Numbers, Facts and Trends Shaping Your World

Religious restrictions among the world’s most populous countries

Levels of religious restrictions and hostilities among the world’s 25 most populous countries — where more than 5 billion of the globe’s roughly 7.5 billion people live — vary tremendously, from some of the lowest in the world (Japan) to among the very highest (Egypt).

Religious Restrictions Worldwide 2007-2014

In addition to Egypt, Indonesia, Pakistan, Russia and Turkey had some of the highest levels of religious restrictions, according to a new study from the Pew Research Center that uses 2014 data (the most recent year for which data were available). In these countries, both the government and society at large imposed numerous limits on religious beliefs and practices.

In Egypt, for example, there were several sectarian attacks during 2014. In March of that year, a Christian woman was attacked by a group of Muslim Brotherhood supporters when they saw a crucifix in her car. According to reports, the woman was pulled by her hair into the street, beaten and killed. And in Russia, the government passed a new law limiting activity at houses of worship. The law imposes strict new reporting requirements for religious groups seeking to organize events and ceremonies in public spaces, according to the U.S. Department of State’s annual International Religious Freedom report.

In the United States, social hostilities in 2014 rose to a high level for the first time. In April 2014, a gunman opened fire on civilians outside of a Jewish retirement home in Kansas City. The attacker also targeted a nearby community center, killing three people.

When we analyzed religious restrictions imposed by government, China, the world’s largest country by population, had the highest level. For example, in Kashgar Prefecture, a largely Muslim area in the western part of the country, authorities forced current and retired government employees to sign a pledge not to grow long beards or wear veils during Ramadan.

Meanwhile, Pakistan, the sixth-largest country by population, had the highest level of religion-related social hostilities among the world’s most populous countries. For example, in Punjab province, a mob of 1,500 villagers accused a Christian couple of blasphemy – burning them alive in a brick kiln. And in Sindh, attackers set fire to a Hindu temple in after a Hindu man was accused of desecrating a copy of the Quran.

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

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 2007-2014, see the full report.