The Weekly Number's analysis of a new Pew Research Center report - a study based on methodology developed by Brian J. Grim - finds that the 12 countries identified in the study as having very high religious diversity each outpaced the world's economic growth between 2008 and 2012. 
Among the 12 countries (5%) with very high religiously diversity, all are located outside of Europe and North America. Six are in Asia-Pacific (Singapore, Taiwan, Vietnam, South Korea, China and Hong Kong); five are in sub-Saharan Africa (Togo, Guinea Bissau, Ivory Coast, Benin and Mozambique); and one is in Latin America and the Caribbean (Suriname). 

Between 2008 and 2012, the world's average growth in gross domestic product (GDP) was 1.7%. By contrast, each of the 12 countries with very high religious diversity had higher average growth, and most by substantial margins. 

Average GDP growth between 2008-2012 in China, the world's 9th most religiously diverse country, averaged 9.3%. In seven of the twelve very diverse countries, average GDP growth was double or more that of the world average of 1.7%: Mozambique (7.0%), Vietnam (5.8%), Singapore (4.4%), Surinam (4.1%), Togo (4.0%), Benin (3,8%) and Taiwan (3.4%). In the remaining four very diverse countries, average GDP growth was also measurably higher than the world average: South Korea (2.9%), Ivory Coast (2.6%), Hong Kong (2.6%) and Guinea-Bissau (2.3%). 

The underlying data for the religious diversity report are based on a December 2012 Pew Research Center study of the size and distribution of eight major world religions: Buddhists, Christians, folk religions, Hindus, Jews, Muslims, other religions considered as a group and the religiously unaffiliated. Taken together, these eight major groups comprise the world’s total population.

CHINA: While the Weekly Number does not attribute economic success directly to religious diversity, the case of China is of note.

During the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s and 1970s, religion was completely outlawed and people were routinely beaten and killed for having superstitious or religious beliefs. While it is true that today China has very high government restrictions on religion relative to other countries in the world, current conditions are far less restrictive than they were in the 1960s and 1970s. 

Today, China has the world’s largest Buddhist population, largest folk religionist population, largest Taoist population, 9th largest Christian population and 17th largest Muslim population – ranking between Yemen and Saudi Arabia (Pew Research Center 2012). 

It is undeniable that had the Cultural Revolution’s draconian restrictions on religion and all segments of society continued, China’s economic progress would not have been possible.

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The World Bank reported this month that the five countries accounting for two-thirds of the world's 1.2 billion extreme poor are India (33% of all extreme poor), China (13%), Nigeria (7%), Bangladesh (6%) and the Democratic Republic of Congo (5%). While each - notably China, India and Nigeria - have growing classes of millionaires and billionaires, they also have the world's largest populations of people living on less than $1.25 per day, the extreme poor. 
Another thing these five countries share in common is that each is beset by religious hostilities significantly higher than the world median. Such hostilities include mob or sectarian violence, religion-related terrorism or conflict, organized attempts to dominate public life with a particular perspective on religion, harassment over attire for religious reasons, and other religion-related intimidation or abuse as measured by the Pew Research Center’s social hostilities involving religion index.

NIGERIA: On April 12, reports indicate that 135 more lives were claimed in ongoing armed attacks attributed to the Islamist Boko Haram group. Sola Tayo, a Nigeria expert at the London-based think tank Chatham House, said that if the attacks spread to the south of the country the effect on the economy would be “catastrophic,” adding that Boko Haram has threatened to strike Lagos, the country’s economic hub, and has more recently threatened to start attacking oil pipelines in the Niger Delta. This month, according to a new valuation, Nigeria is now recognized as Africa's largest economy. But doing business in Nigeria is "not a place for the faint-hearted," according to the Economist.

INDIA: As the general election proceeds this week, the shadow of sectarian violence continues, with troops standing guard to prevent clashes as happened last August in leaving scores of Muslims dead and 50,000 displaced in this Hindu-majority country. The likely prime minister may be Narendra Modi, a Hindu nationalist. Ilan Greenberg observes that Modi presents his platform, however, as singularly devoted to an agenda of economic growth and development. “Toilets not temples” is another of his slogans.

