European Political Science Review

Research Article

Religious reasons in the public sphere: an empirical study of religious actors’ argumentative patterns in Swiss direct democratic campaigns

André Bächtigera1 c1, Judith Könemanna2, Ansgar Jödickea3 and Dominik Hangartnera4 with Roger Husistein, Melanie Zurlinden, Seraina Pedrini, Mirjam Cranmer, and Kathrin Schwaller

a1 Swiss National Science Foundation Research Professor, Institute for Political Science, University of Lucerne, Switzerland

a2 Professor, Department of Catholic Theology, University of Münster, Germany

a3 Senior Researcher, Department of Religious Studies, University of Fribourg, Switzerland

a4 Lecturer, London School of Economics, Methodology Institute, London UK, and University of Zurich, Department of Political Science, Zurich, Switzerland


The ‘going public’ of religious actors is taking central stage both in religious studies and political philosophy. But this ‘going public’ of religious actors is controversial. The debate revolves around the question of whether religious actors must frame their religious convictions in terms of secular reasons or whether they should be allowed to introduce religiously grounded beliefs into public political argument without constraints. Despite vigorous and ongoing debate, there is little systematic and empirical research on this question. This article focuses on the public statements of religious actors in the context of Swiss direct democratic votes on abortion and immigration. Our empirical findings reveal an interesting gap: while many political philosophers and religious thinkers have moved to a position where religious actors can – and even should – openly employ religious arguments, the practice of religious actors in Switzerland is different. The larger denominations of Catholics and Protestants especially have a tendency to use a great amount of secular vocabulary. In addition, our findings also reveal that the use of religious or secular reasons varies considerably according to different issues, different media types (religious vs. secular press), different religious traditions, different alliance structures, and different media genres, while there is no clear time trend.

(Online publication June 15 2012)


  • religion;
  • political philosophy;
  • argumentation


c1 E-mails: