March 3, 2015

Religious restrictions among the world’s most populous countries

Changes in Restrictions on ReligionLevels of religious restrictions and hostilities among the world’s 25 most populous countries — where more than 5 billion people live — vary tremendously, from some of the lowest in the world (South Africa) to among the very highest (Indonesia).

Burma (Myanmar), Egypt, Pakistan and Russia also had some of the highest levels of religious restrictions, according to a new study from the Pew Research Center, using 2013 data (the most recent year analyzed). In these countries, both the government and society at large impose numerous limits on religious beliefs and practices.

In Burma, for example, Buddhist residents in Kyawpadaung Township tried to prevent Muslims from living in the area, displaying signs that said the town had been “purified” of Muslims. And in Pakistan, the government continued to enforce laws designed to marginalize the minority Ahmadiyya community, including laws that make it difficult for members of the community to vote or obtain passports and other legal documents if they do not renounce their faith. Ahmadis see themselves as a Muslim sect, but many Pakistanis do not view them as Muslims.

When we analyzed restrictions imposed by government, China, the world’s largest country by population, had the highest level of restrictions. For example, police in eastern Tibet beat a former Buddhist monk to death after he was found to have recordings of speeches by the Dalai Lama, who has a history of tensions with the Chinese government.

Looking at social hostilities involving religion, India, the second-largest country by population, had the highest level. Religious hostilities against people who have converted from Hinduism to Christianity continued to result in tensions, “reconversion” attempts and violent attacks, according to the U.S. Department of State’s annual International Religious Freedom report.

In Turkey, government restrictions in 2013 rose to a very high level for the first time since 2007. The government imposed new limits on religious minorities; for example, members of evangelical Protestant churches and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon Church) reported arbitrary police action and government surveillance.

The United States was among the countries where social hostilities increased between 2012 and 2013, in part because two brothers influenced by Muslim extremists detonated bombs at the Boston Marathon in April 2013, killing three people and injuring hundreds. (The surviving brother is currently standing trial.)

Social hostilities also rose in Bangladesh after a young Hindu student was accused of insulting the Prophet Muhammad and a mob violently attacked a predominantly Hindu village, burning more than two dozen homes and beating the student’s father in the town square.

Several very populous countries have relatively low levels of restrictions and hostilities – including Brazil, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Japan, the Philippines and South Africa. South Africa was in the lowest category for both social hostilities and government restrictions.

The United Kingdom, where government restrictions decreased from a moderate to a low level in 2013, was the only country among the 25 most populous that had a significant decrease in its level of government restrictions on religion. Among the reasons were fewer restrictions on those practicing Scientology – including a Supreme Court ruling that said Scientology should be regarded as a religion and that the British government should therefore recognize weddings that take place in Scientology chapels.

For details on the sources and methodology of this analysis, and to explore an interactive showing changes in restrictions in the world’s 25 most populous countries from 2007-2013, see the full report.

Topics: Restrictions on Religion

  1. Photo of Angelina E. Theodorou

    is a research analyst focusing on religion at Pew Research Center.

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  1. Anonymous1 month ago

    The racism in India is extreme.

    This includes:

    -The caste system where 320 million Outcasts live a life that is horrible, including millions cleaning the human refuse of other Indians. The maltreatment of them by the upper casts.

    -The maltreatment of India’s 100 million tribal population

    -India’s movie industry where Bollywood actors are “clones” of Hollywood including bleached skin, plastic surgery, false contact lenses, etc. No Pariah has become one of the major actors in India’s massive movie industry. dark skinned Indians seldom are successful. The stark contrast between the European looking Actors and the darker skinned audience is uniquely Indian.

    -India’s marriage system. An Indian family would immolate their daughter if she weds an African but would consent if that person is a European. Classic example is Sonia Gandhi, head of the Congress party who is Italian.

    -India’s magazines where the models of articles, that are meant for Indians, are from Northern Europe. These very fair Europeans model for products, articles and subject matters meant for Indians. Not even Mediterranean models are included. Certainly not any dark skinned Indians, Africans, or East Asians.

    -India’s Hindu myths where Hindu Gods are shown as white skinned while demons are dark skinned

    The list is extensive and what is provided are a few examples. The book “India Shattering the Illusion. Birth of New Nations. Kashmir to Elam” by Columbus Falco covers in depth this subject and modern day India. It is the only book that openly and frankly addresses the real India. What is pointed out is just a sampling of the book. This book covers world of racism in India and its origins.

  2. Narendran Cp1 year ago

    What you mean by religious restriction? Is it a function of the state concerned? What happens when a state writes into its constitution that it believes in a god with an upper case G as in ‘God’ as the US has written into its constitution since this particular god has commanded that ‘ye shall have no other gods before me’, does it mean that if any other country with a religious system that don’t care a a hoot about such a command and considers it as a most ridiculous demand and goes against that sort of restriction ,it constitutes a religious restriction? I would wish that you reeducate your correspondents that this world is not one that they wish to see but that it is a world that they have to conform to what they see there is as normal as what they see in their own country.