The bloody conflict of ISIS in northern Iraq is not a Sunni-Shia conflict, but rather the ultra-extremist Sunni Islamic State trying to enforce its intolerant vision on all Muslims and non-Muslims alike, regardless of sectarian identity. And despite the apparent role of Sunni and Shia sectarian violence in parts of the Middle East today, when reviewed globally, countries with high proportions of Sunni and Shia are not necessarily violent or plagued with conflict, according to a report by the Institute for Economics and Peace carried out in conjunction with the Religious Freedom & Business Foundation.
The report, Five Key Questions Answered on the Link between Peace and Religion, found that the breakdown of Sunni and Shia in a country is not necessarily a key determinant of peace. Qatar is the most peaceful country in the Middle East and North Africa region, ranking 19 in the 2013 GPI, and has the same Sunni/Shia breakdown as the least peaceful country in the 2013 GPI, Afghanistan.

Iran also has a similar proportional breakdown, except it has a Shia instead of Sunni majority. This suggests the religious demographic breakdown is not necessarily a deterministic factor to peace. Similarly, there are differing peace levels for countries where Sunni and Shia have similar proportions of a population. Bahrain is significantly more peaceful than other countries with a similar proportional Sunni/Shia split such as Iraq, Lebanon and Yemen. There are many relatively peaceful countries which have a significant proportion of Sunni and Shia.

However, it is important to note that based on a perception survey from Pew Research the Sunni and Shia divide is considered significant by Muslims with 73% of countries with significant numbers of Muslims believing that friction between religious groups is a moderately or very big problem for their country. Undoubtedly, sectarian violence has been a major feature of armed conflict in the Middle East today. This is evidenced by the fact that when countries with majority Muslim populations have engaged in armed conflict it is generally civil or inter-religious conflict. Indeed, the twenty-first century has not been marked by the clash of civilisations but rather intra-group conflict. Of the 15 armed conflicts motivated in part by Islamist groups in 2013, all but 5 occurred in countries where Muslims were in the majority.

Religious restrictions do not correlate very strongly with peace at only 0.24, whereas religious hostilities do at 0.61. This suggests that for the majority of Muslim countries government restrictions towards religion has less of an impact on peace than religious hostilities do. 70% of Muslim-majority countries are authoritarian regimes, with 23% hybrid regimes. There are only three flawed democracies, and no full democracies. As such it is unsurprising that Muslim-majority countries have high levels of government restrictions.

What distinguishes Muslim-majority countries is differing performance in the Pillars of Peace, a framework developed by IEP to assess the positive peace factors that create peaceful societies. Specifically, countries that have lower corruption, well-functioning government and better relations with neighbors are more peaceful regardless of the particular levels of Sunni and Shia. 

The Pillars of Peace provide an insight into what features differentiate the peace performance of countries with high levels of Sunni and Shia. Three of the 8 Pillars of Peace correlate with the GPI for the most Muslim countries.

  • Well-Functioning Government
Based on several factors, from how governments are elected and the political culture they engender, to the quality of the public services they deliver and their political stability. Strong relationships across a number of these indicators and sub-indicators demonstrate the interdependent nature of the various governance indicators. These measures are consistently linked to peace.

  • Good Relations with Neighbors 

Refers to the relations between individuals and communities as well as to cross-border relations. Countries with positive external relations are more peaceful and tend to be more politically stable, have better functioning governments, are regionally integrated and have low levels of organized internal conflict.

  • Low Levels of Corruption

In societies with high corruption resources are inefficiently allocated, making business inefficient and often leading to a lack of funding for essential services. The resulting inequality can lead to civil unrest and in extreme situations can be the catalyst for more violence. Low levels of corruption, by contrast, can enhance business confidence and trust in institutions, which in turn helps to create informal institutions that enhance peace.

There is no clear statistical relationship between either the presence or the absence of religious belief and conflict, according to the latest research report from the Institute for Economics and Peace carried out in conjunction with the Religious Freedom & Business Foundation
The report, Five Key Questions Answered on the Link between Peace and Religion, provides a comprehensive analysis of the relationship between peace and religion. The report found that even at the extremes, the least peaceful countries are not necessarily the most religious and vice versa. 

