Last week, deadly ISIS-inspired attacks occurred in France, Tunisia and Kuwait, claiming dozens of lives and adding further to already high social hostilities involving religion in the countries.

Recent Pew Research reports have documented worrying trends of increasing religious hostilities involving religion, with religion-related terrorism being a potential trigger in governments imposing greater restrictions on religion or belief more generally. Specifically, Pew found that countries where religion-related terror occurs have, on average, more than double the level of government restrictions on religious freedom as countries where no terror has occurred. 
Ironically, research - as in The Price of Freedom Denied - has shown that this cycle of violence leading to general restrictions may have the effect of both lowering religious freedom and increasing violence rather than decreasing it because it may limit the activities of peaceful faith solutions while adding additional grievances by stigmatizing religion.

Terror Rising
According to a statistical annex prepared by the University of Maryland for the recently released annual report on terrorism by the U.S. State Department and cited during the report's release (though not included in the report), "the number of terrorist attacks in 2014 increased 35 percent, and total fatalities increased 81 percent compared to 2013, largely due to activity in Iraq, Afghanistan and Nigeria."

During the special briefing at the release by Tina S. Kaidanow, Ambassador-at-Large and Coordinator for Counterterrorism, stated that "more than 60 percent of all attacks took place in five countries: Iraq, Pakistan, Afghanistan, India, and Nigeria. And 78 percent of all fatalities due to terrorist attacks also took place in five countries: Iraq, Nigeria, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Syria. The increase in total fatalities was in part a result of certain attacks that were exceptionally lethal. In 2014 there were 20 attacks that killed more than a hundred people, compared to only two such attacks in 2013."

Note, while the State Department cited these statistics compiled by the University of Maryland, they are not a U.S. State Department product and the lack full context found in the larger report. Kaidanow noted in particular that aggregate totals or numbers of attacks are not really a particularly useful metric for measuring the aims of the extremist groups or of our progress in preventing or countering those activities.

State Department Report & 2014 Trends

Comments below are from a special briefing by Ambassador-at-Large and Coordinator for Counterterrorism Tina S. Kaidanow, Washington, DC June 19, 2015

"Despite significant blows to al-Qaida’s leadership, weak or failed governance continued to provide an enabling environment for the emergence of extremist radicalism and violence, notably in Yemen, in Syria, Libya, Nigeria, and Iraq. We’re deeply concerned about the continued evolution of the Islamic State of the Iraq in the Levant, ISIL; the emergence of self-proclaimed ISIL affiliates in Libya, Egypt, Nigeria, and elsewhere; and tens of thousands of foreign terrorist fighters who are exacerbating the violence in the Middle East, imposing a continued threat to their own home countries.

The ongoing civil war in Syria has been a spur to many of the worldwide terrorism events that we have witnessed. Since the report covers only calendar year 2014, it notes that the overall flow of foreign terrorist fighter travel to Syria was estimated at more than 16,000 foreign terrorist fighters from over 90 countries as of late December, which is a number that exceeds any similar flow of foreign terrorist fighters traveling to other countries in the last 20 years.

Many of the foreign terrorist fighters joined ISIL, which has seized contiguous territory in western Iraq and eastern Syria. Iraqi forces and the Counter-ISIL Coalition have dealt significant blows to ISIL, but it continues to control substantial territory.

As with many other terrorist groups worldwide, ISIL has brutally repressed the communities under its control and used ruthless methods of violence such as beheadings and crucifixions. Uniquely, however, it demonstrates a particular skill in employing new media tools to display its brutality both as a means to shock and to terrorize, but equally to propagandize and to attract new recruits.

Boko Haram shares with ISIL a penchant for the use of these brutal tactics, which include stonings, indiscriminate mass casualty attacks, and systematic oppression of women and girls, including enslavement, torture, and rape.

Though AQ central leadership has indeed been weakened, the organization continues to serve as a focal point of inspiration for a worldwide network of affiliated groups, including al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, AQAP, a longstanding threat to Yemen, the region, and the United States; al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb, AQIM; al-Nusrah Front; and al-Shabaab in East Africa.