CHINA: Knife-wielding terrorist attacked a train station in Kunming, leaving nearly 30 dead and more than 100 injured. The attackers are suspected of being from minority Uighurs fighting for a separate homeland in northwest China. If the identities of the attackers are confirmed, the attack is a new and worrying escalation, spreading the violence far inland. And China's poverty is located in religious and ethnic regions. Though such minorities make up about 8% of the population, nearly 40% of China's poorest counties (230 of 592) are located in provinces or regions inhabited by ethnic minorities. 

BANGLADESH: Last month, human rights defenders from Bangladesh, gathered in Geneva at a meeting sponsored by the World Council of Churches (WCC), are calling the international community’s attention to the severe persecution of Bangladesh’s religious and ethnic minorities. They identified the rise of religious extremism, fundamentalism and lack of security as some of the major reasons behind human rights violations in the country. 

D.R. CONGO: Up to 50,000 children are at risk of being stigmatized and persecuted as witches due to economic downturns. According to UNICEF Child Protection Officer Eloge Olengabo, “Families who cannot fend for themselves frequently take refuge in the belief that their bad luck is rooted in the witchcraft of their offspring.” 

What can be done?
Such evidence suggests that solving problems of poverty cannot ignore religion and solving problems of religious freedom cannot ignore the problems of poverty. For an initiative aiming to address both, see the new Religious Freedom & Business Foundation's sustainability initiative.

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Pope Francis and Vatican officials expressed concern over threats to religious freedom in the United States to U.S. President Barack Obama. While the pontiff and Vatican officials may have had in mind the contraception mandate in Obama's health care plan, broader threats to religious freedom in the United States appear to be growing.

This concern is of particular importance given the connection between religious freedom and positive economic and social outcomes shown in recent Weekly Number analyses. This connection was also discussed last week at Georgetown University's Religious Freedom Project symposium, Everybody's Business: The legal, economic, and political implications of religious freedom.
The United States now has a substantially higher level of government restrictions on religion than the world. Indeed, according to a recent Pew Research study, the U.S. level of government restrictions (3.7 on a 10-point scale) is 54% higher than the world median (2.4) in 2012, the latest year for which data are available. 

While restrictions on religion have been rising globally, just six years earlier, the U.S. was lower than the global median (1.6 vs. 1.8).

Overall, while the U.S. score of 3.7 is substantially higher than the global median, the Pew study characterizes U.S. restrictions as "moderate." Indeed, the U.S, score is much lower when compared with governments with very high restrictions on religious freedom such as Egypt (8.8), China (8.6), Iran (8.6), Saudi Arabia (8.6), Indonesia (8.3) and the Maldives (8.1), Afghanistan (8.1), Syria (8.0), and Eritrea (7.9).

The rise in religious restrictions in the U.S. is attributable to several factors. First and foremost, there have been increased difficulties in accommodating religious groups at the local level. These include zoning laws, rulings on property rights, and acceptance of religious expression in schools, courts and other public settings. 
 In the United States, however, there are structures in place to address grievances. For instance, if a religious community feels like it's experiencing discrimination, a complaint can be filed with the Justice Department. 

Other restrictions are tied to tax advantages or funding to religious groups from the federal government, which not surprisingly come with strings attached. For example, if a religious group receives federal funding, proselytizing is restricted in any program that uses government funds. Groups receiving government money to run drug rehabilitation projects or care for the homeless are not allowed to share their religious testimony with the intent of bringing someone into their faith as part of those programs. And if a religious group has tax-exempt status - which nearly all apply for and have - it is not allowed to talk about politics from the pulpit or endorse a political candidate.

For a further discussion of rising government restrictions on religion and social hostilities involving religion in the U.S., see the 2012 Pew Research report. Also, see my TEDx Talk for an overview of global restrictions on religion.

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Economic growth is higher in countries where governments do not regulate religious head coverings for women, according to a new analysis by the Weekly Number. 
The 2012 median GDP growth among countries regulating headscarves was 2.2%, compared with 3.4% among the remainder of the world's countries that do not regulate women's religious head coverings.