The most peaceful countries are a mixture of both religious and less religious countries. For instance, 3 out of the 10 most peaceful countries in the 2013 GPI are more religious than the international average. At the other end of the scale 2 out of the 10 least peaceful countries have some of the lowest rates of religion attendance in the world, notably North Korea.    

Countries with more atheists are not more peaceful. The countries with the first and third highest percentage of atheists, North Korea and Russia, performed in the bottom ten for the 2013 GPI. If a country has greater than five per cent of its population as atheist then it’s likely to be either a communist or former communist state or from Europe. Of the 10 most peaceful countries in the 2013 GPI, only 2 countries have greater than 10% atheists. These countries are New Zealand with around 32% and Belgium at approximately 20%.

Rather than religious similarities, the least peaceful countries have political and regional similarities. The least peaceful countries are on average authoritarian countries and are located in the three least peaceful regions in the world: the Middle East and North Africa, Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. For example, Malaysia is considerably more peaceful than neighboring country Myanmar. A major difference between these countries is that Malaysia is more democratic, whereas Myanmar is in its early stages of its democratization process. The government type therefore, appears to be a more significant distinguishing characteristic of peace, with full democracies and especially member states of the European Union having the best measures in peace, regardless of the levels of religion beliefs.

PictureSource: IEP, World Religion Project
Over two thirds of countries in the world greater than 95% of the population hold religious beliefs and high levels of religious belief can be found at either end of the GPI. Countries with the highest presence of religious belief also have vast differences in peace.

There is not a significant correlation between levels of religious belief and peace, with an r=0.14. Generally IEP considers a measure of at least r=0.5 to be significant. All correlations in Table 2 are extremely low, to the extent that no relationship was uncovered. Furthermore, the results are in divergent directions meaning that a linear connection between the presence of religion and peace is highly unlikely.

While 15 of the 20 most peaceful countries in the world have less religion than the international average, it does not follow that all peaceful countries have low religious levels. Iceland, for example, is the most peaceful country in the 2013 GPI but has relatively high levels of religious belief. In fact, 11 of the top 20 countries on the GPI have more than 90% of their population identifying with religious beliefs.

The overwhelming majority of people in most countries, including the most peaceful, have religious attendance rates of over 80%. Atheists are a small minority globally, and only a majority in five of the 162 countries analyzed, thereby limiting any explanatory effect on a society as a whole. 

Religion is not the main cause of conflict today, according to the latest research report from the Institute for Economics and Peace carried out in conjunction with the Religious Freedom & Business Foundation.  
The report, Five Key Questions Answered on the Link between Peace and Religion, provides a comprehensive analysis of the relationship between peace and religion.The study found that the answer to the first question is "No": Is religion the main cause of conflict in the world today?

While religion has evidently been a cause of many conflicts throughout history, it is by no means the only reason for conflict. Surveying the state of 35 armed conflicts from 2013, religious elements did not play a role in 14, or 40%.

It is notable that religion did not stand as a single cause in any conflict; however 14% of conflicts did have religion and/or the establishment of an Islamic state as driving causes. Religion was only one of three or more reasons for 67% of the conflicts where religion featured as a factor to the conflict.

Nevertheless, global peace as measured by the Global Peace Index (GPI) has been steadily deteriorating over the last seven years; with 111 countries deteriorating and 51 improving. One of the main reasons for the global decline in peace has been increased terrorist activity, which has been driven by high profile Islamic terrorist organizations such as the Islamic State (IS), Boko Haram and Al-Qaida. Both the scale and the intensity of terrorism has substantially increased. In 2011, 13 countries recorded more than 50 deaths from terrorist activity; by 2013 the number had jumped to 24 countries.

The graph represents the causes of conflict for the 35 armed conflicts in 2013. Of the 35 conflicts in 2013, 86% had more than one cause. Nearly two-thirds of conflicts in 2013 had among their main cause opposition to a particular government, or opposition to the economic, ideological, political or social system of a state. 

