On April 19, 2013, TEDx – the cutting-edge technology, entertainment and design conference – is coming to the Vatican. The topic of the TEDxViaDellaConciliazione is “Religious Freedom Today.”
For more than half a century, the United Nations and numerous international organizations have affirmed the principle of religious freedom. For just as many decades, journalists and human rights groups have reported on persecution of minority faiths, outbreaks of sectarian violence and other pressures on religious individuals and communities in many countries. But until recently, it was difficult to measure levels of religious freedom and religious hostilities in a way that was comparable across all countries.
However, beginning in the year ending in mid-2007, the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life has annually counted and categorized reports of government restrictions on religion and social hostilities involving religion from an extensive number of publicly available sources, including reports by the U.S. State Department, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief, the Council of the European Union, Human Rights Watch, the International Crisis Group, Freedom House and Amnesty International.
According to the Pew Forum study, restrictions on religion have been on the rise across the world. The share of countries with high or very high restrictions on religious beliefs and practices rose from 29% in the year ending in mid-2007 to 37% in the year ending in mid-2010. Because some of the most restrictive countries are very populous, 75% of the world’s approximately 7 billion people live in countries with high government restrictions on religion or high social hostilities involving religion, up from 68% three years earlier.
The Pew Forum’s study on religious restrictions scores 197 countries and territories on two indexes:
– The Government Restrictions Index (GRI) measures government laws, policies and actions that restrict religious beliefs or practices. The GRI is comprised of 20 measures of restrictions, including 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 (SHI) 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. The SHI includes 13 measures of social hostilities.
One important finding from the 2012 study is that higher scores on the Government Restrictions Index are associated with higher scores on the Social Hostilities Index and vice versa. This means that, in general, it is rare for countries that score high on one index to be low on the other.
In particular, the study found that some government restrictions have a stronger association with social hostilities than others. Government policies or actions that clearly favor one religion at the expense of others have the strongest association with social hostilities involving religion. Other government actions that are strongly associated with social hostilities involving religion are (in descending order): the use of force against religious groups; failing to intervene to stop religious discrimination; and limiting conversion from one religion to another.
By contrast, social hostilities involving religion were lowest among countries where governments do not harass or intimidate religious groups; national laws and policies protect religious freedom; governments do not interfere with religious worship or practices; and governments do not use force against religious groups.
Likewise, certain types of social hostilities involving religion are more likely to be associated with higher government restrictions on religion. Sectarian or communal violence between religious groups has the strongest association with government restrictions on religion. Other social hostilities that are strongly associated with government restrictions are (in descending order): hostilities over conversion from one religion to another; violence or the threat of violence to enforce religious norms; religion-related terrorist violence; and groups coercively dominating public life with their perspective on religion.
Government restrictions are, on average, lowest in countries where there are no violent acts resulting from tensions between religious groups; there are no crimes or malicious acts motivated by religious hatred; there are no groups dominating public life with their perspective on religion; and there are no incidents of violence stemming from hostility over conversions.
Policymakers from the White House, the U.S. State Department, the European Parliament and the United Nations have taken notice of the Pew Forum’s ongoing study of religious restrictions because it provides a quantitative framework they can use to monitor changes in religious restrictions over time, across the world, in specific geographical regions and in individual countries.
Tune in or come join me at the TEDx conference on April 19 to get the Pew Forum’s latest information on religious restrictions and hostilities affecting the world today.
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Dr. Brian J. Grim is Senior Researcher and Director of Cross-National Data at the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life