Recent figures show that nearly one in four Swiss follows no religion. In 2014, 1.9 million people in Switzerland stated that they belonged to no religious group. In some cantons the percentage in this category was above 40%.
Religion has had a hand in shaping Switzerland. For example, in the 16th century, the canton of Appenzell split along religious lines to form the two half cantons of Appenzell Innerrhoden and Appenzell Ausserrhoden. Even today, the leading religion in Appenzell Innerrhoden is Roman Catholicism, while in Appenzell Ausserrhoden it is the Evangelical Reformed Church.
In 1907, Geneva decided to formally separate religion and state to reduce the religious friction between catholics and protestants that was dividing society and getting in the way sensible politics. After 1907, Geneva’s government was free to focus on social issues rather than religious ones. Article 3 of Geneva’s constitution states that the government should be secular, religiously neutral, not pay clerical salaries or subsidise any religious activity, while maintaining relations with religious communities.
Cantons with the highest levels of non-religious residents are often more urban. In Basel-City, 46% said they followed no religion. Basel-City was followed by Neuchâtel (42%) and Geneva (37%). Other cantons with large urban populations such as Vaud (28%) and Zurich (26%) were also above the national average of 23%. The interactive map below shows the percentage of residents with no religion – click on the multi-coloured icon next to the legend to reveal the full map.
At the other end of the spectrum were the predominantly Roman Catholic cantons of Obwalden and Valais, where 12% of the population was without religion. 72% of those in Obwalden described themselves as Roman Catholic, slightly lower than the 74% in Valais. Other cantons with Roman Catholic majorities included Uri (80%), Appenzell Innerrhoden (74%), Ticino (69%), Nidwalden (67%), Schwyz (62%), Fribourg (62%), Zug (53%) and Jura (69%). The canton of Jura was created in 1979 by carving out a largely catholic part of the predominantly protestant canton of Bern. Language also played a part. The predominant language in Jura is French. In Bern it’s German.
The interactive map below shows the predominant religion of each canton.
The only predominantly protestant canton is Bern (53%), although the Evangelical Reformed Church leads in Basel-Landschaft (32%), Schaffhouse (36%), and Appenzell Ausserrhoden (42%).
The trend away from religion in Switzerland is clear. In 2000, only 11% said they had no religion. By 2010, the percentage had increased to 20%. In the following four years it climbed further to 23%. The rise was largest in cantons with the most religious populations. For example the percentage of non-religious in Basel-City rose by around 48% from 31% to 46%. In Obwalden it rose 200% from 4% to 12%.