Identity was a feature in most conflicts in 2013, with 21 conflicts involving clashes of identity as a main cause of conflict. When analyzing the motivation for these conflicts the desire for identity and self-government was a part of 60 per cent of the conflicts. While religious elements may have a significant impact, there are many other motivators of armed conflict.

There are many difficulties in simplistically determining what the causes of a conflict are. Conflicts with religious elements are not necessarily primarily driven by religious objectives or identification. In many instances armed groups focused more on overthrowing the government or eroding government power and use religion as a rallying cry in religious societies. It has been argued that religion is rarely a foundational cause for conflict. It “does not ordinarily lead to violence”, but it is generally only “when religion becomes fused with violent expressions of social tensions, personal pride, and movements for political change.”

When parties to a conflict are divided on religious adherence, the conflict often becomes framed as religious even though the parties have originally fought over other issues. As the majority of people in the world adhere to some religious beliefs it is unsurprising that many conflicts are interpreted as having a religious element. It thus does not always follow that religion is the cause for conflict.

Religion-related terrorists are active in more than one-in-three countries (37%) today, more than any time since 2006, according to Pew Research
With recent "Lone Wolf" attacks in the U.S., Canada and the U.K., the terror is coming closer to home. 

Common to the lone wolf scenario is a lack of social integration, including meaningful work and self-reliance. A new initiative from the Religious Freedom & Business Foundation is attempting to address this (more below). 

U.S. (New York)

On Oct. 23, 2014, a self-radicalized Muslim convert, Zale H. Thompson, attacked a group of New York police officers with a hatchet, leaving one critically injured. Officials are calling it a terrorist attack. Thompson converted to Islam two years ago. 

John Miller, NYPD’s deputy counterterrorism chief, told reporters that Thompson was self-directed in his actions with no affiliations to any particular group. 

Thompson was unemployed, and police say his parents described him as a depressed recluse spending his time online. His recent Internet activity shows that he searched for beheadings, al Qaeda, ISIS and al Shabaab, indicating that Thompson had been planning an attack for some time.


On Oct. 22, 2014, a gunman, Michael Zehaf-Bibeau (originally Michael Joseph Hall), went on a shooting spree in Ottawa, the capital of Canada. The gunmen killed a reservist guard in front of the National War Memorial, and then proceed to the Parliament Hill. Because of the shootings, all government employees were not allowed to enter or leave their buildings throughout the interprovincial National Capital Region. Following the attack there has been some opposing reports regarding potential ISIS inspired attacks in Canada.

Preceding this shooting, Martin Couture-Rouleau – a French-Canadian who converted to Islam in 2013 – deliberately struck two Canadian soldiers with his car on Oct. 20, 2014 killing one. It is believed that Couture-Rouleau’s attack was an act of terrorism tied to Canada’s involvement in the conflict in the Middle East. Both Zehaf-Bibeau and Couture-Rouleau had documented psychological problems and were heavy drug users. And, there is some speculation that an association is being forced to push through new anti-terrorism legislation in the country.

While there is debate whether the two killers actually had ties to or were in fact motivated by terrorist leanings, there are documented cases of attempted terrorist attacks in Canada or Canadians traveling to the Middle East to join militant groups. Fen Osler Hampson, director of the global security and politics program at the Centre for International Governance Innovation, points to some recurring characteristics common to Canadian Islamists. 

Compared to their counterparts in other Western countries, they are more likely to be socially marginalized, often unemployed, and act alone. Many are converts. Overall, Mr. Hampson notes however that, "In Canada, Muslims are much better integrated in society and they are much more upwardly mobile for the most part," and, "They've adopted the identity of being Canadian and being tolerant."

ISIS & the U.K.

Threat expert, Will Geddes of security and counter terrorism firm International Corporate Protection, warned that an Islamic State terror attack on soldiers in their barracks in Britain is not a matter of if, but when. 

Geddes conservatively estimates three attacks, with the possibility of more. ISIS terrorist cells have reportedly been discovered, carrying out surveillance on for barracks across the country. Four British men have been charged with allegedly carrying out “hostile reconnaissance” of a police station and army barracks in west London.

Mr. Geddes warns that the second threat is a high likelihood of a “loan wolf” terror attack. Unlike the large concerted attacks carried out by Al Qaeda, the threat from ISIS “is a much more low-level, under the radar, visceral type of terrorism, often involving just one or two lone wolves operating alone.” 