We saw a rise in lone offender attacks, including in Ottawa and Quebec in October and Sydney in December of 2014. In many cases, it was difficult to assess whether these attacks were directed or inspired by ISIL or AQ and its affiliates. These attacks may presage a new area in which centralized leadership of a terrorist organization matters less, group identity is more fluid, and violent extremist narratives focus on a wider range of alleged grievances and enemies.

Enhanced border security measures among Western states since 9/11 have increased the difficulty for known or suspected terrorists to travel internationally. Therefore, groups like AQ and ISIL encourage lone actors residing in the West to carry out attacks on their behalf.

ISIL and AQ affiliates, including al-Nusrah Front, continue to use kidnapping for ransom operations, profits from the sales of looted antiquities, and other criminal activities to raise funds for operational purposes. Much of ISIL’s funding, unlike the resources utilized by AQ and AQ-type organizations, do not come from external donations, but was internally gathered in Iraq and Syria. ISIL earned up to several million dollars per month through its various extortion networks, in criminal activity in the territory where it operated, including through oil smuggling. Some progress was made in 2014 in constraining ISIL’s ability to earn money from the sale of smuggled oil as a result of the anti-ISIL coalition airstrikes that were conducted on ISIL-operated oil refineries. But the oil trade was not fully eradicated.

ISIL and AQ were not the only serious threats that confronted the United States and its allies. Iran continued to sponsor terrorist groups around the world, principally through its Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-Quds Force, the IRGC-QF – Quds. These groups included Lebanese Hizballah, several Iraqi Shia militant groups, Hamas, and the Palestine-Islamic Jihad. Addressing this evolving set of terrorist threats and the need to undertake efforts that span the range from security to rule of law to efficacy of governance and pushing back on terrorist messaging in order to effectively combat the growth of these emerging violent extremist groups requires an expanded approach to our counterterrorism engagement."

The European Parliament Intergroup on Freedom of Religion or Belief and Religious Tolerance (EP Intergroup on FoRB & RT) presented its first Annual Report on the 'State of Freedom of Religion or Belief' at an event hosted by the Intergroup in collaboration with United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF). 
Speakers included the Chairs of the EP Intergroup on FoRB & RT and USCIRF as well as the Director of Human Rights at the European External Action Service (EEAS). Below is the executive summary followed by a link to the report.

The right to freedom of religion or belief is enshrined in many global and regional rights instruments as well as, to varying degrees, in the constitutions or basic laws of most countries. Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) defines FoRB as follows: 

“Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.”  

FoRB offers equal protection to people of all faiths and beliefs. States are bound by international and human rights law to uphold Article 18 of the UDHR and also of the ICCPR if they have signed and ratified it. A fundamental characteristic of both is the principle of non-discrimination. The principle of non-discrimination emphasises the fact that individuals are entitled to full enjoyment of human rights irrespective of their religion or belief. There the state has a primary responsibility to respect, protect and promote rights of all individuals. Although international and human rights law is primarily concerned with the responsibility a state has to its citizens, the state also has a duty to make sure that non-state actors are prosecuted for crimes they commit. 

It is clear, however, that this right is increasingly under attack through the actions of states, non-state actors or both. Pew Forum concludes in a report published in February 2015 that no less than three quarters of the world’s population lives in countries with high or very high restrictions on religion, with this proportion trending upwards. Open Doors (OD) which publishes annual rankings of countries found that among religious group worldwide Christians are persecuted the most. The organisation also documented evidence of year-on-year increasing discrimination and persecution. The Freedom of Thought report from the International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU) found that "non-religious people are being targeted by hate campaigns around the world" and suggests an increase in violence. 

More worrying concerns are that some countries continue to deny the universality of FoRB. In fact, in recent years an increasing number of countries seem to identify with one specific religion or belief, in spite of inclusive language enshrined in their legislation. This trend is particularly visible in parts of Asia, Africa and Easter (non-EU) Europe. A second concern is the rise of non-state actors such as Islamic extremist groups with territorial ambitions such as Boko Haram and ISIL/Da'esh. Some of these groups have boldly used the void left by retreating central government in failed states or are indeed now among the main reasons why some states, or parts of states, "fail". 

