Surveys show it: adhering to any religion does not necessarily mean giving up on one’s spiritual life. But what does this spirituality feed on, and how does it relate to and outside of established religions? The point with different specialists.
Less than two centuries after Nietzsche, God is said to be dead for nearly one out of three Swiss. Indeed, according to the latest figures from the Swiss Statistics Office (FSO), 30.9% of the population declares itself to be “without religion”. A category which has not stopped growing since 1970 and in which, not surprisingly, the younger generations are in the majority.
“People with no religion are on average younger than people with a religion, an interaction that is also observed in other countries, such as Germany and England, but also in Canada and the United States” , confirms the sociologist Pascal Tanner, author of a socio-demographic study on the subject. A trend which, in his eyes, is not ready to stop: “It is only a matter of time before a majority of the Swiss population is without religious affiliation.”
Atheism capped at 4%
Does this mean that these people would have given up on their spirituality? Nothing is less sure. “There are very few people who don’t believe in anything”, formulates all-of-go François Gauthier, socio-anthropologist of religions at the University of Fribourg. “The rate of atheism has always leveled off. It never exceeds 4% of the population, even in the countries where it is highest,” he says.
Same story from the side of the French researcher Claude Dargent, professor of political science specializing in religions and value systems. “A substantial proportion of people declaring themselves without religion say they believe in an afterlife, in paradise, in hell or in reincarnation,” he observes. And to clarify: “These beliefs are no less widespread among young people than among their elders, and are even growing strongly in France.” In fact, “not being in any religion does not mean not having any beliefs”, sums up François Gauthier. The religiosity of the non-religious is expressed simply at a distance from the Christian Churches and established confessions.
Free to forage
“What predominates today, especially among the younger generations, is the desire to decide for oneself, and to no longer let institutions decide for them”, formulates Irene Becci, professor of sociology and anthropology at the Institute of Social Sciences of Religions of the University of Lausanne. Far from the pre-established boxes, the “without religion” leave themselves free to “forage here or there, passing from one spiritual experience to another according to their friendships or their readings”, she explains.
A freedom made possible in particular by the fact that “the parents of these individuals no longer belonged, or only partially, to a religious community”, presents Pascal Tanner. He explains: “For several decades, the change in the religious landscape has mainly been marked by the fact that people are distancing themselves from the Church. The new generations no longer know what it means to make such a choice: they have always been outside.”
In this personal melting-pot, elements relating in turn to Eastern traditions, alternative spiritualities, more or less ancestral philosophies or even established religions can be combined. “Spirituality does not respond to the diktat of exclusive beliefs”, formulates François Gauthier. In this area, there is no longer one truth to adhere to collectively, but wisdom to combine on the model of tailor-made.
Find your authentic self
Like religions, the different forms of spirituality have in common “the refusal of a materialistic vision of the world”, summarizes Claude Dargent. Irene Becci speaks, for her part, of “transcendent visions of human life”. However, the difference is significant: it is no longer a question here of obtaining one’s salvation, the promise of eternal life for the hereafter, but of “self-realization”, of finding personal fulfillment in life. here and now. “There is a common matrix to all these beliefs, from shamanism to paganism via animism: the idea that it is by realizing one’s potential that one will be in touch with life and the universe”, summarizes François Gautier.
In fact, “the anchoring is no longer done in relation to a tradition or institution but more at the personal level”, stipulates Irene Becci. “These people pursue a quest for an authentic self, for an emotion, for lived experiences. They will talk a lot about immanence, the importance of living the present in full consciousness. Proof of this is also the success of shamanic courses, esoteric sessions and other rituals of neo-paganism or witchcraft.
Nature and its cycles
However, “on the scale of the history of humanity, these practices are not new”, wishes to recall the socio-anthropologist François Gauthier. And to challenge: “The normality of religious belief has not always been experienced in the mode of exclusive belonging and Sunday practice.” If it is customary to speak of secularization to evoke the decline of traditional religions, we would rather witness, in his eyes, a kind of return to animism, that is to the spiritualities which had prevalence before the birth of the three monotheisms, like Native American beliefs before colonialism, for example. “We leave this conception of two distinct worlds, the here below and the beyond, to reconnect with a vision where they intertwine, the spirits and God inhabiting our reality”, he describes. It is therefore not surprising to see the reappearance in force of all these beliefs highlighting the reference to nature. “Today spirituality is lived in a very strong link with ecology”, he notes again.
In conclusion, and in a general way, what do these religiosities that do not say their name reveal? “These spiritualities are the expression of this universal religious need which has been demonstrated by American sociologists of the religious market”, poses the French researcher Claude Dargent. And to specify that “this need is expressed according to the existing religious offer. However, there is no long-term inevitable evolution from a religious past to a future that is not. These are cyclical movements.
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