A lone wolf may be one of two types of Islamic extremist, those who wanted to join ISS in Syria but were unable to, like Ottawa gunman Michael Zehaf-Bibeau, whose passport had been confiscated by authorities, and those who had been to the Middle East but returned to make with plans to attack in Britain. Mr. Geddes stresses that such an attack is especially dangerous due to the unpredictable nature of a person acting alone. 

Self-Reliance Life Skills: An Antidote?

The Religious Freedom & Business Foundation is working with leading interfaith groups, business schools and educational institutions to develop a "Self-Reliance Curriculum."

Obtaining self-reliance life skills is a pressing need among many vulnerable communities who are susceptible to radicalization, such as Muslims in the UK. For instance, the killing on the afternoon of 22 May 2013 of a British Army soldier, Fusilier Drummer Lee Rigby in Woolwich, has reopened the debate about those who carry out acts of violence in the name of Islamist fundamentalism. Experts give their opinions on how society and the authorities should react to this incident and what could be done to combat radicalization in the UK. The debate continues as the Birmingham City Council is investigating 25 schools about claims of takeovers by Islamist extremists.

The project will make available to interfaith training teams* a curriculum of self-reliance that could be taught to members of vulnerable communities by interfaith teams beginning in the UK and then taken globally. 

The curriculum would promote self-reliance as a way of life and help people make a conscious, active effort to provide for their own needs and those of their families. The program would follow the six themes for a balanced life: 
  1. education
  2. health
  3. employment
  4. family home production and stewardship
  5. family finances
  6. spiritual strength

* Interfaith training teams will be composed of volunteers from local business as well as faith communities - having both is a unique and an essential component of the program in that involving people with real business know-how together with people of diverse faiths and beliefs helps give real alternatives to radical narratives that grow under conditions of isolation and desperation.  

A Pakistani court has upheld the death penalty against Asia Bibi, a Christian woman, accused of blasphemy. She is the first woman to be sentenced to death under Pakistan’s blasphemy law. 
PictureAsia Bibi
Pakistani nationals have killed at least 60 people following blasphemy allegations since 1990. There have been over 327 blasphemy cases filed in Pakistan, after amendments were made to the blasphemy law in the 1970’s and 80’s (see chart below). 

Prior to this there were only 7 cases filed between 1851-1947. Currently here are at least 17 people convicted of blasphemy on death row, and an additional 19 serving life sentences. Accusations of blasphemy are filed against both Muslim and non-Muslims, and while the rate of against non-Muslims is higher when measured against the religious minorities representation in Pakistan, more overall accusations are made against Muslims.

Also see: More than one-in-five countries worldwide (22%) penalize blasphemy or apostasy; some face death
PictureClick for Source
Jan Wetzel from Amnesty International notes "While purporting to protect Islam and the religious sensitivities of the Muslim majority, Pakistan's blasphemy laws have in fact fostered a climate of religiously motivated violence, and are used indiscriminately against both Muslims and non-Muslims." Further, "They violate the basic human rights of freedom of religion and thought. These laws are often used to make unfounded malicious accusations to settle personal scores in land and business disputes [and] are also arbitrarily enforced by the police and judiciary."

A Pakistani court has upheld the death penalty against Asia Bibi, a Christian woman, accused of blasphemy. She is the first woman to be sentenced to death under Pakistan’s blasphemy law. Two Muslim women brought the allegation against Bibi after they objected to her sharing water with them, because she was a different faith. The charges were brought against her in 2010. Two prominent politicians, the governor of Punjab Salman Taseer, a Muslim, and the Minority Affairs Minister Shahbaz Bhatti, a catholic, were killed after supporting Bibi in 2011. The governor was killed by his own bodyguard; who was then showered with rose petals by supporters at his murder trial. 

