Religion as a social identity is important for 50 percent of the population in Switzerland and for 57 percent in Germany. As the first results of a representative survey conducted by researchers at the universities of Lucerne and Leipzig show, religion can divide, but it can also unite. In addition, religion has a structuring effect on different types of social identity in society generally.

Social identities and thus characteristics and groups with which we identify have recently gained prominence. This is particularly evident for religious identities in public and politics. This growing importance of religion is accompanied by a new uncertainty of the general public about how to deal with religious affiliations and especially with Muslims.

Social identities widely measured

The representative survey with around 3,000 respondents each is part of the project "Configurations of Individual and Collective Religious Identities and their Civil Society Potentials (KONID)". The researchers want to analyse the influence of social and especially religious identities on integration and conflict potentials in Germany and Switzerland. In a newly developed survey instrument, 21 possible social identities were differentiated and thus recorded much more precisely than before. In addition, they are placed in their social and religious contexts.

Family and circle of friends most important - religion in the midfield

Religion is an important, yet not the most important social identity. The family, for example, is rated as important by more than 80 percent and the circle of friends and acquaintances by just under 70 percent of those surveyed. Religion follows in the midfield, ahead of the canton of origin or the language region.

Members of free churches and Muslims more frequently discriminated against

Religious social identities are the subject and cause of discrimination. The extent of experienced religious discrimination in Germany and in Switzerland, is moderate overall. Discrimination based on religion in Switzerland is being experienced primarily by members of the free churches (“rarely or more often”: 69%) and by Muslims (56%). At the same time, religion serves as a social identity for many people, creating social distance and exclusion. A good quarter of Christians do not consider marrying non-Christians. Around 40 per cent of Muslims reject non-Muslims as marriage partners.

Addressing religious dogmatism with religious communities

The survey also surveyed how respondents draw the line between the democratic community and religious truth. A supremacy of religious views and truths about the constitution or even the willingness to use violence for one's own faith is rare. If so, then such positions are more pronounced among members of free churches and Muslims. The decisive finding, however, is that a certain degree of agreement occurs across all religious denominations. The politically relevant problem is therefore to get a general view of dogmatic and extremist positions and to address them together with the religious communities. In other words, this is not a genuine problem of "Islam" as religion.

Religion promotes society and social cohesion

Religion not only divides, it also promotes the cohesion of society. Religious social identities increase voluntary work, and religion-related voluntary work promotes contact between people who otherwise do not meet in everyday life. Such commitment can build bridges. It also shows that those who care about their religious identity also attach importance to interreligious dialogue. Support for this dialogue is strongest among religious minorities and especially among Muslim interviewees. Here a great potential becomes visible that is socially available for such a dialogue. Moreover, this potential rests in an almost complete consensus on the value of the right of freedom of religion in both countries. Even so, religious diversity can connect and promote society.. Even so, religious diversity can connect and promote society.

Religion structures social identities on the societal level

Despite the increasing complexity of the construction of social identities among individuals, religion in Switzerland as well as in Germany is a factor that strongly structures social identities. For both countries, the researchers were able to identify five configurations of social identities: "belonging oriented", "environment oriented", "religion oriented", "family oriented", and "self-oriented". Religion as a social identity is an important distinguishing feature in all configurations. Further research is needed here.

"Configurations of individual and collective religious identities and their civil society potentials" - the research project and the KONID Survey 2019

The survey is part of the German-Swiss research project "Configurations of Individual and Collective Religious Identities and their Civil Society Potentials (KONID)" funded by the German Research Foundation (DFG) and the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNF). The KONID Survey 2019 is a representative population survey for the resident population of Switzerland and Germany over the age of 16 on civil society, social identities and religion. In Switzerland and Germany, more than 3,000 respondents each took part in the survey in the first half of 2019. Prof. Dr. Antonius Liedhegener at the University of Lucerne and Prof. Dr. Gert Pickel at the University of Leipzig lead the project. Further authors of the report are the team members Anastas Odermatt (Lucerne), Yvonne Jaeckel and Dr. Alexander Yendell (both Leipzig). The KONID project is the quantitative part of the interdisciplinary research network "Social Groups and Religious Identities in Civil Society (RESIC)", in which Prof. Dr. Martin Baumann (Lucerne)  and Prof. Dr. Alexander K. Nagel (Göttingen) are involved with two qualitative projects.


Further information

The complete report can be downloaded (open access) at:

The Swiss authors of the study, Prof. Dr. Antonius Liedhegener and Anastas Odermatt MA, will answer questions at an information event on 11 December 2019 at the University of Lucerne. The event will take place from 11.30 to 13.30 in the foyer of the University of Lucerne.


KONID-Team Switzerland

Prof. Dr. Antonius Liedhegener
University of Lucerne
Centre for Religion, Economics and Politics (ZRWP)
Frohburgstr. 3 / PF 4466
CH-6002 Lucerne
Phone: +41 41 229 59 13

KONID-Team Germany

Prof. Dr. Gert Pickel
University of Leipzig
Faculty of Theology
Martin Luther Ring 3
D-04109 Leipzig, Germany
Phone: +49 341 97354 63

11th December 2019