In this context of general deterioration, it took the European Union quite long to come up with its Guidelines on the promotion and protection of Freedom of Religion or Belief (EU Guidelines on FoRB). However, the Guidelines are a significant milestone and show awareness within the EU that: 
  1. FoRB is an important right that deserves protection besides for example labour rights, women's rights or media freedom; 
  2. FoRB violations are increasing in many regions of the world, including sometimes as part of campaigns to intimidate or drive out certain faith or belief groups; 
  3. The promotion and protection of FoRB is an important foreign policy objective and its correlates with other human rights as the well-functioning of a democracy and the rule of law. 
The Guidelines acknowledge that the “free exercise [of FoRB] directly contributes to democracy, development, rule of law, peace and stability.” However the ongoing implementation of the Guidelines and the hesitant deployment of other policy tools make for an interesting dynamic, which this report will comment on.

Read the full report here

Also, read an article based on the report: Religious Violence is Bad for Business – A Case India’s Modi Might Make in Bangladesh

by Brian J. Grim (葛百彦教授).

The New York Times reports that new Chinese security laws elevate the party and stifle dissent in a new tougher line that Mao would approve of. The new law, released in draft form this month, says security must be maintained “to realize the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation.” 
Of course, the devil's in the details. But given a rash of recent government actions to impose its supremacy over culture, in particular, religion, China's economic success is under threat. 

This conclusion is based on a new study which I authored, The Modern Chinese Secret Sustainable Economic Growth: Religious Freedom & Diversity

The study's findings - published in this summer's edition of The Review of Faith & International Affairs - will be surprising to the half of China’s population for whom religion is not a significant part of life. To the other half, they will make some sense, but still may be surprising. The reason is twofold. First, those who do not practice religion often tend to have their closest personal and social connections with people like themselves. Accordingly, people who do not encounter religion on a day-to-day basis may consider it to be an insignificant factor. Second, even those practicing a faith may not be aware of the connections between faith, freedom, and business because there has been very little research looking at the connections. 

New research, however, finds close and logical connections between faith, freedom, and business., which I review in the article. First, I look specifically at the unrecognized role the religions of Chinese people play in creating a workforce ready for success. This includes the role of a relative, but incomplete, rise in religious freedom since the time of the Cultural Revolution on the 1960s and 1970s, when all faiths were outlawed and suppressed. It also includes a surprising finding from recent research that Chinese Christianity may be a special source of economic growth. 

Second, I examine how the freedom to have faith is an unrecognized power to the economy, including an ally in the fight against corruption. Next, I look at a by-product of China’s gradual move to religious freedom—religious diversity— and how this is an added source of innovation for economic growth not only in China, but also in Asia more generally. Indeed, China is one of the world’s most religious and religiously diverse countries, and Asia is the world’s most religiously diverse region. 

I then take up the most sensitive question of whether China should further deregulate religious freedom—including in light of recent violence in the western province of Xinjiang—and what that means for sustaining China’s economic growth. Throughout the article, I stress that the issues faced by China are not exclusive to it but are part of a growing global set of issues faced by all nations.

I conclude with the observation: "Perhaps just as China has radically deregulated its economy with successful outcomes, further deregulation of religion may be one way to help keep China's economic miracle alive."

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As people of goodwill take different positions on religious freedom, it is important to focus on empirical connections between religious freedom and socio-economic outcomes.
The Religious Freedom & Business Foundation (RFBF) studies freedom of religion or belief (FoRB) and its impact on society, business and the economy. These studies and their findings are made available through various research articles and publications as well as in blogs and op-eds.

RFBF, collaborators and associates have produced a landmark study on the positive connection between religious freedom and economic strength. They have also produced a first-of-its kind study of ways that businesses around the world are involved in supporting interfaith understanding and peace. All of these are available on the RFBF website

This week, RFBF is launching a new commentary section, Leaders Speak Out. The foundation is hosting a series of articles where business, religious and civic leaders speak out on countering violent extremism and increasing interfaith understanding and peace. The first two contributors are both members of the World Economic Forum's Global Agenda Council on the Role of Faith: 
For more on the Religious Freedom & Business Foundation’s own work on utilizing religious freedom to counter radicalization, see the Empowerment+ Initiative, which is designed to be piloted in London. It will counter radicalization through mentoring relationships, integrative business and self-reliance. 

