Numbers, Facts and Trends Shaping Your World

Religious Hostilities Reach Six-Year High


This is the fifth in a series of reports by the Pew Research Center analyzing the extent to which governments and societies around the world impinge on religious beliefs and practices. As part of the original study, published in 2009, Pew Research developed two indexes – a Government Restrictions Index and a Social Hostilities Index – that were used to gauge government restrictions on religion and social hostilities involving religion in nearly 200 countries and territories.

The initial report established a baseline for each country and five major geographic regions. Three follow-up reports looked at changes in the level of restrictions and hostilities in these countries and regions.

This new report looks at the extent and direction of change in government restrictions on religion and religious hostilities during calendar year 2012. Where appropriate, it also compares the situation in 2012 with the situation in the baseline year of the study (mid-2006 to mid-2007).

This is the second time Pew Research has analyzed restrictions on religion in a calendar year. Previous reports analyzed 12-month periods from July 1-June 30 (e.g., July 1, 2009-June 30, 2010). The shift to calendar years was made, in part, because most of the primary sources used in this study now are based on calendar years.

As we have noted in previous reports, it is important to keep in mind some limitations of this study. The indexes of government restrictions and social hostilities that serve as the basis of the study are designed to measure obstacles to religious expression and practice. As a result, the report focuses on the constraints on religion in each country and does not look at the other side of the coin: the amount of free or unhindered religious activity that takes place in particular countries. The study also does not attempt to determine whether restrictions are justified or unjustified, nor does it attempt to analyze the many factors – historical, demographic, cultural, religious, economic and political – that might explain why restrictions have arisen. It simply seeks to measure the restrictions that exist in a quantifiable, transparent and reproducible way, based on published reports from numerous governmental and nongovernmental organizations.

As was the case in the four previous reports, North Korea is not included in this study. The primary sources used in this study indicate that North Korea’s government is among the most repressive in the world, including toward religion. But because independent observers lack regular access to the country, the sources are unable to provide the kind of specific, timely information that formed the basis of this analysis.

The Pew Research Center’s work on global restrictions on religion is part of the Pew-Templeton Global Religious Futures project, which analyzes religious change and its impact on societies around the world. In addition to the four previous religious restrictions reports, other reports produced under this initiative, funded by The Pew Charitable Trusts and the John Templeton Foundation, include “The World’s Muslims: Religion, Politics and Society” (April 2013), “The Global Religious Landscape: A Report on the Size and Distribution of the World’s Major Religious Groups as of 2010” (December 2012), “The World’s Muslims: Unity and Diversity” (August 2012), “Faith on the Move: The Religious Affiliation of International Migrants” (March 2012), “Global Christianity: A Report on the Size and Distribution of the World’s Christian Population” (December 2011), “The Future of the Global Muslim Population: Projections for 2010-2030” (January 2011), “Tolerance and Tension: Islam and Christianity in Sub-Saharan Africa” (April 2010), and “Mapping the Global Muslim Population: A Report on the Size and Distribution of the World’s Muslim Population” (October 2009).

The principal researcher for this report was Brian J. Grim, a senior researcher and director of cross-national data at the Pew Research Center’s Religion & Public Life Project. He was assisted by associate director for editorial Sandra Stencel, research assistant Angelina Theodorou and data manager Juan Carlos Esparza Ochoa, as well as by several Georgetown University graduate and undergraduate students. For helping to recruit these very capable students, we are grateful to Georgetown’s Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs and its director, Professor Thomas Banchoff.

Alan Cooperman, Director of Religion Research

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