In Pakistan, a blasphemy conviction carries a maximum penalty of death, and yet has an almost non-existent standard of proof. There is no punishment for false allegations of blasphemy, and an accuser may even refuse to tell the court exactly what the blasphemous comment was, so as not to blaspheme themselves. It is enough simply to accuse someone of blasphemy for them to either receive punishment through the judicial system, however more often punishment is meted out by members of the public. Pakistan’s anti blasphemy law also does not account for the accused’s mental state. For instance, currently British citizen, Mohammed Asghar, a paranoid schizophrenic, is awaiting a death sentence in Pakistan. Asghar’s tenant accused him of blasphemy after they had a disagreement.

Confounding any attempt to mediate the affect of the law, are incidents such as the recent killing of Rashid Rehman, a dedicated human rights attorney. Rehman was killed after taking on the case of Junaid Hafeez, a university professor accused of blasphemy by a group of students in 2013. Attorneys in Pakistan have expressed frustration with how Pakistan’s legal system is responding once a blasphemy case gains traction in the public sphere. An attorney for Asghar notes, "There are two kinds of judges in this blasphemy field. [There are] those who genuinely have their hands tied behind their backs, because there is a threat to their lives. But there's a fair amount of lawyers, prosecutors and judges who are making a name for themselves by … sentencing blasphemy convicts." 

Brian Grim's New Blog at the World Economic Forum
An event being translated into more languages than does the United Nations is bringing together scholars, government officials, and religious and civic leaders from 40 countries. 
PictureSen. Hatch with Brazilian Delegation and Grim
The 21st annual International Law and Religion Symposium is underway (5-7 October 2014) at Brigham Young University Law School in Provo, Utah. This year 80 invited delegates, from 40 countries, will address the theme "Varieties of Secularism, Religion, and the Law." 

This year’s delegates come from Argentina, Armenia, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, Croatia, Democratic Republic of Congo, Dominican Republic, France, Germany, Greece, Guatemala, Guyana, Hungary, India, Indonesia, Israel, Italy, Japan, Laos, Malaysia, Mexico, Mongolia, Nigeria, Norway, Paraguay, Peru, Philippines, Poland, Russia, Singapore, Slovakia, South Korea, Spain, Turkey, Ukraine, United Kingdom, United States, and Vietnam.

Weekly Number author, Brian Grim, will discuss findings from a new Pew Research Center religious diversity study - based on methodology he developed - that finds that about one-in-three people live in countries with high religious diversity. (Also see Chapter 3 in Grim's co-authored book, The World's Religions in Figures.) 

separate analysis by the Weekly Number 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. 

One girl recounts how she and her friend were given to a IS man 40 years their senior as a “gift.” They were lucky to escape, but only after being starved and beaten.
PictureSecret Video of IS street, Syria
Hundreds, perhaps thousands, are not so lucky, and remain captives of IS with reports of rape and sexual abuse of detained women and children.

The group that calls itself the Islamic State (IS) has carried out ethnic cleansing on a historic scale in northern Iraq, according to a recent report by Amnesty International. According to the report, ethnic and religious minorities – Assyrian Christians, Turkmen Shi’a, Shabak Shi’a, Yezidis, Kakai and Sabean Mandaeans – are under threat of death if they do not convert to Islam. There have been allegations that many of the women and girls who have been abducted by IS fighters, notably girls in their teens and early 20s, have been subjected to rape or sexual abuse, forced to marry fighters, or sold into sexual slavery.

At the same time, a handful of women from the West are reported to have freely moved to IS-controlled areas (see secret video of an IS-controlled street). Their stories add to the claims of legitimacy by the IS leaders. On the video, one French woman caught on video talking to her mother in France, explains, “I don’t want to come back, Mama, because I’m happy here. Everything you see on TV is fake, I swear to you, it’s not true. Do you understand? They exaggerate everything on TV.”

New Analysis

A new analysis of data by the Weekly Number shows that the denial of religious freedom contributes to gender inequality throughout the world. Extremist ideologies such as IS represent the complete loss of religious freedom, and when respect for a diversity of religious beliefs and practices disappears, gender inequality is often a result.

