Even before the recent turmoil in the Middle East and North Africa – including attacks on U.S. embassies and the killing of an American ambassador – the region was experiencing increasing hostilities and tensions involving religion, the Pew Research Center's Forum on Religion & Public Life reports. Its study reveals that as of mid-2010, the Middle East-North Africa had by far the world's highest levels of social hostilities involving religion as well as government restrictions on religious beliefs and practices.
The new study also finds that the share of countries with high or very high restrictions on religion rose from 31% in the year ending in mid-2009 to 37% in the year ending in mid-2010. Because some of the most restrictive countries are very populous, three-quarters (75%) of the world's approximately 7 billion people live in countries with high government restrictions on religion or high social hostilities involving religion, up from 70% a year earlier.
A rising level of restrictions occurred in each of the five major regions of the world. In three regions – Europe, the Middle East-North Africa and sub-Saharan Africa – the median levels of both government restrictions and social hostilities increased from mid-2009 to mid-2010. In the Americas, the median level of government restrictions increased, while in the Asia-Pacific region, the median level of social hostilities increased.
Restrictions on religion rose not only in countries that began the year with high or very high restrictions or hostilities, such as Indonesia and Nigeria, but also in many countries that began with low or moderate restrictions or hostilities, such as the U.S. During the latest year studied, the U.S. moved from the low category of government restrictions on religion to the moderate category for the first time. The U.S. also experienced an increase in social hostilities involving religion during this same period. A key factor behind the increase was a spike in religion-related terrorist attacks in the U.S.
This is the third time the Pew Forum has measured restrictions on religion. The new study, scores 197 countries and territories (99.5% of the world's population) on the same two indexes used in the previous studies – the Government Restrictions Index (GRI) and the Social Hostilities Index (SHI).
The study, available at pewforum.org, is part of the Pew-Templeton Global Religious Futures project, an effort funded by The Pew Charitable Trusts and the John Templeton Foundation to analyze religious change and its impact on societies around the world.
The Pew Research Center's Forum on Religion & Public Life conducts surveys, demographic analyses and other social science research on important aspects of religion and public life in the U.S. and around the world. As part of the Washington-based Pew Research Center, a nonpartisan, nonadvocacy organization, the Pew Forum does not take positions on policy debates or any of the issues it covers.