This TEDx talk* provides an overview of Pew Research findings on the rising tide of restrictions on religion around the world coming from governments as well as groups in society.

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The study finds approximately three-quarters of the world's population live in countries with high or very high restrictions on religion coming either from governments or groups in society. 

Nearly two-thirds of the world's people live in countries with high government restrictions on religion. Government restrictions range from limits on religious symbols, which occur in about a quarter of all countries, to very high government favoritism of one religion or religious group above all others. The study finds that, on average, social hostilities involving religion are 3.5 times higher in countries with very high government favoritism of religion than in countries with low levels of favoritism.

Government restrictions can also cross borders and be enforced by governments thousands of miles away, as was the case when Saudi journalist Hamza Kashgari was extradited by Malaysian authorities to Saudi Arabia to face charges of blasphemy, which carries the possibility of the death penalty.

The Pew Research study also finds that about half of the world's population lives in countries with high social hostilities. Social hostilities include religion-related terrorist activities, which occur in more than a third of countries - allegedly including the recent bombings in Boston.  

Example of a Connection between Government Restrictions and Social Hostilities

Government restrictions on converting from one religion to another occur in about a quarter of countries. For example, five of India’s 28 states have anti-conversions laws to prevent coerced or unethical conversions. In practice, however, these laws are used to prevent Hindus from converting to Islam or Christianity. And when conversions occur, they are sometimes met with hostilities. The research I have done finds a clear association between religious restrictions and religious hostilities. 

For instance, The Price of Freedom Denied, shows that, contrary to popular opinion, ensuring religious freedom for all reduces violent religious persecution and conflict. Others have suggested that restrictions on religion are necessary to maintain order or preserve a peaceful religious homogeneity. This book shows that restricting religious freedoms is associated with higher levels of violent persecution. (See p. 148 for discussion on anti-conversion laws.)

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* The research and graphics in the talk are the result of a collaborative effort by many researchers, editors, and web and graphic designers at the Pew Research Center's Forum on Religion & Public Life. Special thanks to Angelina Theodorou for research assistance, to Juan Carlos Esparza Ochoa for data management, and to Diana Yoo for the graphics and animation used in the talk. The methodology used by the Pew Forum was developed by senior researcher and director of cross-national data Brian J. Grim in consultation with other members of the Pew Research Center staff, building on a methodology that Grim and professor Roger Finke developed while at Penn State University’s Association of Religion Data Archives (ARDA)


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