Restrictions on religious beliefs and practices rose between mid-2006 and mid-2009 in 23 of the world’s 198 countries (12%), decreased in 12 countries (6%) and remained essentially unchanged in 163 countries (82%), according to a new study by the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life.
Because several countries with increasing restrictions on religion are very populous, however, the increases affected a much larger share of people than of states. More than 2.2 billion people – nearly a third (32%) of the world’s total population of 6.9 billion – live in countries where either government restrictions on religion or social hostilities involving religion rose substantially over the three-year period studied. Only about 1% of the world’s population lives in countries where government restrictions or social hostilities declined.
Among the world’s 25 most populous countries – which account for about 75% of the world’s total population – restrictions on religion substantially increased in eight countries and did not substantially decrease in any. In China, Nigeria, Russia, Thailand, the United Kingdom and Vietnam, the increases were due primarily to rising levels of social hostilities involving religion. In Egypt and France, the increases were mainly the result of government restrictions. The rest of the 25 most populous countries, including the United States, did not experience substantial changes in either social hostilities or government-imposed restrictions.
This is the second time the Pew Forum has measured restrictions on religion around the globe. Like the baseline report, the new study scores 198 countries and territories on two indexes:
- The Government Restrictions Index measures government laws, policies and actions that restrict religious beliefs or practices. This includes efforts by governments to ban particular faiths, prohibit conversions, limit preaching or give preferential treatment to one or more religious groups.
- The Social Hostilities Index measures acts of religious hostility by private individuals, organizations and social groups. This includes mob or sectarian violence, harassment over attire for religious reasons and other religion-related intimidation or abuse.
Among the five geographic regions covered in the study, the Middle East-North Africa region had the largest proportion of countries in which government restrictions on religion increased, with nearly a third of the region’s countries (30%) imposing greater restrictions. Egypt, in particular, ranked very high (in the top 5% of all countries, as of mid-2009) on both government restrictions and social hostilities involving religion. Egypt was one of just two countries in the world – Indonesia was the other – that had very high scores on both measures as of mid-2009.
Europe had the largest proportion of countries in which social hostilities related to religion were on the rise from mid-2006 to mid-2009. Indeed, five of the 10 countries in the world that had a substantial increase in social hostilities were in Europe: Bulgaria, Denmark, Russia, Sweden and the United Kingdom. The study also finds that social hostilities involving religion have been rising in Asia, particularly in China, Thailand and Vietnam.
Read the full report here.