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Pew: More Global Religious Freedom Despite Rising Religious Violence


New findings from the Pew-Templeton Global Religious Futures project, which analyzes religious change and its impact on societies around the world, show that in terms of religious freedom, things have taken a recent turn for the better. Pew reports that the number of countries with high or very high restrictions and hostilities declined in 2014 (Pew does not yet have data on 2015). This includes both government restrictions on religion and societal hostilities involving religious practice.

Pew’s data indicate a year-over-year declines in religious strictures dating back to 2012, and a five year low in social hostility involving religion. The data is represented as a percentage of 198 total countries having high or very high levels of governmental and societal limitations on religious practice.

In 2014, 24% of the countries studied were found to have high or very high government restrictions on religion and 23% had high or very high social hostilities involving religion, down from 2012 highs of 29% and 33%, respectively.

The report covers an eight-year period (2007-2014), and shows growth in government restrictions on religion from 2007 to 2012, and then two years of declines.

Despite modest reductions in the number of countries facing religious restrictions, Pew’s data still provide ample room for concern. Pew reports that, “Although only about a quarter of the countries included in the study fall into the most religiously restrictive categories, some of the most restrictive countries (such as Indonesia and Pakistan) are very populous. As a result, roughly three-quarters of the world’s 7.2 billion people (74%) were living in countries with high or very high restrictions or hostilities in 2014, down slightly from 77% in 2013.”

Also troubling is Pew’s finding that religious terrorism rose in the same period. Pew notes an “increase in the number of countries that experienced religion-related terrorist activities, including acts carried out by such groups as Boko Haram, al-Qaida and the Islamic State (also known as ISIS or ISIL).” Terrorist activities include recruitment and violence.

The Pew data present a mixed message: “There was a decline,” Pew reports, “in the number of countries in which individuals were assaulted or displaced from their homes in retaliation for religious activities considered offensive or threatening to the majority faith in their country, state or province.” Along with those declines, “there also was a decline in the number of countries where threats of violence were used to enforce religious norms and a global decline in the incidence of mob violence related to religion.”

The Global Religious Futures project is jointly funded by The Pew Charitable Trusts and the John Templeton Foundation. The study ranks 198 countries and territories by their levels of government restrictions on religion and social hostilities involving religion. The 2014 study is based on the same 10-point indexes used in previous studies spanning the last seven years.

For more on the study’s findings and methodologies, see Pew’s report, “Trends in Global Restrictions on Religion.”


Jared Wright is Managing Editor of

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