The share of countries with a high or very high level of social hostilities involving religion reached a six-year peak in 2012, according to a new study by the Pew Research Center. A third (33%) of the 198 countries and territories included in the study had high religious hostilities in 2012, up from 29% in 2011 and 20% as of mid-2007. Religious hostilities increased in every major region of the world except the Americas. The sharpest increase was in the Middle East and North Africa, which still is feeling the effects of the 2010-11 political uprisings known as the Arab Spring. There also was a significant increase in religious hostilities in the Asia-Pacific region, where China edged into the “high” category for the first time.
The share of countries with a high or very high level of government restrictions on religion stayed roughly the same in the latest year studied. About three-in-ten countries in the world (29%) had a high or very high level of government restrictions in 2012, compared with 28% in 2011 and 20% as of mid-2007. Europe had the biggest increase in the median level of government restrictions in 2012, followed closely by the Middle East-North Africa – the only other region where the median level of government restrictions on religion rose.
Looking at the overall level of restrictions – whether resulting from government policies or from social hostilities – the study finds that restrictions on religion are high or very high in 43% of countries, also a six-year high. Because some of these countries (like China) are very populous, more than 5.3 billion people (76% of the world’s population) live in countries with a high or very high level of restrictions on religion, up from 74% in 2011 and 68% as of mid-2007.
Among the world’s 25 most populous countries, Egypt, Indonesia, Russia, Pakistan and Burma (Myanmar) had the most restrictions on religion in 2012, when both government restrictions and social hostilities are taken into account. As in the previous year, Pakistan had the highest level of social hostilities involving religion, and Egypt had the highest level of government restrictions on religion. Social hostilities related to religion in Burma (Myanmar) rose to the “very high” level for the first time in the study.
During the latest year studied, there also was an increase in the level of harassment or intimidation of particular religious groups. Indeed, two of the seven major religious groups monitored by the study – Muslims and Jews – experienced six-year highs in the number of countries in which they were harassed by national, provincial or local governments, or by individuals or groups in society. As in previous years, Christians and Muslims – who together make up more than half of the global population – were harassed in the largest number of countries (110 and 109, respectively).
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