Governments regulated women's choice to wear or not wear coverings on their heads in 43 countries in 2012, according to a recent Pew research study.* 

In some countries such as Saudi Arabia and Iran, governments require women to cover their heads in public. Some countries like France, however, forbid female teachers and students to wear headscarves or other conspicuous religious symbols in public schools.

While the reasons for this relationship are complex, one contributing factor may be that women face more employment discrimination in countries where there is stigmatization of women who wear scarves. For instance, in Turkey, women were prevented for many years from wearing headscarves in universities and public offices. While the ban was reversed last year, this educationally disadvantaged women who wanted to wear headscarves. Also, there is lingering employment prejudice against women who wear headscarves.

For a broader discussion of how restrictions on religious freedom impact business, including in Turkey, see my recent op-ed - Brian Grim.  

* Overall, the wearing of any religious symbols, such as head coverings for women and facial hair for men or other religious objects such as crosses, is regulated by law or by some level of government in 54 countries as of 2012, the latest year for which Pew Research data are available.

Religious Futures 101: In countries with large majorities thinking that "belief in God is essential to morality," populations are growing three times faster than in countries less likely to share this belief, according to a new Weekly Number analysis of a recent Pew Research survey.
This suggests that a more religious global future may be coming, despite secularization trends in some countries. 

Therefore, freedom of religion or belief will become more important to societies and economies as a larger share of the the globe will likely hold this belief in the years ahead. 

Populations in wealthier countries, however, are less likely think that belief in God is essential to morality than those in less wealthy countries. Notable exceptions are China, where 14% hold this belief and where GDP per capita is still relatively low; whereas, in the U.S. with high GDP per capita, the majority (53%) think that belief in God is essential to morality.

Among the 40 countries surveyed, population growth is highest in Uganda, Senegal and Nigeria, all countries where more than 8-in-10 people think that belief in God is essential to morality.

There is a sharp difference between Israel and the Palestinian territories. In Israel, 37% of those surveyed think that belief in God is essential to morality. By contrast. 98% of those surveyed in the Palestinian territories hold this belief (see chart below).  

Stay up to date with latest data on global religion and religious freedom with the Weekly Newsletter. Also, see my TEDx Talk for the global religious freedom situation.

Entrepreneurs are nearly 50% more likely to pray several times a day than non-entrepreneurs, according to a study by Baylor University. The study was supported by a grant from the National Science Foundation* to look at the social and religious characteristics of contemporary American entrepreneurs. 
The Baylor University researchers (Jerry Z. Park, Mitchell J. Neubert and Kevin D. Dougherty) found that while American entrepreneurs are similar to non-entrepreneurs in terms of belief in God, religious affiliation, frequency of certain religious activities, a higher percentage of entrepreneurs pray at least several times a day (34%) than non- entrepreneurs (23%). 

Other key findings from the research at Baylor include:
  • American entrepreneurs tend to be male (57%) and married (69%). 
  • American entrepreneurs are generally more educated than non-entrepreneurs. Nearly three-fourths (73%) of American adults who have started a business or who are in the process of starting a business have attended college.
  • American entrepreneurs describe themselves as more politically conservative than non-entrepreneurs. In terms of political parties, 40% of entrepreneurs identify as Republican, 30% as Independent, and 30% as Democrat.
* NSF Innovation and Organizational Sciences Program: National Study of Entrepreneurial Behavior, Regulatory Focus, and Religion (SES-0925907). Study: "The Values and Beliefs of the American Public," Wave III Baylor Religion Survey, September 2011. For more, see: A Religious Profile of American Entrepreneurs, by Kevin D. Dougherty, Jenna Griebel, Mitchell J. Neubert and Jerry Z. Park.
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Attackers dressed in black killed more than two dozen people and injured up to 100 at a train station in south China over the weekend. Religious hostilities in China have increased by fourfold in recent years, and this new horrific terrorist attack represents a further escalation. News reports citing Chinese authorities blame Uyghur extremists from the western region of Xinjiang for the attack. 

