Fertility rates have fallen in most Muslim-majority countries in recent decades. Yet they remain, on average, higher than in the rest of the developing world and considerably higher than in more-developed countries, according to a study
by the Pew Research Center. This is one of the main reasons that the global Muslim population is projected to rise both in absolute numbers and in relative terms, as a share of all the people in the world.
The overall trends in fertility, however, mask a considerable amount of variation from country to country according to the Pew Research study. Among Muslim-majority countries, the highest Total Fertility Rates currently are found in Niger, Afghanistan and Somalia, where the average woman has more than six children during her lifetime. The lowest TFRs are in Iran (1.7) and Tunisia (1.8), which are well below replacement levels.
Taken as a whole, the world’s more-developed regions – including Europe, North America, Japan and Australia – have Total Fertility Rates (TFRs) below their replacement levels of about 2.1 children per woman, the minimum necessary to keep the population stable (absent other factors, such as immigration). Fertility rates in these more-developed nations are projected to rise slightly over the next 20 years but to remain, on average, well below replacement levels.
In non-Muslim-majority countries in less-developed regions – including all of Latin America, much of sub-Saharan Africa and parts of Asia – fertility rates have dropped in recent decades. They are projected to continue to drop, reaching or even falling below replacement levels in these developing countries as a whole in 2030-35.
In many Muslim-majority countries – including Indonesia, Iran, United Arab Emirates, Lebanon, Turkey and Tunisia – the Pew Research study finds that fertility rates also have dropped substantially. The average Total Fertility Rate for all 49 Muslim-majority countries has fallen from 4.3 children per woman in 1990-95 to an estimated 2.9 children in 2010-15. Over the next 20 years, fertility rates in these Muslim-majority countries as a whole are expected to continue to decline, though not quite as steeply, dropping to 2.6 children per woman in 2020-25 and 2.3 children in 2030-35 – approaching and possibly reaching replacement levels.
If current trends continue, fertility rates in Muslim-majority countries eventually may converge with fertility rates in other developing countries and in the world’s more-developed regions. But complete convergence is not projected to occur in the next two decades, as the trend lines in the above graph shows.
"The actions of societal groups can affect religious freedom as much as, and perhaps even more than, government actions."
The Pew Research Center’s studies on global restrictions on religion
have played a role in shifting discussion from the 20th century paradigm of religious freedom, which focused primarily on the types of government restrictions seen in communist countries, to a 21st century paradigm that recognizes that the actions of societal groups can affect religious freedom as much as, and perhaps even more than, government actions.
The findings of the studies show that 40% of the world’s countries have high restrictions on religion, and because several of these countries are very populous, this amounts to three-quarters of the world’s population.
These findings are based on a comprehensive analysis of 198 countries and territories. Annually since 2006, the Pew Research Center (“Pew Research”) has carefully studied the laws and constitutions of each of these countries as well as human rights reports from major international sources. Based on these sources, Pew Research staff count and categorize each government restriction on religion
and each reported social hostility involving religion
Examples of government restrictions include:
- restrictions on the wearing of religious symbols, which exist in more than a quarter of all countries. For instance, the European Court of Human Rights recently found that British law does not adequately protect an employee’s right to display religious symbols in the workplace.
- prison sentences for religious believers in response to actions motivated by their faith, which occur in nearly a third of all countries. In Burma, for example, Buddhist monks continue to languish in prison for their promotion of human rights and democracy.
Examples of social hostilities involving religion include:
- sectarian violence, which occurs in 17% of countries worldwide. In Iraq, for instance, even though the civil war ended years ago, acts of sectarian violence continue to occur almost daily.
- religion-related terrorists, who are active in more than a third of countries worldwide, including in France, where a Rabbi and Jewish children were gunned down in a brazen act of terror in March 2012.
Pew Research studies divide the world into five major regions - the Americas, sub-Saharan Africa, Europe, Asia-Pacific, and Middle East-North Africa - to examine broad geographic patterns. In each region, religious restrictions and social hostilities increased over the course of the five-year study. But restrictions rose most substantially in the Middle East-North Africa region – including through 2011, when the political uprisings known as the ‘Arab Spring’ occurred.
What contributes to these high and rising religious restrictions and hostilities in the Middle East and North Africa? The study finds that, on average, each type of government restriction is associated with increased social hostility. And among the twenty types of government restrictions analyzed, high government favoritism of one religion at the expense of others has the strongest association with social hostilities involving religion.