The Pew-Templeton Global Religious Futures project analyzes religious change and its impact on societies around the world. The project's interactive website is still in development; over time, they report that it will grow to include additional data from the Pew Research Center’s demographic studies and public opinion surveys. They welcome feedback and suggestions by email at  
Given its role in building economies, mobilizing people around a shared purpose and pioneering cross-cultural management styles, business has an important stake in promoting intercultural and interreligious understanding, including freedom of religion or belief.
PictureStoryboard from 1st B4P Meeting, Istanbul
On June 23, 2015, at the United Nations, a special session explores how successfully managing diversity and fostering tolerance and understanding – among employees, consumers and other stakeholders – is increasingly essential for long-term business success. Brian Grim will moderate the session.

This session is part of the Second Business for Peace (B4P) Annual Event: Building Peace, Realizing Sustainable Development will leverage the great momentum behind the business for peace movement to convene stakeholders from around the world in New York as part of Global Compact+15: Business as a force for good (23-25 June), which marks the UN Global Compact’s 15th anniversary. The B4P Annual Event will bring together representatives of business, Global Compact Local Networks, civil society, investors and Governments to focus on why and how business can play an important role in supporting peace and stability, rule of law and good governance – all critical building blocks for implementing Sustainable Development Goal 16.

The Strategic Needs

General: High-risk and conflict-affected areas are home to over half of the world’s population living on less than $1.25 a day. Violent conflict disrupts markets and business opportunities. If the world had been 25% more peaceful in 2010 – the global economy would have gained an additional economic benefit of over US$2 trillion. Company materiality is tied to the health of the communities where they operate. Long-term financial success goes hand-in-hand with social and environmental responsibility. 

Religious: According to the Pew Research Center, approximately three-in-four people today (73%) live in countries with high levels of social hostilities involving religion. But, interfaith understanding – and its contribution to peace – is in the interest of business.
  • Recent research shows that economic growth and global competitiveness are stronger when social hostilities involving religion are low and government respect for, and protection of, the universally recognized human right of freedom is high. 
  • Interfaith understanding also strengthens business by reducing corruption and encouraging broader freedoms while also increasing trust and fostering respect. Research shows that laws and practices stifling religion are related to higher levels of corruption. Similarly, religious freedom highly correlates with the presence of other freedoms and a range of social and economic goods, such as better health care and higher incomes for women. 
  • Positively engaging around the issue of interfaith understanding also helps business to advance trust and respect with consumers, employees and possible partner organizations, which can give companies a competitive advantage as sustainability and ethics come to the forefront of corporate engagement with society. 
  • With the shared vision of a more sustainable and inclusive global economy that delivers lasting benefits to people, communities and markets, it is clear that companies can make significant contributions to advancing interfaith understanding and peace through both core business and outreach activities. 

For more, see the examples in a joint UNGC-Religious Freedom & Business Foundation publication that offer an important step forward in providing companies with guidance on why and how they can make practical contributions in this area – in ways benefitting both their business and the societies where they operate.

Among the 26 most populous countries, Brazil has the highest levels of religious freedom, higher, in fact, than the United States, where government restrictions on religious freedom have been rising.
Brazil Religious Freedom  Brian Grimthe Weekly Number
Brazil - the world's fifth most populous nation - not only out performs other countries of is size, the Brazilian government has the best record on religious freedom worldwide, placing virtually no measurable restrictions on religious freedom, scoring 0.2 out of a maximum of 10.0 on the Government Restrictions on Religion index, recently published by the Pew Research Center. 

