Austria, for instance, hosted this year’s United Nations Alliance of Civilizations (UNAOC) annual meeting and focused on the rising tide of restriction on religion documented by Pew Research studies. The meeting engaged world and religious leaders on the topic, including Cardinal John Onaiyekan and Imam Ibrahim Abubakar Jega of Nigeria, along with Father Nabil Haddad of Jordon (pictured with Brian Grim in Vienna).
Analysis of data from calendar year 2011 finds that government or societal initiatives to reduce religious restrictions or hostilities were reported in 150 of 198 countries, or 76% of all the countries and territories studied. According to the Pew Research study, the most common types of initiatives, in descending order of prevalence, were: interfaith dialogue; efforts to combat or redress religious discrimination; educational and training initiatives; and land- or property-related initiatives.
In 2011, interfaith-dialogue initiatives occurred in 110 of the 198 countries (56%), according to the sources used in the Pew Research study.
Governments sometimes encouraged interfaith dialogue as a strategy to reduce tensions between religious groups. For instance, the Liberian government encouraged Muslim-Christian dialogue in 2011 after mosques, churches and a Catholic school were damaged the previous year during religious violence in the northernmost part of the country.
Efforts to combat or redress religious discrimination and increase tolerance were reported in a total of 76 countries (38%) in 2011 according to the study. These included changes to basic laws; establishment of government mechanisms to address religious tensions or grievances; official recognition of religious groups that previously found themselves in legal limbo; freeing prisoners held for religious reasons; protecting those in danger of persecution; and partnering with groups in society to address religious hatred and prejudice, among other initiatives.
In December 2011, for instance, the Mexican Chamber of Deputies, the lower house of the Mexican legislature, took steps to amend Article 24 of the Constitution to allow public celebrations of religious events without first obtaining government permission. (The proposal was approved by the Senate in March 2012. At least 17 of Mexico’s 31 states need to approve it for the proposal to become law. As of May 2013, more than a dozen states had submitted their approval to the Senate.)
Educational and Training Initiatives
According to the sources coded for the Pew Research study, in addition to interfaith dialogues, other educational and training initiatives to increase religious tolerance and decrease religious tensions occurred in a total of 39 countries (20%) in 2011.
Some educational and training programs were aimed at the general public. For instance, for five days each week in 2011, Portuguese state television aired a 30-minute program with segments written by various religious communities in the country; the segments were designed to encourage tolerance for religious diversity.
Land- or Property-Related Initiatives
In 2011, governments or groups in society intervened in a total of 29 countries (15%) on behalf of religious groups that previously had experienced problems acquiring land or obtaining building permits, according to the Pew Research study.
The Kuwaiti government, for instance, gave the Coptic Orthodox Church a parcel of land on which to construct a worship facility for its thousands of members in the country; the facility was nearing completion at the end of 2011. Also in 2011, the Greek government provided worship space for Athens’ Muslim community, unlike during the previous year.
* As an extension of its continuing research on restrictions on religion around the world, Pew Research counted and categorized (“coded”) reports of these types of initiatives during calendar year 2011. Comparable data for previous years are not available. This Pew Research analysis does not attempt to assess the effectiveness of particular initiatives. Gauging effectiveness is difficult, in part because some initiatives may take years to produce results while others may have a short-term impact but little or no effect over the longer term.