In a recent Religious News Service interview, Brian J. Grim, president of the Religious Freedom & Business Foundation, also notes that China's futures in religious freedom and harmony are also tied to their economic fortunes.

According to data from the ongoing Pew Research global restrictions study, social hostilities involving religion in China increased fourfold between 2007 and 2012 (see chart at left).

This weekend's attack at the train station in Kunming, one of China's largest terminals, is the largest attack outside of Xinjiang. The predominantly Muslim Uyghurs used to be the majority population in the far northwest Xinjiang region of China, but due to immigration from other parts of China, they now represent less that 50% of the region's population.

Separatists have mounted a series of attacks even as security restrictions in the region have tightened. In response to the separatist movement, the Chinese government has also tightened restrictions on religion in the region.

In fact, data from the same Pew Research study finds that overall restrictions on religion in China, which were already very high, have also increased during the same time period.

Chinese authorities argue that such restrictions on religion are needed to maintain security, promote social harmony and keep religious hostilities in check. However, the data suggest that rather than reducing religious hostilities, added restrictions on religion may add to the grievances.   
The Religious Violence Cycle

Social science research has identified this as a religious violence cycle. For instance, Brian J. Grim and Roger Finke in The Price of Freedom Denied show that, contrary to popular opinion, ensuring religious freedom for all reduces religious violence and conflict. While it may be that some restrictions on religion are necessary to maintain order or preserve a peaceful religious homogeneity, the research shows that restricting religious freedoms is associated with higher levels of violence, not less.

Answering this question is particularly important in China because it has the largest religious population of any country besides India, according to Pew Research demographic studies.

The Yin & Yang of Religious Freedom in China 

In a recent Religious News Service interview, Brian J. Grim, president of the Religious Freedom & Business Foundation, also noted that while China may have some of the highest restrictions on religion in the world, there have nonetheless been great strides in the past 50 years.

Grim noted that during the Cultural Revolution in the 1960s and 1970s, all religions were suppressed. People who identified with a religion were subject to beatings, relocation and even execution. "You’d have been hard pressed to find anyone willing to admit they were religious in that time," Grim said. 

But today, almost one-in-two people in China follow a faith. 300 million Chinese are affiliated with folk religions. Globally this means that more than seven-in-ten (73%) of the world’s folk religionists live in China. 

China not only leads the world in the number of folk religionists, but also in the number of Buddhists. Some 244 million people in China adhere to Buddhism, making China home to half (50%) of the world’s 488 million Buddhists. 

Moreover, China's 68 million Christians make China home to the world’s seventh-largest Christian population. China's approximately 25 million Muslims constitute the world's 17th largest Muslim population, right after Saudi Arabia (# 16) and before Yemen (#18). 

And China has the world's second largest shares of people who belong to faiths in the “other religion” category (16%), many of whom are adherents of Taoism. The World Religion Database estimates there are more than 8 million Taoists worldwide.

China’s economic success would not have been possible had the country kept religion and other forms of identity completely suppressed. Grim said, "I’m not making the argument that religious freedom was what launched the country’s economic success, but if draconian restrictions on religion and other things had not been lifted, the level of success we see today would not have been attained."

Indeed, solving China's religious hostilities problem not only will pay dividends for social harmony, but also in helping to consolidate and mature the economic advances of the past decades.  

Stay up to date with the Weekly Number Newsletter. And for more on the connection between religious restrictions and hostilities, see Brian Grim's TEDx Talk

Religious hostilities are very high and rising in Israel and the Palestinian territories, reaching six-year highs. According to a 2014 Pew Research study, these social hostilities involving religion include mob or sectarian violence, religion-related terrorism or conflict, organized attempts to dominate public life with a particular perspective on religion, harassment over attire for religious reasons, and other religion-related intimidation or abuse.