Only five countries score at that level: 
  • Brazil
  • Federated States of Micronesia
  • Marshall Islands
  • Palau 
  • Suriname

Among the 26 most populous nations, seven have governments that are very highly restrictive of religious freedom (see chart): China (scoring 9.1 out of 10.0), Indonesia (8.5), Iran (8.3), Egypt (8.2), Burma/Myanmar (7.7), Russia (7.4), Turkey (7.4), according to the Pew index. Six are highly restrictive: Pakistan (6.4), Vietnam (6.1), Bangladesh (5.2), India (5.0), Ethiopia (4.6), and Germany (4.5). Five are moderately restrictive: Thailand (4.4), France (4.2), Nigeria (4.1), Mexico (3.4), and the United States (3.0). And eight have low government restrictions on religious freedom: South Korea (2.0), Italy (2.0), United Kingdom (1.7), D.R. Congo (1.1), Japan (1.1), Philippines (1.0), South Africa (0.7), Brazil (0.2). 

Brazil is also one of only six countries among the 26 most populous where government restrictions on religion have decline since the Pew study began making these estimates. The others are the Philippines, the D.R. Congo, Mexico, Vietnam, and Burma (Myanmar). 

Countries with the greatest increases in government restrictions on religion between 2007 and 2013 are:
  • Indonesia 2.3-point increase  
  • Ethiopia 2.0-point increase
  • Thailand 1.8-point increase 
  • Russia 1.6-point increase 
  • Germany 1.4-point increase 
  • United States 1.4-point increase 
  • China 1.3 -point increase 
  • Bangladesh 1.2-point increase 
  • Egypt 1.0-point increase

Today, the world's seventh largest Christian population lives in China. By 2050 it could become the world's largest. This has been argued by sociologist Fenggang Yang of Purdue University. 
Prof. Yang is one of the world’s leading experts on religion in China. He estimates that the Christian population in China grew at an average annual rate of 7% between 1950 and 2010. At this rate, he estimates that the Christian proportion of China’s population could grow from about 5% in 2010 to 67% in 2050.

While a new study by the Pew Research Center concludes that the religious future of China is uncertain due to data limitations, of which I've written extensively,* the Pew study offers three "sensitivity tests" looking at the effects of religious switching on the future size of the Chinese Christian population:

  • "As of 2010, China had an estimated 68 million Christians and 701 million unaffiliated people. Due primarily to differences in the age and sex composition of these initial populations, in the main projection scenario – which does not attempt to model religious switching – China’s Christian population is expected to grow slightly by 2050, to 71 million, while the unaffiliated population is expected to decline to 663 million."

  • "Under that main scenario, 5.4% of China’s population and 31.4% of the world’s total population will be Christian in 2050. If China’s Christian population were to decline to Japanese levels (2.4% of the country’s population) in 2050, it would reduce the Christian share of the global population to 30.9%. On the other hand, if China’s Christian population was to increase to the level projected for South Korea in 2050 (33.3% of the country’s population), it would raise the count of Christians in China to 437 million and the share of Christians in the world’s overall population to 35.3%."

  • "And if everyone who is currently unaffiliated in China were to convert to Christianity by 2050, China’s population would be 56.2% Christian (734 million Christians), raising the Christian share of the world’s population to 38.5% and lowering the unaffiliated share of the global population to 6.1%. Though that scenario may be unlikely, it offers a rough sense of how much difference religious switching in China maximally could have by 2050. Extremely rapid growth of Christianity in China could maintain or, conceivably, even increase Christianity’s current numerical advantage as the world’s largest religion, and it could significantly accelerate the projected decline by 2050 in the share of the global population that is religiously unaffiliated." (Pew Research)

* The reason that the religious future in China is so difficult to estimate is due to measurement difficulties ranging from reluctance of individuals to disclose religious affiliation to pollsters to the massive internal migration that has seen well over one hundred million people move from the countryside into cities since 1980. Much of this movement - considered the largest migration in human history - is difficult to track and count, including whether the Christians who moved from the countryside have stimulated Christian growth in cities or have lost touch with their roots. Thus, there are no reliable sources to precisely measure patterns of religious conversion in China.

One thing is clear, Christianity's future in China will have a measurable impact on global Christianity. For more on China, see my recent article, What Christianly Contributes to China's Economic Rise.