How does the Middle East and North Africa compare with the rest of the world on this measure? About eight times the share of countries in the region have high or very high government favoritism of religion compared with the rest of the world. Therefore, it’s not surprising that social hostilities involving religion are high in the region.
Likewise, social hostilities involving religion are associated with higher government restrictions. The study finds that among the thirteen types of social hostilities studied, sectarian violence between religious groups has the strongest association with government restrictions on religion.
Again, how does the Middle East and North Africa stack up against the rest of the world on this measure? Sectarian violence is four times more prevalent among the countries in this region than it is elsewhere in the world. Therefore, it’s not surprising that government restrictions are high in these regions.
Yet, the news is not all negative because this new way of looking at religious freedom is stimulating discussion and action among groups such as the United Nations, the European Parliament and the U.S. Congress. Our study found that in 2011 alone, 76% of countries had government or societal initiatives to reduce religious restrictions or hostilities. For example, the 2013 United Nations Alliance of Civilizations annual meeting featured the Award for Intercultural Innovation
, which aimed to identify the most innovative grassroots projects that encourage intercultural exchange – including interfaith dialogue – around the world. Pew Research finds that interfaith dialogue is the most common way
the human rights community seeks to bring about better relations among members of different religions.
For more discussion of the Middle East, see my TEDx Talk.
Baroness Sayeeda Warsi, the British Government’s minister for faith and communities, will give the second Benedict XVI Lecture
in London on December 2, focusing on the topic of freedom of religion in the public and private sphere.
Last week Lady Warsi said in a speech
at Georgetown University in Washington DC that she fears Christians face becoming “extinct” in large parts of the world and called for a “cross-faith, cross-continent” response to the problem of persecution.
My analysis of data from the Pew Research Center -- presented previously in Vienna at the Austrian Diplomatic Academy and this coming week in Geneva at the Human Rights Council and in London at the British Parliament -- provides some evidence that religious minorities in the Middle East and North Africa do indeed face abuse in a larger share of countries than in other world regions.
This includes Christians as well as other minorities such as minority Shia Muslims in Sunni-majority Egypt. In fact, Muslims face harassment in a large majority of the region's countries.
These findings are based on an analysis of three questions of the 33 coded annually by the Pew Research Center's Religion & Public Life Project (see chart at left).
Furthermore, at the onset of the Arab Spring in late 2010 and early 2011, many world leaders, including U.S. President Barack Obama, expressed hope that the political uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa would lead to greater freedoms for the people of the region, including fewer restrictions on religious beliefs and practices. But a new study by the Pew Research Center
finds that the region’s already high overall level of restrictions on religion – whether resulting from government policies or from social hostilities – continued to increase in 2011.
For more discussion of the Middle East, see my TEDx Talk.
Religion impacts the political, social and individual lives of almost everyone, according to a series of major cross-national studies carried out under the Pew-Templeton Global Religious Futures Project
at the Pew Research Center.
Blavatnik School of Government, Oxford Univ.
The overwhelming majority people today (84%) self-identify as being affiliated with one religion or another, and even among people who are religiously unaffiliated, many have some religious beliefs or engage in some religious practices.
The prospects for continued growth of religious populations appear strong as they are younger on average than the world’s religiously unaffiliated population.
Some religions have much younger populations, on average, than others. In part, the age differences reflect the geographic distribution of religious groups. Those with a large share of adherents in fast-growing, developing countries tend to have younger populations. Those concentrated in China and in advanced industrial countries, where population growth is slower, tend to be older.
Pew Research Center, 2013
The median age of two major groups – Muslims (23 years) and Hindus (26) – is younger than the median age of the world’s overall population (28). Christians have a median age of 30, slightly higher than the global median, followed by members of other religions (32), adherents of folk or traditional religions (33), the religiously unaffiliated (34) and Buddhists (34). Jews have the highest median age (36), more than a dozen years older than the youngest group, Muslims.
As people migrate around the globe, they take their religious beliefs with them, but as they do, they also may face new forms of government restrictions and social hostilities. In fact, Pew Research shows that government restrictions on religion and social hostilities involving religion have been rising in most regions of the world, impacting both existing and newer religions. While causes of the increase are numerous and multidimensional, data reveal a clear and strong association between government restrictions and social hostilities – as one rises, so does the other.
Moreover, Pew Research studies show that religion continues to shape the attitudes, actions and beliefs of people, particularly in non-Western countries. While these studies have revealed much about the impact of religion on politics, societies and people today, much more still needs to be learned.
On Friday, Nov. 22, I'll be speaking about "Global Religious Futures: Social and demographic trends we know and what we yet need to know" at Oxford University's Blavatnik School of Government
For a further discussion of restrictions on religious freedom, see my recent TEDx Talk
After last week's negotiations in Geneva over the future of Iran's nuclear program ended without agreement, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has sought to reassure allies in the region that negotiations would not put their security at risk (NY Times
Pew Research Center
Amid renewed attention to Iran, here are three things to know about religion in the Islamic Republic.1. By far, Iran has the largest population of Shia Muslims of any country
Most Shia Muslims (between 68% and 80%) live in four countries: Iran, Pakistan, India and Iraq, according to a Pew Research study
. Of these countries, Iran has the largest Shia population 66 million to 70 million Shias, or 37-40% of the world’s total Shia population. Iraq, India and Pakistan each are home to at least 16 million Shias.
Iran is one of only four countries – Iran, Azerbaijan, Bahrain and Iraq – where Shia Muslims make up a majority of the total population.
Sizeable numbers of Shias (1 million or more) are found in Turkey, Yemen, Azerbaijan, Afghanistan, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Nigeria and Tanzania. Shias constitute a relatively small percentage of the Muslim population elsewhere in the world. About 300,000 Shias are estimated to be living in North America, including both the U.S. and Canada, constituting about 10% of North America’s Muslim population.2. Iran consistently ranks as one of the most religiously restrictive countries worldwide
Studies by the Pew Research Center
consistently find that government restrictions on religion in Iran are among the world's highest. The State Department's annual report on international religious freedom summarizes these high restrictions:
Bahai and Christian groups reported arbitrary arrests, prolonged detentions, and confiscation of property. Government-controlled broadcast and print media continued negative campaigns against religious minorities, particularly Bahais. All religious minorities suffered varying degrees of officially sanctioned discrimination, particularly in the areas of employment, education, and housing.3. Shia Muslims in Iran see themselves much freer than Sunni Muslims in Iran
- The constitution and other laws and policies do not protect religious freedom, and in practice, the government severely restricted religious freedom.
- The constitution declares the “official religion is Islam and the doctrine followed is that of Ja’afari (Twelver) Shiism.” The constitution states all laws and regulations must be based on undefined “Islamic criteria” and official interpretation of Sharia (Islamic law).
- There were increased reports of the government charging religious and ethnic minorities with moharebeh (enmity against God), “anti-Islamic propaganda,” or vague national security crimes for their religious activities.
- There continued to be reports of the government imprisoning, harassing, intimidating, and discriminating against people because of their religious beliefs.
- The government imposed legal restrictions on proselytizing and regularly arrests members of the Zoroastrian and Christian communities for practicing their religion.
- The government regularly vilified Judaism.
- The government considers Bahais to be apostates and defines the Bahai Faith as a “political sect.” The government prohibits Bahais from teaching and practicing their faith and subjects them to many forms of discrimination not faced by members of other religious groups.
- Government rhetoric and actions created a threatening atmosphere for nearly all non-Shia religious groups, most notably for Bahais, as well as for Sufi Muslims, evangelical Christians, Jews, and Shia groups not sharing the government’s official religious views.
Given the privileged status of Shia Islam in Iran, it is not surprising that Shia Muslims consider themselves to be freer to practice their religion than others in the country. Pew Research Center
polls conducted in 2011-2012 find that Shia Muslims are twice as likely as Sunnis to feel that they are very free religiously (88% vs. 44%).
In four of the five countries where substantial numbers of Shias and Sunnis were surveyed, most Muslims say they are very free to practice their faith. But only about half (48%) of all Muslims in Iraq – including 58% of Iraqi Shias and 42% of Iraqi Sunnis – describe themselves as very free to practice their religion.
Perhaps not surprisingly, in the other two countries surveyed where Shias are clearly in the majority – Iraq and Azerbaijan – Shias are much more likely than Sunnis to say they are very free to practice their faith.
For more analysis of global restrictions on religious freedom, see my recent TEDx Talk
Pew Research finds that Egypt has the world's highest level of government restrictions on religion.
(AP Photo/Eman Helal)
Supporters of Egypt's ousted President Mohammed Morsi hold a poster of him with Arabic that reads, "yes to legitimacy, Morsi is my president," during a protest a day before the trial of the former president taking place at a police academy in an eastern Cairo district, in Egypt, Sunday, Nov. 3, 2013.
Morsi has been held in undisclosed destination since his ouster on July 3. He stands accused of incitement to murder.
A recent Pew Research Center analysis
finds that government restrictions on religion in Egypt in 2011 included the use of force against religious groups; failure to prevent religious discrimination; favoritism of Islam over other religions; prohibitions on Muslims converting from Islam to other religions; stigmatization of some religious groups as dangerous sects or cults; and restrictions on religious literature or broadcasting. Not only were each of these government restrictions present in Egypt, but the intensity of each of these restrictions was higher than in other countries.
Those actions earn Egypt an overall score of 8.9 out of 10 on the Government Restrictions Index — a scale developed by Pew Research to gauge government restrictions on religion in nearly 200 countries and territories over time. That’s much higher than Middle Eastern-North African countries as a whole, where the median index score (including Egypt’s) is 5.9.Pew Research public opinion polling
conducted in Egypt shows that many Egyptian Muslims recognize the lack of religious freedom in their society. When asked whether they are very free, somewhat free, not too free or not at all free to practice their religion, fewer than half of Egyptian Muslims (46%) answer “very free.” Fewer still think non-Muslims in Egypt are very free to practice their faith (31%). By contrast, a median of 78% of Muslims across the 39 countries polled in Europe, Middle East, Africa and Asia, say they are very free to practice their religion, and 73% say non-Muslims in their country are free to practice their faith.
In a separate analysis
, the Weekly Number noted that Egypt was one of two countries where Muslims expressed in lowest numbers that others were very free to practice their faith: Egypt (31%) and Uzbekistan (26%).
Overall, about one-in-five Muslims in Egypt (18%) describe non-Muslims as not too free or not at all free to practice their religion, according to a Pew Research analysis
. However, Egyptian Muslims are not necessarily troubled by this perceived lack of religious freedom: Two-thirds of those who say non-Muslims in Egypt are not too free or not all free to practice their faith say this is a good thing.
Like many Muslim publics surveyed around the world, a majority of Egyptian Muslims (74%) want sharia, or Islamic law, enshrined as the official law of the land. However, Egypt is one of the few countries where a clear majority (74%) of sharia supporters say both Muslims and non-Muslims in their country should be subject to Islamic law. Worldwide, a median of 39% of Muslims who favor enshrining Islamic law say sharia should apply to Muslims and non-Muslims alike, according to Pew Research analysis
Egyptian Muslims also back criminalizing apostasy, or leaving Islam for another religion, according to Pew Research analysis
. An overwhelming majority of Egyptian Muslims (88%), say converting away from Islam should be punishable by death. Among the 37 countries where the question was asked, a median of 28% of Muslims say apostates should be subject to the death penalty.
From left, Grim, Lantos Swett, Bennett and Blair
The office aroused intense public debate
when it was established. Accordingly, the first seminar focused on why religious freedom matters in the current international environment.
Guest speakers included Tony Blair
, former U.K. prime minister, patron of the Tony Blair Faith Foundation and current Quartet representative to the Middle East; Brian J. Grim
, Senior Researcher, Pew Research Center; Katrina Lantos Swett
, Vice Chair of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom; and Father Raymond de Souza
Attending the event were diplomats from more than a dozen nations as well as numerous representatives from the Canadian government and various faith communities.
Pew Research Cneter
Grim summarized 10 key findings from the Pew Research Center's ongoing study of global restrictions on religion
. Below are excepts from Grim's remarks.
(1) We live in a world where more than eight-in-ten
people follow a religion. And among the 16% who don’t, many of them have some
religious beliefs or engage in some religious practices. Because most people have some attachment to religion, it’s important to look at how free people are to make personal decisions about their religion, changing their religion, or having no religion at all.
Pew Research Center
But religious freedom is very difficult to measure because. How can you measure how free someone is? So, as a social scientist, I measure the inverse. I measure restrictions on religious freedom coming from governments and from groups in society.
(2) The findings of my study at the Pew Research Center show that 40% of the world’s countries have high or very high restrictions on religion, but because several of these countries are very populous, about three-quarters (74%) of the world’s population – totaling 5.1 billion people – live with high restrictions.
This study measures 20 different types of government restrictions on religion, and adds them up into a Government Restrictions Index. The more restrictions and the greater their severity, the higher the score. (3) Based on this index, the study finds that almost two-thirds of people live in countries with high or very high government
restrictions. Government restrictions include:
- (4) restrictions on the wearing of religious symbols occur in more than a quarter of all countries. For instance, the European Court of Human Rights recently found that British law does not adequately protect an employee’s right to display religious symbols in the workplace – such as wearing a cross.
- (5) imprisonments occur in nearly a third of all countries. In Burma, for instance, Buddhist monks continue to languish in prison cells for their role as clergy in promoting human rights and democracy.
- (6) restrictions on converting from one religion to another occur in about a quarter of countries. For example, five of India’s 28 states have anti-conversions laws. In practice, these laws are used to prevent Hindus from converting to Islam or Christianity. And when conversions occur, they are sometimes met with hostilities. In a moment, I will talk more about the association of religious restrictions and hostilities.
This study measures 13 different types of social hostilities involving religion, and adds them up into a Social Hostilities Index. The more hostilities and the greater their severity, the higher the score. (7) Based on this index, the study finds that half the world’s people live in countries with high or very high social hostilities related to religion. These include:
- (8) sectarian violence occurs in 17% of countries – that’s more than one-out-of-every-seven countries worldwide. In Iraq, for instance, even though the civil war ended years ago, acts of sectarian violence continue to occur on an almost daily basis.
- (9) religion-related terrorists are active in more than a third of countries worldwide, including recently in France, where a Rabbi and several Jewish school children were gunned down in a brazen act of terror.
- (10) the use of violence to enforce religious norms occurs in a third of countries worldwide. For instance, in Indonesia – where religious belief is required by law – Alexander An was attacked by angry mobs after he declared his non-belief on an Atheist website. And, when police showed up to intervene, rather than arresting the mob, Alexander was arrested on charges of blasphemy. Again, another example of the association between government restrictions and social hostilities.
See Grim's full talk given previously as a TEDx Talk
A Pew Research Center study indicates the latest violence is part of a rising trend in recent years.
Amateur video captures bomb blast (AP Photo/Rossia TV channel)
A woman from the restive Dagestan province was behind Monday's bus bombing in the in the southern Russian city of Volgograd which killed herself and at least six other people and injured more than 30. The Moscow Times reports
that this is the deadliest attack outside of the North Caucasus region since the bombing of Domodedovo Airport in January 2011, when 37 people were killed.Alexei Malashenko
, a North Caucasus researcher at the Moscow Carnegie Center think tank, warned that it could be the first in a series of attacks ahead of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. “I am very worried, but I believe this is the first bell before the Olympics. We should expect more attacks,” said Malashenko according to the Moscow Times.
The Los Angeles Times reports
that It was the latest instance of violence from the Caucasus, fueled by nationalism and Islamic extremism, spilling over into other parts of Russia. This latest event follows ethnic violence in Moscow earlier this month. The Wall Street Journal reports that police
temporarily detained more than a thousand migrant workers to calm tensions following a riot triggered by the killing of a Russian man that residents blamed on a migrant from the predominantly Muslim Caucasus region.
The number of Muslims in Moscow may be as high as three million, according to ITAR-TASS
, making Moscow's Muslim population the largest of any city in Europe. The growing numbers are served by only four mosques
. The mayor of Moscow has prohibited further mosque constructions, arguing that most of the Muslims are temporary residents, also according to ITAR-TASS
.A recent Pew Research study finds that social hostilities involving religion
in Russia such as these have been rising in recent years, predominantly driven by tensions emanating from the Caucasus. Religious hostilities have been rising in Europe as a whole, including increasing by more than twofold in Russia between mid-2006 and the end of 2011, as shown in the chart below.
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Religious freedom by the numbers - see the TEDx video and take the quiz!
Current events in China and India highlight the religious challenges besetting the two Asian giants. Police in China's western Xinjiang region are cracking down on Muslims who promote jihad online as part of a nationwide clampdown on the internet. Reuters
reports, however, activists claim the move is to quell criticism of harsh government policies. And the Times of India
reports that the government has documented 479 incidents of sectarian violence this year alone, which has left 107 dead and 1,647 injured, including 794 Hindus, 703 Muslims and 200 police. Activists claim
the situation is far worse than captured by the official statistics.
On October 17-18, scholars and politicians will convene a roundtable in Trento, Italy, to discuss the differing dynamics of religion-state configurations around the world, including those in India and China.*
China's central control extends not only to its Muslim regions, but to Tibet and into the affairs of virtually every religious group in the country. This includes forbidding cross-national relationships that are routine elsewhere, such as not allowing the Catholic hierarchy to be obedient to Rome. In India, by contrast, different dynamics are at play. Despite allowing religious groups to have substantial control over their own affairs - including having their own personal status laws - India's center is often hard pressed to adequately address religious tensions that erupt into violence.
Here are three important things to understand about the religious situation in each of Asia's two giants.**
1. China is more religious than you might thinkIt's true, according to Pew Research, that t
he majority of China's population (52%) is unaffiliated with any particular religion. But this does not mean that they are religiously inactive. For example, belief in God or a higher power is shared by 7% of Chinese unaffiliated adults and 44% of unaffiliated adults say they have worshiped at a graveside or tomb in the past year, according to a 2007 Spiritual Life Study of Chinese Residents survey.
More surprising to some is that nearly 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.
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.
2. Chinese government restrictions on religion predominate
Although there is wide variation in the implementation of regulations on religion across the country, from mid-2007 until the end of 2011 Pew Research
indicates that government restrictions on religion in the country have continued to remain at a very high level.
In China, religion is heavily monitored and regulated by central government agencies, most extensively by the State Administration for Religious Affairs (SARA). Chinese Communist Party (CCP) members, who make up a vast majority of public office holders, are required to be atheists.
The government’s heavy regulation of religion has led to three distinct religious markets: state sanctioned religious organizations, underground (banned) religious groups, and religious groups with “ambiguous legal status.”
The five state-sanctioned “patriotic religious associations” are Buddhist, Taoist, Muslim, Roman Catholic and Protestant. Religious groups belonging to these five associations are the only groups permitted to register with the government and hold worship services. Other religious groups, including Catholics professing loyalty to the Vatican, are not permitted to register as legal entities.
However, even state-sanctioned religious associations face restrictions, including restrictions on printing religious texts. The government limits distribution of Bibles to government-approved churches, church bookshops and seminaries – preventing individuals from ordering Bibles directly from publishing houses.
Tibetan Buddhists in the country are not free to venerate the Dalai Lama and the government continues to attempt to exert control over Tibetan religious traditions. Through the Management Measures on Reincarnation regulations, the government officially controls the selection of reincarnate lamas and other Tibetan religious leaders.3. Social hostilities involving religion are on the rise in China
In China, religious and ethnic minority groups, such as Tibetan Buddhists and Uighur Muslims, continue to face social discrimination, tension and violence. A recent Pew Research
study note that increasing numbers of Buddhist monks, nuns and laypeople protested government policies toward Tibet by setting themselves on fire. For instance, two Tibetan lay people, ages 60 and 65, were beaten and killed by police in April 2011 at the Kirti monastery
, where they stood in protest against the harsh treatment of Tibetan monks. And in February 2013
, a former Tibetan Buddhist monk became the 100th person to protest restrictions in Chinese-governed Tibet after he killed himself by self-immolation in Sichuan Province.
Communal tension and violence continued between Han Chinese and Uighur Muslims in the Xinjiang region and between multiple ethnic and religious groups in Tibetan areas (including Han, Hui Muslim, Tibetan Buddhists, and Tibetan Muslims).
Dr. Kim-Kwong Chan, JP, Executive Secretary, Hong Kong Christian Council, provided the following additional information on religion in China after the initial publication of this blog:
- The Autonomous Chinese Orthodox Hierarchy was established in 1956, but ceased to existed and has not been reconstituted because the lack of a Bishop (the former Bishop died and had no successor). Currently there are about 20 Orthodox Churches fully registered and functional in China.
- An instance of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Mormons) has been allowed to register in Shanghai about three years ago.
- Ba'hai communities, number in the thousands (Chinese nationals) in at least 7 provinces and have been allow to meet by the State Administration for Religious Affairs and are reportedly in an "acknowledged" status heading towards registration. A meeting of Ba'hai from across China is to take place in Macao this month, and SARA is reported to be sending official representatives to the meeting.
- Folk Religion and its temples have been registered independently apart from the five major religion with provincial religious affairs bureau for some years already. Directorate Four of SARA was established several years ago to deal with religions other than the 5 major ones as well as all religious schools (seminaries..etc).
- There are at least 15 religious groups labelled by the Chinese authorities as "evil cults," such as Falungong, Eastern Lightning, etc. They are part of the religious landscape in China but not administered by SARA/.RAB, but instead dealt with by the Public Security Bureau.
1. Virtually everyone in India is religious
Statistically speaking fewer than 0.1% of Indians report that they have no religion, according to a Pew Research
analysis. Over 973 million Hindus live in India, comprising more than nine-in-ten (94%) of the world’s Hindus.
Although Muslims are a minority in India (14% of the total population), India nonetheless has one of the largest Muslim populations in the world (in raw numbers).
Although each accounting for less than 1% of the country’s total population, India is also home to one of the largest Buddhist and Folk religionist populations outside of China. Over 9 million Buddhists and nearly six million adherents of folk religions live in India.
India has the largest share (47%) of all members of other religions, including millions of Sikhs and Jains – amounting to over 27 million people.2. Social hostilities involving religion are prevalent in India
From mid-2007 until the end of 2011, religious hostilities in the country have continued to remain at a very high level, according to an ongoing study by the Pew Research Center
As noted above, communal violence occurs somewhat regularly in the country. The U.S. State Department's 2012 international religious freedom report for India noted that many incidents were linked to politics, conversion, retaliation or economic competition for scarce resources among religious communities. In November 2012 the Indian government reported 560 cases of communal violence between January and October of that year. In Uttar Pradesh alone, there were over 100 communal clashes during the year, leaving 34 dead.
According to the State Department, the BJP, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), and other affiliated Hindu nationalist organizations (collectively known as the Sangh Parivar) publicly claimed to respect and tolerate other religious groups; however, the RSS opposed conversions from Hinduism and expressed the view that all citizens, regardless of their religious affiliation, should adhere to Hindu cultural values, which they claimed were the country’s values.
Conversion remains a contentious issue. For example, conversion of Hindus or members of lower castes to Christianity sometimes contributed to religion-related social hostilities. Hindu nationalist organizations alleged that Christian missionaries lured Hindus into conversions through various educational and healthcare incentives. While Christians contend that Hindus converted of their own free will and that Hindu groups’ attempts to “reconvert” new Christians to Hinduism were accompanied by offers of financial compensation.3. Government restrictions on religion in India are often a local affair
In comparison with central government controls of religion in China, India’s government restrictions on religion are often locally driven. The central government of India offers some legal protections for minority religious groups, however such freedoms are often perceived as a threat to social and cultural unity at the local level. Because of the strength of local restrictions on religion in India, Pew Research
studies characterize overall restrictions as high.
Although the BJP, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and other Hindu nationalist organizations oppose conversions from Hinduism and assert that all citizens, regardless of their religious affiliation, should adhere to Hindu cultural values, which they see as the country’s values.
The National Commission for Minorities Act recognizes five religious communities – Muslims, Sikhs, Christians, Parsis (Zoroastrians) and Buddhists – as minority communities. The law provides that the government will protect these religious minority groups and encourage conditions to promote their individual identities.
There are also different state laws that are only applicable to certain religious communities, known as personal laws. The government allows significant autonomy to personal status law boards in crafting these laws. Hindu, Christian, Parsi (Zoroastrian) and Islamic laws are legally recognized. Local authorities reportedly used part of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) to restrict minority religious groups. For example, one provision prohibits “promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion…and doing acts prejudicial to maintenance of harmony.” While, another provision prohibits “deliberate and malicious acts, intended to outrage religious feelings of any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs.” Local authorities typically alleged that information in pamphlets or discussions at gatherings were injuring the religious sentiments of members of the majority religious group.
There are “anti-conversion” laws in five of the 28 states, state governments enforce existing “anti-conversion” laws, as protective measures to prevent individuals from being induced to change their faith.
Despite the National Commission for Minorities Act, some local police and enforcement agencies reportedly have failed to respond effectively to communal violence, including attacks against religious minorities. For instance, last October, Hindu nationalists reportedly attacked a group of Christians attending a baptism ceremony in Khantapada, Odisha. Following the alleged attack, local police officers arrested 20 of the Christian parishioners, instead of the attackers.
* The meeting is hosted by the Institute for International Political Studies (ISPI), the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Autonomous Province of Trento.
** Angelina Theodorou
provided valuable assistance with this analysis.
For more on global patterns of religious hostilities and restrictions, see my TEDx Talk.
The patterns among government restrictions on religion and social hostilities involving religion in the Middle East are similar to global patterns.
Image by freshidea
At the onset of the Arab Spring in late 2010 and early 2011, many world leaders, including U.S. President Barack Obama, expressed hope that “this season of change
” in the Middle East and North Africa would lead to greater freedoms for the people of the region, including fewer restrictions on religious beliefs and practices.
Before the Arab Spring, government restrictions on religion and social hostilities involving religion were higher in the Middle East and North Africa than in any other region of the world. Data from the Pew Research Center show that during Arab Spring hopes for greater religious freedom in the Middle East and North Africa did not materialize, at least in the short term. On the contrary, in 2011, when most of the political uprisings known as the Arab Spring occurred, government restrictions on religion remained exceptionally high in the Middle East and North Africa, while increases in social hostilities involving religion escalated.
Two types of restrictions stand out in Arab Spring
Among countries where Arab Spring uprisings occurred, government restrictions took various forms, but often they involved governments favoring one religion or sect above others. In Egypt
, for instance, the government continued to permit people to convert to Islam but prohibited them from abandoning Islam for another faith. In Bahrain
, the Sunni-dominated government used high levels of force against Arab Spring demonstrators, most of whom were Shia Muslims. And in Libya
, Mustafa Abdel Jalil, then chairman of the National Transitional Council, declared in October 2011 that Libya in the post-Moammar Gadhafi era would be run as an Islamic state with sharia law forming the basis of legislation.
Such favoritism was much more prevalent in the Middle East and North Africa than in other parts of the world. For instance, as shown in the chart, the share of countries that have government policies that clearly favor one religion over another was nearly eight times greater in the Middle East and North Africa than in the rest of the world.
During Arab Spring, there was a spike in the number of countries in the region experiencing sectarian or communal violence, doubling from five to 10 between mid-2010 and the end of 2011. In Bahrain
, for instance, sectarian violence erupted between Shia and Sunni Muslims during a months-long period of civil unrest that began in February 2011. The ongoing civil war in Syria
, which began as a protest against the regime of President Bashar al-Assad, now falls largely along sectarian lines. And in Egypt
, the Coptic Orthodox Christian community was repeatedly attacked before and after the February 2011 fall of President Hosni Mubarak.
In comparison with the rest of the world, a considerably higher share of countries in the Middle East and North Africa experienced social hostilities involving religion. For instance, the percentage of countries experiencing communal or sectarian violence was more than four times greater in this region than elsewhere, as shown in the chart.
Arab Spring pattern is a global pattern
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Pew Research studies on religious restrictions have found that higher scores on the Government Restrictions Index (GRI) are associated with higher scores on the Social Hostilities Index and vice versa. This means that, in general, it is rare for countries or regions that score high on one index to be low on the other.
Some government restrictions have a stronger association with social hostilities than others. The Pew Research Center’s 2012 study
found that of the 20 types of restrictions comprising the GRI, government policies or actions that clearly favor one religion over another have the strongest association with social hostilities involving religion.
As noted above, the share of countries in the Middle East and North Africa that clearly favor one religion over others was nearly eight times greater than the share in the rest of the world during the latest year studied. Therefore, based on the data, it is not surprising that social hostilities involving religion are high in the region.
The chart above shows other government actions that are strongly associated with social hostilities involving religion are (in descending order): the use of force against religious groups; failing to intervene to stop religious discrimination; and limiting conversion from one religion to another.
As the chart above also shows, social hostilities involving religion were lowest among countries where governments do not harass or intimidate religious groups; national laws and policies protect religious freedom; governments do not interfere with religious worship or practices; and governments do not use force against religious groups.
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Likewise, certain types of social hostilities involving religion are more likely to be associated with higher government restrictions on religion. The Pew Research Center’s 2012 study
also found that of the 13 types of hostilities comprising the SHI, sectarian or communal violence between religious groups has the strongest association with government restrictions on religion.
As mentioned above, the share of countries in the Middle East and North Africa that experienced sectarian violence was more than four times greater than the share of countries elsewhere. Therefore, based on the data, it is not surprising that government restrictions on religion are high in the region.
As shown in the chart, other social hostilities that are strongly associated with government restrictions are (in descending order): hostilities over conversion from one religion to another; violence or the threat of violence to enforce religious norms; religion-related terrorist violence; and groups coercively dominating public life with their perspective on religion.
And as shown in the chart above, government restrictions are, on average, lowest in countries where there are no violent acts resulting from tensions between religious groups; there are no crimes or malicious acts motivated by religious hatred; there are no groups dominating public life with their perspective on religion; and there are no incidents of violence stemming from hostility over conversions.
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To provide one additional example of this relationship, an increasing number of governments around the world regulate the wearing of religious symbols or attire, such as head coverings for women or facial hair for men. The Pew Research Center’s latest report on global restrictions on religion
finds that, as of 2011, 53 of the 198 countries included in the study (27%) have such restrictions, up from 21 countries (11%) in 2007.
While there may not be a direct causal connection between government regulations and social hostilities involving religious attire, Pew Research data
show that harassment of women over religious dress occurs more often in countries where the wearing of religious symbols and attire are regulated by any level of government.
For more on global patterns of religious hostilities and restrictions, see my TEDx Talk.
For an empirical test of and case studies on the association between government restrictions and social hostilities, see my book with Roger Finke, The Price of Freedom Denied.