Global Restrictions on Religion Continue


Global Restrictions on Religion Continue

04 Mar 2015

A new report from the Pew Research Centre finds that overall global restrictions on religion fell in 2013, but there was an increase in anti-Semitism. 

The Pew Research Centre have analysed the extent to which governments and societies around the world impact on religious beliefs and practices since 2007. In their latest report Latest Trends in Religious Restrictions and Hostilities released on 26 February 2015, they suggest that although global restrictions on religion fell overall in 2013, around a quarter of countries worldwide still have high levels of religious hostilities within their borders.

A quarter of the world's countries still face religious hostilities.

The report also finds that the overall level of restrictions on religion, whether resulting from government policies or from hostile acts by private individuals, organisations and social groups, were high or very high in 39% of countries surveyed in 2013.

However, social hostilities towards religious groups saw a decline in 2013 after reaching a six-year peak in 2012, dropping from 33% in 2012 to 27% in 2013.

In respect of government restrictions on religion, the share of countries with high or very high government restrictions on religion stayed roughly the same from 2012 to 2013, with 27% of countries in this category in 2013, compared with 29% in 2012.

Key Findings

Country Restrictions

About 5.5 billion people (77% of the world's population) were living in countries with a high or very high overall level of restrictions on religion in 2013, up from 76% in 2012 and 68% in 2007. These figures are high due to some of these countries (like China and India) being very populous.

Among the world's 25 most populous countries, the highest overall levels of restrictions were found in Myanmar, Egypt, Indonesia, Pakistan and Russia. In each of these countries the government and society at large impose many limits on religious beliefs and practices.

Among these populous countries, China had the highest level of government restrictions in 2013, and India had the highest level of social hostilities involving religion.

Very high levels of restrictions on religion in the Middle East, including in Syria and Egypt.

Although the median level of both government restrictions and social hostilities involving religion decreased in 2013 among the 20 countries in the Middle East and North Africa region, the study found there are still high levels of restrictions here.  Syria and Egypt experienced very high levels of both government restrictions and social hostilities involving religion. Israel, the Palestinian territories, Iraq and Saudi Arabia all continued to have very high restrictions in one of the two categories.

Two countries, the Central African Republic (CAR) and Niger had large increases in social hostilities in 2013, due to sectarian violence between Boko Haram and Christian militia groups in the CAR, including the deaths of hundreds of people and the displacement thousands. In Niger, villagers in the Tahoua region attacked members of an Islamic association in May 2013, killing one person and injuring more than a dozen other.

In 2013, 18 countries had a "very high" level of government restrictions, down from 24 countries in 2012.

The countries with very high government restrictions on religion in 2013 are: 1. China, 2. Indonesia, 3. Uzbekistan, 4. Iran, 5. Egypt, 6. Afghanistan, 7. Saudi Arabia, 8. Malaysia, 9. Burma (Myanmar), 10. Russia, 11. Syria, 12. Turkey, 13. Azerbaijan, 14. Sudan, 15. Brunei, 16. Eritrea, 17. Tajikistan, 18. Singapore.

The countries with very high social hostilities involving religion in 2013 are: 1. Israel, 2. India, 3. Pakistan, 4. Palestinian territories, 5. Nigeria, 6. Bangladesh, 7. Sri Lanka, 8. Russia, 9. Afghanistan, 10. Somalia, 11. Syria, 12. Tanzania, 13. Indonesia, 14. Egypt, 15. Central African Republic, 16. Iraq, 17. Kenya.

Restrictions on Religious Groups

In Europe, Jews were harassed by individuals or social groups in 34 of the region's 45 countries (76%).

A seven-year high in the 'harassment of Jews in 2013.

In recent years, there has been a marked increase in the number of countries where Jews were persecuted. In 2013, harassment of Jews, either by government or social groups, was found in 77 countries (39%) – a seven-year high. This is up from 71 in 2012 and 51 in 2007. Jews are much more likely to be harassed by individuals or groups in society than by governments.

As in previous years, Christians and Muslims – who together make up more than half of the global population – faced persecution in the largest number of countries.

Christians were persecuted, either by government or social groups, in 102 of the 198 countries included in the study (52%), while Muslims were harassed in 99 countries (50%).

Restrictions on Religious Minorities

In terms of religious minorities, the report found that obstacles for religious minorities do not usually stand alone, but more often are part of a broader set of restrictions on religion. For example, of the 59 countries where the government specifically targets religious minorities, 43 also have high or very high overall government restrictions on religion.

Religious minorities faced hostilities in 61% of countries in 2013.

As of 2013, nearly a third of the countries in the world (59 countries, or 30%) had at least one government restriction on religious minority groups. Similarly, in 2013, 120 countries (about 61%) experienced at least one social hostility targeted at religious minorities.

Countries with restrictions or hostilities aimed primarily at a religious minority are more likely than the rest of the world to have widespread restrictions and hostilities beyond those that tend to target religious minorities.

A Note on Methodology

A number of more recent and well documented accounts of religious persecutions that have been reported on in the media over the past 12 months, including in Iraq and the rapid advance of ISIS, are not recorded fully in this report. This is because the study is sourced from a number of reports from governmental, nongovernmental and other official organisations reports which report at the end of the year. A team then turns the content of these reports into a data for both indexes, a process that takes time but delivers reliable and accurate information.

The report is based on two measures of religious restrictions:

The Social Hostilities Index (SHI), which measures acts of religious hostility by private individuals, organisations or groups in society. This includes religion-related armed conflict or terrorism, mob or sectarian violence, harassment over attire for religious reasons or other religion-related intimidation or abuse. The SHI includes 13 measures of social hostilities.

The Government Restrictions Index (GRI), which measures government laws, policies and actions that restrict religious beliefs and practices. The GRI is comprised of 20 measures of restrictions, including efforts by government to ban particular faiths, prohibit conversion, limit preaching or give preferential treatment to one or more religious groups. To measure global restrictions on religion in 2013, the new study scores 198 countries and territories on the same 10-point indexes used in the previous studies.

The methodology for the two indices was developed by former Pew Research Center expert and current Religion & Geopolitics advisory council member Brian J. Grim, and Roger Finke a professor of sociology and religious studies at Pennsylvania State University.

The Pew Research Centre report can be read in full here.

This article summarises an external report, and is not to be taken as the view of the Tony Blair Faith Foundation.


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