In a new study reported in Demographic Research, my colleagues and I offer new demographic estimates of the size of major religious groups projected to 2050.* (For my analysis of the economic and security implications of this, see links at bottom.)
From the introduction: "Social scientists have a long history of predicting the demise of religion. Auguste Comte, Emile Durkheim, Sigmund Freud, and Karl Marx envisioned the decline of organized religion and the rise of the religiously unaffiliated. More recently the idea that the unaffiliated population will increase has been promoted using mathematical models of social group competition (Abrams, Yaple et al. 2011) and assumptions that growing economic development will lead to evolution away from religion (Barber 2012). But these predictions did not take demography into account − specifically, that patterns in global population growth favor those who have religious affiliation (Norris and Inglehart 2004; Kaufmann 2010)." 

"Our new demographic analysis finds that affiliated women have more children than unaffiliated women − nearly a full child more per woman, on average, worldwide. In addition, the global median age of affiliated women is six years younger than unaffiliated women, so they have more potential years of childbearing and living ahead. We project these demographic characteristics will result in a more religiously affiliated global population in coming decades. Although current patterns of religious switching favor the unaffiliated, they are insufficient at the global level to offset the demographic advantages of the affiliated." 

Background: People who are religiously unaffiliated (including self-identifying atheists and agnostics, as well as those who say their religion is "nothing in particular") made up 16.4% of the world's population in 2010. Unaffiliated populations have been growing in North America and Europe, leading some to expect that this group will grow as a share of the world's population. However, such forecasts overlook the impact of demographic factors, such as fertility and the large, aging unaffiliated population in Asia.

Objective: We project the future size of religiously affiliated and unaffiliated populations around the world.

Methods: We use multistate cohort-component methods to project the size of religiously affiliated and unaffiliated populations. Projection inputs such as religious composition, differential fertility, and age structure data, as well as religious switching patterns, are based on the best available census and survey data for each country. This research is based on an analysis of more than 2,500 data sources.

Results: Taking demographic factors into account, we project that the unaffiliated will make up 13.2% of the world’s population in 2050. The median age of religiously affiliated women is six years younger than unaffiliated women. The 2010-15 Total Fertility Rate for those with a religious affiliation is 2.59 children per woman, nearly a full child higher than the rate for the unaffiliated (1.65 children per woman).

Conclusions: The religiously unaffiliated are projected to decline as a share of the world's population in the decades ahead because their net growth through religious switching will be more than offset by higher childbearing among the younger affiliated population.

* Conrad Hackett, Marcin Stonawski, Michaela Potančoková, Brian J. Grim, and Vegard Skirbekk (2015). The future size of religiously affiliated and unaffiliated populations: Descriptive findingDemographic Research, Volume 32, Article 27, pages 829-842. 

Author's Affiliation
Conrad Hackett - Pew Research Center, United States of America 
Marcin Stonawski - International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis, Austria
Michaela Potančoková - International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis, Austria
Brian J. Grim - Boston University, United States of America
Vegard Skirbekk - Columbia University, United States of America

Related Commentaries by Brian Grim:

Weekly Number author, Brian Grim, discussed the rising fear in Europe of the growth of Islam in an interview this month with the Associated Press. Grim concludes that the fear of “Eurabia” – the demographic dominance of Europe by Muslims – is unfounded, based on a global study he previously led at the Pew Research Center.
The Pew study projects that Europe’s Muslim population will almost grow to 58 million by 2030, nearly double the figure of about 30 million in 1990. While that is a large numeric increase, it would only be an increase from 4.1 percent to 8 percent of Europe’s population (669 million are projected to be non-Muslims in 2030). 

The Pew study also suggests that the period of greatest growth in Muslim populations is already past (see chart) as the initial large waves of Muslim immigrants begin to slow. Also, as Muslims become more integrated, they tend to have fewer children.

The cultural dimensions of a growing - but slowing - European Muslim population include having greater visibility, as most Muslims are immigrants or children of immigrants, often with distinctive dress and customs. Perhaps, however, the greatest recent impact is in the radicalization of young Muslims, including European converts to Islam.

For a way forward in countering extremist radicalization, the Religious Freedom & Business Foundation is proposing that the problem of some in society becoming radicalized should be tackled by building relationships with those at risk, including through business and diverse faith communities. This approach capitalizes on one of religious freedom’s greatest assets — setting people of faith free to do radically good things.

For more on this initiative, see:
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