“Confessional affiliation and religious practice of Yenish and Sinti in Switzerland in the present: Institutions, networks and identities. “

The dissertation is written in the context of the research project: „Religious dynamics among the Yenish – from exclusion to religious integration and reorientation.“ This project is endorsed by the Swiss National Science Foundation SNF and placed under the leadership of Professor Oliver Krüger. (Project duration: September 1st 2015 until August 30th 2018)

The Yenish minority in Switzerland is a recurrent topic in the media, not for their religious affiliation, but as a result of their struggle for their right to live and earn their livelihood travelling. For a right it is - since 1996 – if only on paper. In reality, only very few communes or private landowners welcome them on their land. The travelling Yenish are a minority within the minority, because the majority of Yenish are meanwhile sedentary. The religious affiliations of the Yenish have until now been a vastly neglected aspect of their cultural life.

The persecution of the Yenish minority in Switzerland from 1926 until as late as 1972 through the government-sponsored charity called Pro Juventute is a black chapter in Swiss history. Pro Juventute took Yenish children away from their parents and placed them in foster care, in orphanages or even in prisons (without trials), with the help of church institutions, teachers, social workers etc. Even forced sterilisations have taken place. Families, lives have been devastated. The avowed aim was the “destruction of the vagrant lifestyle”.

My master’s thesis is a thick description of the catholic pastoral care for the travelling people in Switzerland. (Catholic Pastoral Care for the Travellers in Switzerland. „Like a bird on a twig…”)

During research it became clear that the gradual institutionalization of the chaplaincy was partly motivated by the realization that the majority of the Yenish in Switzerland had already joined the Pentecostal church “Vie et lumière”, where they are outnumbered by Manouche/Manische, as the Sinti call themselves in the French speaking part of Switzerland. The institutionalisation of the catholic pastoral care also fell into the time when actions of the ill-named charity Pro Juventute were finally reviewed.

The subsequent project application at the Swiss National Science Foundation: „Religious dynamics among the Yenish – from exclusion to religious integration and reorientation“ under the leadership of Professor Oliver Krüger, was motivated by following questions:

  • How do the major religious affiliations affect social networks within the Yenish society?
  • What is the link between the exercise of religion and coping strategies in everyday life?
  • How do the two denominations catering for the Yenish and Manouche answer existential issues that affect their lives?
  • In which ways do the two religious institutions adapt rituals to the needs of their clientele?
  • What is the link between religious praxis and the need for space for temporal community life?

The answers to these questions (that will certainly give rise to many more questions, applying grounded theory) are sought through qualitative research methods such as participant observations and interviews, based on meanwhile longstanding field contacts. 

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