Such social hostilities involving religion are not necessarily a direct reflection on the policies of the Israeli government or the Palestinian Authority. However, in a dramatic move, as Israel's GDP growth declined again in 2013, prominent business leaders in Israel recently launched a media blitz arguing that peace is good for business and business is good for peace. 
Businesses Are Concerned
The business leaders involved in the media blitz are part of a group Israelis and Palestinians in the Breaking the Impasse (BTI) movement that favors advancing a diplomatic solution. Those involved reportedly include Mellanox cofounder Eyal Waldman, high-tech entrepreneur Yossi Vardi and Osem International/Nestle Israel CEO Gad Propper. 

The group reportedly hired a PR firm to mount a 10-day media and billboard campaign at a cost of 1 million shekels ($286,000). The campaign calls on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to sign a peace agreement with the Palestinians. 

The economic argument associated with the BTI movement has surfaced at other venues, including at a May 2013 World Economic Forum event in Jordan, heartily supported by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry as well as former U.K. Prime Minister and Quartet Representative Tony Blair

The plan seeks to improve the economic situation for Palestinians, thereby removing economic sources of tension and winning greater buy-in for a peaceful and sustainable future. 

Detractors of the plan criticize it for failing to deal with underlying social, security, political and sovereignty issues. 

Indeed, research highlighted by the Religious Freedom & Business Foundation shows that underlying issues, such as restrictions on religious freedom, are important contextual elements that must be addressed in order for religious hostilities, violence and conflict to be reduced. When they are, this leads to greater stability, promotes innovation and fosters peace, all of which contribute to a better business environment.

Innovative Business Projects

Some micro-economic initiatives, however, are developing projects that aim to remove the mistrust that has developed in the region. For instance, the Abraham's Path Initiative is promoting a long-distance walking trail across the Middle East that would stimulate economic and cultural cooperation where it is currently in short supply. 

Similar initiatives by Friends of the Earth Middle East (FoEME) bring together Jordanian, Palestinian and Israeli environmentalists promoting cooperative efforts to protect their shared environmental heritage. In so doing, they seek to advance both sustainable regional development and the creation of necessary conditions for lasting peace in the region. 

Another micro-economic initiative was developed by Aziz Abu Sarah, Co-Executive Director at George Mason University's Center for World Religions, Diplomacy, and Conflict Resolution. In 2009, he co-founded Middle East Justice and Development Initiative (MEJDI Tours) to use as a bridge between conflict resolution and business. For his work, he won the Intercultural Innovation award from the UN Alliance of Civilizations and was also named a National Geographic Explorer in 2011. 

Sign up for the Weekly Number Newsletter to keep up with the latest data on religious freedom, and watch my TEDx Talk for a global overview of restrictions on religious freedom today. 

The number of countries with high religious hostilities has increased by 65% since 2007, rising from 20% of countries in 2007 to 33% in 2012. The chart below shows the details.
A rising tide of religious hostilities has swept the globe during the first decade-and-a-half the 21st century. The terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, leading to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, made clear that even the actions of a few people motivated by religious extremism can trigger wars and major economic disruptions for countries involved. Beyond such attacks and wars, data show that today 74% of people live with high levels of religious hostilities, violence or conflict, which is markedly higher than just a half a decade ago when 45% of people lived with such levels (Pew Research Center 2014). 

A brief summary of recent trends monitored by the Pew Research study shows why political scientist Tom Farr refers to this as a “global crisis.” 
  • The number of countries with high religious hostilities has increased by 65% since 2007, rising from 20% of countries in 2007 to 33% in 2012 
  • Crimes, malicious acts or violence motivated by religious hatred or bias were documented in 76% of countries in 2012, up from 66% in 2007
  • Individuals or groups used violence or the threat of violence, including so-called honor killings, to try to enforce religious norms in 39% of countries in 2012, more than double the share in 2007 (18%)
  • Women faced social harassment for violating religious dress codes in 32% of countries in 2012, more than a fourfold increase since 2007 (7%)
  • The extent of mob violence related to religion more than doubled in less than a decade, increasing from one-in-ten countries (11%) in 2006 to one-in-four (25%) in 2012
  • Acts of sectarian or communal violence also more than doubled, occurring in fewer than one-in-ten countries (8%) in 2007, and rising to more than one-in-six (18%) in 2012
  • Religion-related terrorist groups were active in 37% of countries as of 2012, up from 30% in 2007
  • Religion-related wars affected 15% of countries in 2012, up from 11% in 2007
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Among the 25 most populous countries, only six have low government restrictions on religion (average between 2006-2012), with Brazil having the lowest of all (see chart). Brazil has lower restrictions, in fact, than the United States, where restrictions have been rising.
Religious freedom, however, is highly valued in Brazil. For instance, when Brazilians were asked in a 2006 Pew Research survey whether it was important to live in a country where there is freedom of religion for religions other than their own, nearly the same percentage of people indicated that this was important (95%) as indicated that it was important to live in a country where they can practice their own religion freely (96%).