Gender Inequality Higher When Restrictions on Religious Freedom Are Higher

Among 4 Largest Countries in Each World Region

Click to enlarge

Among 25 Countries with Highest Restrictions

Click to enlarge
Religious minorities are especially vulnerable when the right to freedom of religion or belief, as recognized by the UN Declaration of Human Rights, is not protected. IS justifies its rampant disregard for life by citing ideological superiority. Hiding behind this claim, IS justifies ethnic cleansing by killing Yazidi men and boys, and calling the women and girls “pagans,” selling them into slavery if they refuse to convert.

Any solutions will need to address issues such as religious freedom, because religious freedom is not only tied to gender equality but also to more stable economies. Religious intolerance affects women’s ability to engage in and contribute to the economy. 

IS demonstrates the extreme instability that accompanies absolute religious intolerance. An already destabilized region is made even more so, leaving ancient minority faiths displaced and on the verge of being wiped out. 

PRESS RELEASE: The coupling of religious freedom & business provides solutions to the world's pressing socio-economic problems. Weekly Number author and Religious Freedom & Business Foundation President Brian Grim is discussing these solutions at major events across the world:
  • Istanbul, Helsinki, London, Bristol, Oxford, Milan, Dubai, Brisbane, Sydney
  • Washington, Boston, Provo, Miami
Stay up to date with the Foundation's Blog & Newsletter.

Religious hostilities are sweeping the globe, despite efforts by governments, religious groups and non-governmental organizations to hold them back.
According to the Pew Research Center, religious hostilities reached a six-year high in 2012, with a third (33%) of countries in the high category, up from 20% just six years earlier. 

The Islamic world is disproportionately affected. More than one-in-two (57%) Muslim-majority countries have high religious hostilities, more than double that of other countries (25%), as shown in the chart to the left. 

Although religious hostilities affect countries throughout the world experience, Muslim-majority countries consistently have higher levels of a range of religious hostilities than other countries and by wide margins. For instance, Muslim-majority countries are more than three times more likely than other countries to have religion-related war, terror or sectarian violence, as shown in the chart below.

These religious hostilities disrupt markets, trade and development in numerous parts of the Islamic World. This leads the talented young as well as risk-averse investors to look elsewhere for opportunity, compounding socio-economic conditions that contribute to the hostilities. 

By contrast, research indicates that economic competitiveness is stronger in countries where religious freedom is respected by governments and societies. 

Causes & Solutions
The typical government response to religious hostilities is to tighten restrictions on religion. But, contrary to common perceptions, a solid body of empirical and historical research shows that piling on additional restrictions does not ensure peace and stability, but rather can fuel additional grievances. Indeed, research shows that the price of denying religious freedoms is far higher than protecting them. 

Specifically, as social hostilities involving religion rise, government restrictions on religion rise, leading to more violence, setting up a religious violence cycle that become difficult to break, with direct adverse effects on business, foreign investment and world economies. Two examples help demonstrate how religious restrictions and hostilities are bad for business: 

(1) Blasphemy LawsPakistan’s speech-restricting blasphemy laws often sow discord rather than the purported aim of promoting peace, as two high ranking government officials were recently assassinated for merely questioning the laws. These laws also have a direct negative impact on businesses. There are “recorded instances of business or personal rivals accusing each other of blasphemy to extract revenge for a past grievance. The blasphemy laws in Pakistan have not only been used in cases where individuals have been accused of specific blasphemies, they have also been used to ban websites like Facebook, YouTube, and Wikipedia because of content that would be considered sacrilegious” (Tarin and Uddin 2013, p. 19). 

(2) Egypt: Religious Violence Cycle & the Economy. The religious violence cycle is playing out today in Egypt in the back-and-forth social and political struggle between the supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood and the coalition opposing them. Of course, this struggle directly impacts the important tourist industry, but it also drives away foreign investment. And this has adverse effects on foreign economies

To end the cycle of religious violence and its negative impact, observers of post-Mubarak Egypt concluded that all factions in society – including Islamists – must feel that their voices are heard and that “special attention should be paid to the economy …” (Shaikh and Ghanem 2013, p. 2). 

