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  • August 2016: A unique Taoist centre in Switzerland ready to be unveiled

Taoism, the ancient Chinese tradition famous for its concept of Taiji (yin and yang), will soon be practised and discovered in Bullet, in the canton of Vaud. This will definitely come as good news to the few hundred followers in Switzerland, and the tens of thousands of people who practice one or more branches of Taoism, such as feng shui, tai chi or yi qing. Accepted by regional authorities and supported by local authorities and tourist organisations, this project initiated by the Taoist centre Ming Shan, amounting to 5 million Swiss francs, will be launched in 2018. The project started this autumn.

The building will be built in wood and in accordance with the precepts of feng shui. It will contain not only three rooms for the practice of physical arts, but also a library, a medical practice, a temple, a shop, a dormitory, rooms containing some thirty beds and a sixty-seat restaurant.

Fabrice Jordan, acupuncturist and president of the Swiss Taoist Association that originated this project, emphasises the centre’s integrative vocation. It will therefore not be a structure focused solely on Taoism, but one fostering good relations between different religions and philosophies. To this end, seminars will be organised several times a year, at which representatives and followers of other religions will also be welcome. At the same time, the Ming Shan centre intends to act in the field of prevention in the field of health, through modules addressing such issues as burnout, obesity or ageing.

  • July 2016: Institutional crisis at the reformed Evangelical church of the canton of Vaud

Last July, the tensions brewing within the reformed Evangelical church of the canton of Vaud (EERV) hit the headlines. A pastor from the city of Lausanne went on a 23-day hunger strike to protest against his dismissal and that of six of his colleagues over the two preceding years. This crisis that is now shaking the religious institution in Vaud can be understood in the light of recent developments in the status of the Church in Switzerland.

Until the 1990s, the relationship between ministers and the State was not contractual. After this, the contractual form between the State and pastors replaced the form of independence from which they previously benefited. However, since 2007, the contract has now been established at the cantonal level: authority in this respect has been assigned to the Synodal Council, representing the EERV, under the Vaud State Staff Act. The Ecclesiastical Regulation of 2009 provides that the Synodal Council, as ‘representative of the EERV in its role as employer’, has the power to ‘adopt the general human resources strategy based on the principles defined by the Synod and to manage human resources.’

As such, the EERV turned to the Human Resources Office (ORH), responsible for changes in employment situation. Thus empowered, the ORH has dismissed seven pastors since 2014, for a variety of reasons, such as refusal of a change in job situation or an attitude deemed disloyal when addressing the media. This provoked indignant reactions, and other colleagues who expressed their feeling of being “little heard or mistreated” by the ORH. The Synod, thus, decided to create a litigation handling committee (deliberative body). Concurrent to this, the redundant pastors lodged complaints. On 4 November, one of them had already seen his complaint rejected by the Industrial Court, which had not recognised any of the charges against EERV, the HR management practices having been deemed in compliance with labour law.

  • June 2016: Muslim men and women once again targeted by racism in Switzerland

Racism against Muslims has increased by 11% since 2014. This is apparent in the results of the report published by the Federal Commission against Racism.

This statistic, however, reflects only the experience of those victims of racism who came in contact with one of the 14 structures of the Network of counselling centres for victims of racism. Of the 239 cases of racism reported, 53 involved Muslims. David Mühlemann, project manager, stated in an interview in the Tribune of Geneva: “Now one in five complaints registered in a counselling centre involves Muslims. We will see in two or three years’ time whether this trend persists”. Furthermore, the majority of the victims also continue to be people of African origin.

The authors of the report explain this increase in displays of anti-Muslim sentiment by migratory movements, the Syrian conflict and the refugee crisis, as well as the terrorist acts perpetrated on behalf of the ISIS (so-called Islamic State of Iraq and Sham) group or claimed by it.

  • 13 June 2016: Opening of the “Islam and Society” Centre in Freiburg

Despite opposition from the Party of the Democratic Union of the Centre of Freiburg (see debates 2014), the Islam and Society Centre in Freiburg was inaugurated on 13 June 2016.

In 2015, the Freiburg UDC had tabled an initiative aimed at having the centre’s opening banned. Considered unconstitutional by the Grand Council, the initiative was not put up for popular vote. Previously, the UDC had already initiated the anti-minaret initiative in 2009 (see debate 2009).

This skills centre, operating under the University of Freiburg, offers a curriculum focused on thinking about Islam in Switzerland and interreligious dialogue, in particular by offering tools for sociological and legislative knowledge. The Centre will not train imams, though, contrary to what its UDC opponents claimed.

  • June 2016: Radio and TV programmes on religion “saved”

In November 2015, Swiss Radio Television (RTS) announced that all religious programmes on its airwaves would be discontinued (see debate 2015). Eight months later, in June 2016, a compromise was reached and most of these programmes will be maintained. This last-minute rescue is the result of important negotiations between the three partners (RTS, Cath-Info and Médias-pro) and the mobilisation of the public through a petition signed by more than 25,000 people.

“We are satisfied with the conclusion of the negotiations which work to the credit of public demand and the tight financial context facing the RTS. The renewal of the agreement between the partners is an encouraging sign for our institutions and our employees”, wrote Bernard Litzler and Michel Kocher, respectively directors of Cath-Info and Médias-Pro, in a press release issued on 24 June 2016.

However, this agreement between the three entities does contain a few changes: while three of the four radio shows will be maintained, the fourth will be struck, and replaced by a new programme dedicated to decrypting religions. The two television programmes, meanwhile, will be merged, and the number of religious services on television will decrease by one-third in 2017.

  • April 2016: Study on language, religion and culture: initial findings

The Federal Statistical Office (FMO) published the first results from data collected in 2014 for the Study on Language, Religion and Culture. This survey is unique and unprecedented in Switzerland: it provides, for the first time, reliable and expanded information on religion and spirituality, among other topics. In fact, more than 15,000 people aged 15 and above were surveyed in three national languages, namely German, French and Italian, on thirty questions. The survey will now be conducted every five years to yield longitudinal data.

Issues relating to the “religion” component concern the following themes: religious affiliation, practices such as participation in religious services and prayers, beliefs, the importance of religion and spirituality, as well as some views on religious diversity in Switzerland. The first results were published this year in the form of a brochure entitled “Religious and spiritual practices and beliefs in Switzerland”.

With regard to the Swiss confessional landscape, among other notable results, we can see that Muslims account for the largest percentage of the population from the first generation (80%) and the second generation (14%). On the other hand, the Protestant faith has the largest number of people not from migration. In terms of practices, evangelical Protestants most devoutly attend services, with more than 70% of them attending at least once a week. Similarly, 85% pray at least once a day. It is Muslims, just behind those without confession, who practice the least. In contrast, they come in right alongside the evangelical Protestants in believing in a single God (90%). Lastly, it should be noted that Romandy Swiss (French-speaking Swiss) of religious faith most often resort to healers and that religion or spirituality is particularly important to them in difficult times.

To view all the results, click here.

D 22 November 2016    AAnaïd Lindemann

CNRS Unistra Dres Gsrl

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