An expression of such support for religious freedom occurred this spring when the government of São Paulo - Brazil's commercial center and the western hemisphere's most populous city at 20 million - declared that henceforth May 25th will be "religious freedom day." This declaration coincided with a multi-faith religious freedom festival that drew nearly 30,000 participants, including the participation of the Catholic archdiocese, leading politicians and celebrities. 

Low religious restrictions and support for religious freedom are notable in a country that is undergoing what is perhaps one of the most dynamic religious shifts in the world today.

Religious Shifts
Since the Portuguese colonized Brazil in the 16th century, it has been overwhelmingly Catholic. And today Brazil has more Roman Catholics than any other country in the world – an estimated 123 million. But a recent Pew Research analysis finds that the share of Brazil’s overall population that identifies as Catholic has been dropping steadily in recent decades, while the percentage of Brazilians who belong to Protestant churches has been rising. Indeed, much of the religious shift has been from Roman Catholicism to Pentecostal and Protestant denominations. For a historical overview of Pentecostalism in Brazil, see the Pew Research report Spirit and Power. Smaller but increasing shares of Brazilians also identify with other religions or with no religion at all.

The Pew Research analysis notes that from 2000 to 2010, both the absolute number and the percentage of Catholics declined; Brazil’s Catholic population fell slightly from 125 million in 2000 to 123 million a decade later, dropping from 74% to 65% of the country’s total population. The number of Brazilian Protestants (including Pentecostals), on the other hand, continued to grow in the most recent decade, rising from 26 million (15%) in 2000 to 42 million (22%) in 2010.

In addition, the number of Brazilians belonging to other religions – including Afro-Brazilian faiths such as Candomblé and Umbanda – has been climbing. In 2000, adherents of religions other than Catholicism and Protestantism numbered about 6 million (4% of Brazil’s population), and as of 2010, the group had grown to 10 million (5%). Finally, the number of Brazilians with no religious affiliation, including agnostics and atheists, numbered 12 million (7%) in 2000 and 15 million (8%) according to Brazil’s 2010 census.

Given the level of religious switching in Brazil, it is particularly notable that a separate Pew Research study finds that there have been no reported incidents of hostility over conversions or proselytism.

A History of Religious Deregulation
Brazil was not always known for religious tolerance. For instance, the persecution of Brazilian Jews in the 1600s sent the first group of Jews to New York in 1654. But writing in 1923, University of Texas legal expert Herman G. James noted that “It is safe to say that there is no other country in the world where the Roman Catholic faith is the traditional and prevailing faith of the inhabitants, where there is a more complete separation of Church and State, or where there is greater freedom of conscience and worship.”

As the twentieth century progressed, however, laws were passed making proselytizing more difficult for new religious groups and, in the 1940s, the government stopped issuing visas for Protestant missionaries. These limits were short lived. After a period of military rule that ended in 1985, politically active Protestant denominations and minority religions worked to ensure that religious freedom became a defining characteristic of church-state relations. For more details, see The Price of Freedom Denied: Religious Persecution and Conflict in the 21st Century.

Brazil is among the 76% of countries recently identified in a recent Pew Research study with initiatives to lower religious restrictions and hostilities. For instance, on January 15, 2012, President Dilma Rousseff approved an agreement to include the Holocaust, anti-Semitism, and other Jewish-related subjects, as well as racism, xenophobia, and intolerance, in the curricula of some schools, universities and other educational institutions.