Also, as the role of women is debated within Islam and between Muslims in Egypt and countries ranging from Morocco and Iraq to Pakistan and Indonesia, religious restrictions on women also impact economic outcomes as the future health of economies is related to the economic opportunities afforded women. Furthermore, not only do religious restrictions have adverse effects on the economy, but a poor economy can reinforce religious intolerance, adding to the religious violence cycle. And perhaps most telling, as Egypt’s religion-related tensions have grown, Egypt’s young entrepreneurs desire to move outside the country rather put their hopes in their home.
–   “In God we trust, all others bring data.” - W. Edwards Deming
–   “We are drowning in information and starving for knowledge.” - Rutherford D. Roger
In the following paragraphs, I’ll apply these two provocative quotes, both from the preface of The Elements of Statistical Learning, to freedom of religion or belief with Deming’s goal for statistical data squarely in view: providing “a rational basis for action.”

Growing Religion. The past decade has seen the largest social science effort to collect and analyze data on international religious demography resulting in a series of scholarly publications, including the World Religion Database (Brill), The World’s Religions in Figures (Wiley-Blackwell), The Global Religious Landscape (Pew Research) and, the just-released, Yearbook of International Religious Demography (Brill).

This body of research points to one thing – religion is growing and will continue to grow globally, with about 9-in-10 people projected to be affiliated with religion in 2030 compared with 8-in-10 in 1970, as shown in the chart. This growth is projected to occur despite trends toward disaffiliation in the global north, where population growth is stagnating. By contrast, populations are growing in the more religious global south.

Growing Restrictions on Freedom of Religion or Belief. In recent years, Pew Research has measured restrictions on religious freedom based on methods I developed with my Penn State colleague, Roger Finke. The results of these studies show that there has been a dramatic rise in the level of religious restrictions and hostilities. For instance, in 2007, fewer than 30% of countries had high restrictions on freedom of religion or belief, but by 2012, this figure increased to 43%. And because several of these countries are very populous, 76% of the world’s people – that’s 5.3 billion people – live with high government restrictions on religion and/or high social hostilities involving religion.

These data are clear – they point to a global religious freedom crisis that will become even more acute as the world becomes more religious and as global mobility mixes people and their beliefs at an unprecedented rate.

The data on religious freedom provide more than just information – they provide knowledge. Specifically, analysis of the data reveal two very important empirical relationships:

–   The combined effects of government and social restrictions on religious freedom lead to violent religious persecution and conflict.
–   The respect of freedom of religion or belief leads to peace and prosperity.

These relationships were first expounded in The Price of Freedom Denied: Religious Persecution & Conflict in the 20th Century (Cambridge University Press, 2011). The book convincingly demonstrated the restriction of freedom of religion or belief most directly leads to religious violence and persecution, not other factors such as Huntington’s civilization divides.

Peace and stability are particularly important for business because where stability exists, there are more opportunities to invest and conduct normal and predictable business operations, especially in emerging and new markets.

A recent study, “Is Religious Freedom Good for Business? A Conceptual and Empirical Analysis,” further investigated the relationship of religious freedom and business, and found religious freedom to be one of only three factors significantly associated with global economic growth, looking at 173 countries in 2011 and controlling for two-dozen different financial, social, and regulatory influences.

As the world navigates away from years of poor economic performance, freedom of religion or belief may be an unrecognized asset to economic recovery and growth, according to this new study. The study examines and finds a positive relationship between religious freedom and ten of the twelve pillars of global competitiveness, as measured by the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Index.

The new study observes that religious hostilities and restrictions create climates that can drive away local and foreign investment, undermine sustainable development, and disrupt huge sectors of economies. Perhaps most significant for future economic growth, the study notes that young entrepreneurs are pushed to take their talents elsewhere due to the instability associated with high and rising religious restrictions and hostilities – the very places where entrepreneurship is needed to bring economic possibilities to growing and restless populations.

Acting on Data and Knowledge

Based on these trends and empirical relationships, it is therefore in the interest of policy makers throughout the world to respect and protect freedom of religion or belief (FoRB), because FoRB promotes peace and stability, respects diversity, guards the rights of minorities and women, and creates environments where economic competitiveness flourishes and sustainable development is possible. It is also in the interests of businesses to protect religious freedom within their companies and communities. Indeed, businesses are at the crossroads of culture, creativity and commerce, and therefore can and should be among the most FoRB-Friendly institutions on earth.