The two religious characteristics associated with peace are LOW government restrictions on religious behavior and LOW social hostilities involving religion. In addition, countries with higher religious diversity are, on average, more peaceful and have less restrictions on or social hostilities involving religion than countries with religious monopolies.
The impact of government restrictions on and social hostilities involving religion can be seen by looking at government type, which is a key driver of peace.
As governments are further away from being a full democracy (see chart), religious hostilities and government restrictions on religious freedom are more severe. The trend holds true across the board, although, because of the repressive nature of authoritarian regimes, such regimes hold down social hostilities more than hybrid and flawed democracies because of the often overwhelming force used to control any social opposition or political dissent.
Full democracies have the best average performance in peace, and the lowest levels of religious restrictions and religious hostilities. Less regulation of religion reduces the grievances of religions, and also decreases the ability of any single religion to wield undue political power (also see The Price of Freedom Denied).
Full democracies outperform every other government type. Full democracies are on average 58% more peaceful, have 131% less religious restrictions and 49% less religious hostility than authoritarian regimes. Authoritarian regimes have the worst performance in peace and unsurprisingly in religious restrictions. However, authoritarian regimes are the second best performing government type on the Social Hostilities Index, reflecting the ‘enforced peace’ that can occur in some authoritarian contexts.
Every full democracy, except the US, is amongst the 50 most peaceful countries in the world. Full democracies have disproportionately higher levels of non-believers than other forms of government. However, the overall proportions of atheists are generally very low and are therefore incapable of creating a strong influence on the factors that affect peace. Full democracies are peaceful regardless of the levels of religious belief.
Countries that are more religiously diverse - that is, without a dominant religious group - have, on average, higher levels of peace and less government restrictions towards religion. They also have lower levels of religious hostilities. In this study, a dominant religious group means there is more than 60% of the population identifying as followers of a particular belief system or denomination.
Countries without a dominant religious group are on average 17% more peaceful than countries with a dominant religious group. Similarly, countries without a dominant religious group have on average 25% less religious restrictions and 40% lower religious hostilities.
The presence of mulitple religions in a country appears to have a pacifying effect if they are free of restrictions. Alternatively, if the members of a religious group dominates and “achieves a monopoly”, they are likely to be able to access and use the power of the state. What has been seen in the past is that dominant religious groups with state power are open to persecute other religious groups and competitors.