Both diversification of religious life and a growth of unaffiliated people have been the main changes in the religious life of the Canton of Fribourg (Switzerland), according to a report by Religioscope Institute that was publicly released on September 24.
Being headquartered in Fribourg, Religioscope Institute was commissioned last year by the cantonal government to prepare a report in order to answer questions asked by the cantonal parliament. Key findings of the report confirm to some extent trends observed by other recent research projects in Switzerland, based on detailed local observations, including interviews with representatives of all religious groups active on the territory. The bilingual (French and German) canton used to be a stronghold of Roman Catholicism in Switzerland from the time of the Reformation, while being surrounded by cantons that had opted for the Protestant faith in the sixteenth century.
In recent years, due primarily to immigration from neighboring cantons, it has experienced the fastest demographic growth of all Swiss cantons: its population is currently nearing 300,000. The first consequence has been continuous growth in the number of Protestants. Along with Roman Catholics and Jews, they enjoy so-called “public law” status, entitling them to teach catechism at state schools and to collect “church taxes” from their faithful through state tax authorities.
But other religious movements have developed in the canton. Thirty years ago there was no Muslim prayer place in the canton and only two (German-speaking) evangelical churches. Today there are seven public Muslim prayer places, nine “European” evangelical churches and four African evangelical churches. Muslims are estimated to number around 10,000 and evangelicals more than 2,000. International and inter-cantonal migration appears to constitute the major factor in that growth: most Muslims are of foreign origin and more than half of all evangelicals come from other cantons or other countries.
Migration also benefits the Roman Catholic Church: its percentage has decreased in the total population of the canton, from 86 percent in 1960 to 65 percent today; but it has grown in absolute numbers. Some 10 percent of the canton’s Catholic population is of Portuguese descent, to which people of Italian and various other descents should be added. However, the most rapid growth rate is that of people without a religious affiliation. Across Switzerland, unaffiliated people now make up 20 percent of the total adult population (in Fribourg, a lesser percentage, but nevertheless already more than 35,000 people).
Over the years to come, considering the deep decline in religious practice and the transmission of religious beliefs, as well as a secularized environment, the percentage of unaffiliated people might still grow. What is unclear is how far a passive affiliation of a large percentage of the population with historical churches can maintain itself for much longer, with churches being seen as resources for major individual and collective life events. Christianity could also be a cultural identity resource, especially if concerns about Islam’s presence in Europe remain strong or grow.
The full 100-page report can be downloaded as a PDF file either in French: