Europe has witnessed a tremendous diversification of its religious landscape in the last thirty years. Yet, Europe has never been as monolithically Christian as most historical overviews tend to tell us. Jews, Muslims in the Balkans and during Moor reign in Spain, adherents to various western esoteric traditions, and many more have been part of Europe’s multi-religious set-up.
Nevertheless, it certainly is right to state that the various Christian denominations and confessions exercised and continue to exert a dominant influence on religious life and affairs in Europe. During the second half of the twentieth century, however, with the influx of people from former overseas colonies and waves of refugees and workers, the landscape has started to become plural in more obvious and more visible terms. The plurality does not only apply to a growth and diversification along the line of so-called world religions. It also relates to an internal diversification of the religions themselves, be it Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, Sikhism and others. In Asia separated by nation borders, cultures, languages and vast distances, in Europe the different religious traditions have become close neighbours, a new experience and challenge for most. However, this new and increasing religious plurality has also become a challenge for both the established Christian churches and European societies. Visibility of “foreign” faiths and rituals has caused fears and states of uncertainty among certain parts of European-born people. Disputes about the building of mosques or temples, discussions about the place of religious symbols in school and public arenas, debates of granting privileging rights to immigrated religions are head lines in the newspaper. They point to a renegotiation of the place of non-Christian religions in the public sphere. The politics of recognition fought by religions of minority status is visible in various social areas: in the sphere of education, law, politics as well as public appearance and presentation. However, despite the pluralization of Europe’s religious landscape it is important to remember that up to now the percentage rate of non-Christian religions is well below 10% at all.
This slide show aims to provide an idea of the evolved religious diversity by portraying religions brought by immigrants from Asia to Europe. It depicts and describes selected places of Buddhist, Hindu and Sikh worship in Germany and Switzerland. Though there are considerable numbers of western converts, especially so in the case of Buddhism, the show is restricted to the experience and locations of Asian immigrants. Most often, the places established, whether small in a narrow basement or huge in a newly built edifice, form vivid homes away from home. They provide nostalgic remembrances of as well as continuing links to the people, culture and religion left behind.
The slide show consists of seven parts: Each show is an avenue to specific facets of South and South East Asian migrant religiosity and newly created places of worship. Martin Baumann presents pictures and texts of selected Hindu, Buddhist, Sikh and places of worship in both Germany and Switzerland. Annette Wilke contributes a contrasting portray of two Hindu goddess temples in Northern Germany – a tiny one located in a cellar and a huge one where the goddess is installed in a magnificent shrine as the center of a purpose-built temple. Brigitte Luchesi presents pictures and moments where the gods and goddesses are taken out of the temple to the street. During such public processions living Hinduism becomes most visible to the overall population. Otherwise, Hindu temples, with one notable exception, and Hindu life are hardly known and noticed at all in Germany and Switzerland.
Immigrant Hinduism in Germany
The presence of Hindu people and communities in Germany is relatively recent. Early encounters already date back to the 19th century, favoring a glorified picture of India and Indian religiosity. Today, Hinduism in Germany as a lived and practised religion is made up of various strands, groups and ethnic communities. We reckon the figure to be about 100,000 people, nine tenth constituted by immigrants who came as workers and refugees.
During the period from the 1950s to the 1970s, the number of Indian Hindus coming to Germany rose slowly. They were mainly medical students from West Bengal, but also doctors, scientists, technicians and merchants from various parts of North India. These individual professionals and academics were mainly men from the urban, upper middle classes. Quite a number married German women. Staying in Germany for several decades, they became well established as businessmen, professors or senior physicians. Many of them adopted German nationality. The overall number of Indians in Germany, most of them Hindus, but also with a considerable number of Catholics, may be estimated to about 40,000 people. Though most are financially well off, you can only find a few places of worship situated in private houses. The only Indian Hindu temple in Frankfurt/Main was short-lived.
A much smaller though much better organised group of Hindu people can be found among refugees from Afghanistan. They fled the war and arrived from 1980 onwards. Among the almost 100,000 Afghan people living in Germany, a minority of about 5,000 are Hindus. In Afghanistan, the approximately 35,000 Hindus formed a prosperous, urban minority, many of them working as traders in Kabul. Their skill to survive in the Afghan diaspora was successfully transplanted to Germany, even more so as the forced migration occurred in whole family and kinship units. These migrants established several cultural societies and spacious, marvously decorated temples in Hamburg, Frankfurt and Cologne (2 temples). Occasionally Indian Hindus and Sikhs visit the temples too.
The strand of western Hindus, i.e. of Germans who converted to a Neo-Hindu grouping, provoked strong public debates during the 1970s and 1980s. In those days organisations such as the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON, “Hare Krishna”), Ananda Marga, Transcendental Meditation, Sahja Yoga and the Neo-Sannyas Movement founded local groups and centres in German cities. During the 1990s their following has shrunk and might be estimated to some 7,000 to 10,000 people in early 2005.
The numerically strongest and currently most visible Hindu “community” in Germany is formed by Tamil people from Sri Lanka. Since the escalation of the Sinhalese-Tamil conflict in Sri Lanka during the 1980s, about 60,000 came as asylum seekers. The number of Hindus, almost all Shaivas, is approximately 45,000. The Tamil refugees have established South Asian supply shops and founded cultural societies in various cities and towns. These organize Tamil language, music and dance classes. Additionally, since the late 1980s, Tamil Hindus founded numerous temples, numbering about 25 places of worship in early 2005. The temples are situated in cellars and flats, some in former warehouses and industrial halls. Apart from their religious importance for the carrying out of religious worship, life-cycle rituals and festivals, some of the temples also function as socio-cultural meeting points. A few temples have started to celebrate the annual temple festival with a public procession, thus bringing the gods and Hindu tradition to wider notice. The most visible and best known Hindu temple in continental Europe is the Sri Kamadchi Ampal temple in Hamm/Westphalia. Eleven priests took part in the inauguration of this purpose-built, South Asian styled temple in summer 2002. The annual temple festival attracts some 15,000 visitors and has become a central pilgrimage place for Tamil Hindu all over Europe.
— Dr. Martin Baumann, Pluralism Project Affliate
For more information, please see the Sri Kamadchi Ampal temple’s website http://www.kamadchi-ampal.de/
Second generation Indians in Germany maintain a website and exchange information, please see http://theinder.net.
The authors Martin Baumann, Brigitte Luchesi and Annette Wilke have jointly published the volume Tempel und Tamilen in zweiter Heimat: Hindus aus Sri Lanka im deutschsprachigen und skandinavischen Raum, Würzburg: Ergon, 2003, pp.500 (with English summaries).
Related online research papers of the authors are:
Baumann, Martin, “Disputed Space for Beloved Goddesses: Hindu Temples, Conflicts and Religious Pluralism in Germany”. In: Rever. Revista de Estudos da Religiao, 1, 4, 2001. http://www.pucsp.br/rever/rv4_2001/t_bauman.htm.
Luchesi, Brigitte, “Leaving Invisibility. The Establishment of Hindu Tamil Religiosity in German Public Space”. In: New Kolam, Vol. 9 and 10, 2004. http://www.fas.nus.edu.sg/journal/kolam/vols/kolam9&10/luchesi.htm.
Wilke, Annette, “The Goddess Kamaksi in Hamm-Uentrop (Westphalia, Germany)”. In: New Kolam, Vol. 9 and 10, 2004. http://www.fas.nus.edu.sg/journal/kolam/vols/kolam9&10/wilke.htm.