high as 15% and in some cases, businesses have to pay a tax too.

The Catholic and Protestant churches made more than CHF 400 million in a year from church tax!

With over 60% of Swiss people being Catholics or Protestants, there are a lot of churches in Switzerland, and Sundays are regarded as being quite sacred. Do not use a washing machine, mow your lawn, or fix your car, etc on Sunday, it will be frowned upon.

The biggest surprise is the increase in people who have no religious affiliation in Switzerland rising from 1% to 24% in just 20 years.

This is a common theme across Europe with the younger generations and it wouldn’t be surprising if no affiliation became the most popular affiliation in the next 20 years in Switzerland.

Other Religions in Switzerland

Madonna del Sasso
Madonna del Sasso

The most practiced religion outside of Christianity in Switzerland is Islam with 5% of the population being Muslims. Islam is then followed by Hinduism, Buddhism, and Judaism.

There are also tons of different Christian religions in Switzerland such as the apostolic church that some Swiss residents follow. The other faiths amount to 150 different evangelical churches with around 9,500 believers.

Freedom of Religion in Switzerland

Freedom of religion in Switzerland dates back to the revised constitution of 1848 when the right to practice any religion, so long as it was Christian, was added to the constitution.

The reason this happened was to stop the conflict between Catholics and protestants after the Sonderbund War in 1847.

It took until 1974 for the freedom of worship rights in Switzerland to include all religions on the planet, as it still does today.

Religion in Swiss Schools

Religious education in Switzerland differs from canton to canton. Generally speaking, attending religious classes is optional and only those who wish to attend the classes need to go.

Most public schools provide courses in Catholicism and Protestantism but in some cities, Islamic courses are also available.

Things are a little different in Zurich schools though, for example where some classes are mandatory. All students must attend a Religion and Culture class in Zurich at both primary and secondary levels.

Courses for less popular religions are also provided upon request in a lot of instances and parents are recommended to enroll children in private religious schools too.

Written by Ashley Faulkes
As a twenty-year resident of Switzerland, I am passionate about exploring every nook and cranny of this beautiful country, I spend my days deep in the great Swiss outdoors, and love to share these experiences and insights with fellow travel enthusiasts.

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