CESNUR - Centro Studi sulle Nuove Religioni diretto da Massimo Introvigne

Canton of Ticino, Switzerland, Unveils First "Type III" Report

by Massimo Introvigne

On June 12, 2007, in the Hall of the Cantonal Parliament, the Canton of Ticino, the only Italian-speaking Canton in Switzerland, held a press conference in order to unveil its Repertorio delle religioni: panorama religioso e spirituale del Cantone Ticino (available also online, in Italian). Speakers at the press conference included Cantonal MP Luigi Pedrazzini; Dr. Michela Trisconi De Bernardi, a local historian who wrote the report; the undersigned Dr Massimo Introvigne as director of CESNUR; and Dr Nicole Durisch Gauthier, director of Geneva’s Intercantonal Center of Information on Belief (CIC).

The interest of European governments for religious minorities was born under the cloud of the Solar Temple suicides and homicides of 1994. The first reports (France 1996: Belgium 1997; Canton of Geneva 1997) were – not coincidentally – published in the countries directly affected by the Solar Temple tragedy, and amounted in essence to an exercise in criminology. They looked for reasons why “cults” were “bad” (the answer being found in brainwashing), and tried to determine which “dangerous cults” were candidates for becoming the next Solar Temple. I and Jim Richardson in an article published in 2001 called them “Type I” reports (“'Brainwashing Theories' in European Parliamentary and Administrative Reports on 'Cults' and 'Sects'”, Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, vol. 40 n. 2 [June 2001], pp. 143-168). These reports came under heavy criticism by scholars for their heavy use of brainwashing theories and information supplied by anti-cult movements. A positive development of sort was the emergence of “Type II” reports (including in Germany 1998, Sweden 1998, Italy 1998, Switzerland 1999). The Canton of Ticino published a Type II report itself in 1998. Although more balanced, these reports (with the exception of the Swedish document of 1998) still mentioned brainwashing or mind control, and their general aim was to look for “dangerous cults”, taking for granted that a distinction between religions and “cults”, even if admittedly difficult, was possible.

After 9/11 interest of European authorities switched largely from “cults” to radical mosques, although institutions created by the French and the Belgian reports remain in place to this very day. The fashion of reports, however, faded. The Ticino document of 2007 is the first genuine “Type III” report. It does not mention brainwashing at all, and it does not distinguish between religions and cults or “sects” (these words, again, are not used). He states that it would rather use the model of CESNUR’s Le religioni in Italia in order to describe different “families” of religions and movements (some of them “spiritual” rather than religious). With minor exceptions (whose reasons are explained) the report’s index follows the classification in families adopted by Le religioni in Italia and by its CESNUR predecessor, the Enciclopedia delle religioni in Italia of 2001. Although controversies are mentioned where they exist, each entry has been compiled in dialogue not only with scholars but with the religions and movement themselves. The Catholic Church and other mainline churches are included, thus confirming that this is a report on religious pluralism rather than on “cults”. Due post-9/11 attention to Islam is also given.

All in all, there are 82 entries. Although the number of religions and movements is lower than in Italy, membership in religious minorities is much higher (12% of the residents, including immigrant non-citizens, against 5% in Italy), although half of this figure refers to members of the Reformed Evangelical Church, the second State-supported religion in Ticino after the Roman Catholic Church. Apart from the Reformed Evangelical Church, the largest religious minorities (Eastern Orthodox, 2.4%, and Moslem, 1.9%) consist almost exclusively of immigrants. The largest minority among Swiss citizens is the Jehovah’s Witnesses (0.6%). With the exception of the Reformed Evangelicals, data are quite similar to Italy (where there are more Moslem than Orthodox but this may change in the future). What is quite different from Italy is the structure of Ticino Protestantism: the historical Reformed Evangelicals still made out 99% of all Protestants. Although Evangelical and Pentecostal churches are in Ticino (as they are in Italy) the fastest growing religions in terms of conversions (rather than immigration only), for the time being they only represent 1% of the Protestants, while in Italy the historical churches now include only 20% of the Protestant population against 80% of Evangelicals and Pentecostals. Buddhism also grows in Ticino at a slower rate than in Italy.

The groups more often described as “cults” seem to have a very limited presence in Ticino. The report counts 100 Scientologists; the Unification Church and The Family (formerly known as the Children of God) are not even mentioned because, although they do carry on activities in the Canton, the Unification Church has only one resident member and The Family none.

An interesting feature of the report is the strength of the Roman Catholic identity. Although those who identify themselves as Roman Catholics have decreased in percentage from 1970 to 2000 (from 89.8% to 75.9%) this is due to the growth of residents which has happened through the addition of (mostly non-Catholic) immigrants. In fact, the number of Catholics has growth from 220,000 in 1970 to 233,000 in 2000. Protestants in general are strictly decreasing, although less spectacularly than in Switzerland in general. The report reminds us that in Switzerland, one of the historical strongholds of the Reformation, Catholics (41.8%) have now a strong lead on historical Protestants (33%), and in Calvin’s Geneva Catholics are 40% against a mere 16% of members of the venerable Reformed Church.

Although the law mandates separation of Church and State, the Catholic identity of Ticino remains very visible. And it is because majority rights are publicly respected that a politics in favour of minority rights, evidenced by the very publication of this report, continues to be supported by a large majority of Ticino’s population.