February 26, 2015

Latest Trends in Religious Restrictions and Hostilities

Impact of Restrictions and Hostilities on Religious Minorities

In addition to looking at the harassment of specific religious groups, this report, for the first time, looks at the prevalence of restrictions and hostilities that tend to target religious minorities.

To measure the extent of these restrictions and hostilities, Pew Research identified three measures on the Government Restrictions Index and three on the Social Hostilities Index which have a primary purpose of disrupting or harming groups that are out of favor with the government or society – often religious minorities. This allowed Pew Research to compare these particular restrictions and hostilities with the broader set of restrictions and hostilities that make up the GRI and SHI. (See the Methodology for more information on the new measures.)

How the Study Defines Religious Minorities

Previous Pew Research studies have found that a significant portion of the world’s population is made up of religious minorities – groups that constitute less than 50% of a country’s population. According to the Pew Research Center’s 2012 “Global Religious Landscape” study, 27% of the world’s population lives as a religious minority

when looking at distinctions among eight major religious groups, including Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Jews, adherents of other religions, adherents of folk religions and the religiously unaffiliated.

Unlike the 2012 Pew Research report, this study’s definition of religious minorities also takes into account subgroups within major religious groups, such as Orthodox Christianity and Roman Catholicism as subsets of Christianity. It also reflects differences among groups that may have differing interpretations of a religion, such as Salafist Muslims, who emphasize a conservative and literalist interpretation of Islamic scriptural sources. Unlike other Pew Research studies, this report does not count the religiously unaffiliated as a distinct religious group.

See the Methodology for more information on how this study distinguishes between religious minorities and majorities.

Government Restrictions With a Primary Impact on Religious Minorities

Pew Research identified three types of government restrictions that tend to target religious minorities. In 2013, nearly a third (30%) of the countries included in the study – 59 of 198 – had at least one of the three restrictions described below:

• Government at some level used physical violence against minority or disfavored religious groups in 47 of the 198 countries (24%). (For exact wording of the restriction, see GRI Q.12 in the Summary of Results.) In Vietnam, groups not officially recognized by the government were subject to various forms of harassment, including police beatings and arrests. In June, for example, police in An Giang Province attacked members of an unsanctioned group who were trying to attend a celebration in honor of the founding of the Hoa Hao Buddhist movement.19

• Government at some level banned certain religious groups in 37 of the 198 countries (19%). (For exact wording of the restriction, see GRI Q.16 in the Summary of Results.) In Indonesia, for example, where most of the population is made up of Sunni Muslims, the government of Aceh province continued to ban several Muslim sects, including Sufis, Shias and Ahmadiyya Muslims.20

• Government at some level attempted to eliminate a religious group’s presence in 24 of the 198 countries (12%). This includes forcible actions on the part of government that make it difficult for the group to function. (For exact wording of the restriction, see GRI Q.17 in the Summary of Results.) In China, for example, the government continued its campaign against the Falun Gong spiritual movement by using such tactics as mass arrests and detention of Falun Gong followers in “re-education centers.”21

Social Hostilities With a Primary Impact on Religious Minorities

Pew Research identified three types of social hostilities that tend to target religious minorities. In 2013, six-in-ten countries – 120 of 198, or 61% – had at least one of the three hostilities described below:

• Organized groups used force or coercion in an attempt to dominate public life with their perspective on religion in 88 of the 198 countries included in the study (44%). This includes attempts by individuals or groups to press their views of religion on others in society or stop people from committing what they view as unacceptable behavior. (For exact wording, see SHI Q.7 in the Summary of Results.) In Iraq, for example, militant Muslims organized violence against businesses owned by Christians, Yazidis and other religious minorities, often reportedly out of anger that the businesses sold alcohol. A campaign targeting liquor store owners beginning in May 2013 led to the killing of 12 people in Baghdad.22

• Religious groups attempted to prevent other religious groups from operating in 60 of the 198 countries (30%). This includes instances in which official or unofficial representatives of religious groups tried to keep adherents from other religious groups from moving into an area or freely practicing their faith. (For exact wording, see SHI Q.8 in the Summary of Results.) In Burma, for example, Buddhist residents in Kyawpadaung Township tried to prevent Muslims from living in the area, reportedly displaying signs that said the town had been “purified” of Muslims.23 And in Moldova, an Orthodox Christian priest in the Gagauzia region pressured the mayor of the village of Congaz to restrict the activities of the local Baptist church, forcing the Baptist community to move its summer camp for children.24

• Assaults or other hostilities aimed at religious groups for activities considered offensive or threatening to the majority faith occurred in 78 of the 198 countries (39%). (For exact wording, see SHI Q.10 in the Summary of Results.) In Pakistan, Sunni Muslim clerics in the Kasur district organized an attack on an Ahmadiyya Muslim man and his family in March 2013, reportedly after he refused to renounce his faith.25

Relationship Between Restrictions on Religious Minorities and Overall Restrictions and Hostilities

The types of restrictions and hostilities that tend to target religious minorities do not exist independently of general government restrictions on religion or social hostilities involving religion. Instead, restrictions and hostilities targeting religious minorities often correspond with higher levels of government restrictions and social hostilities.

Countries with at least one type of restriction aimed at religious minorities were more likely than countries without such restrictions to have a high level of overall government restrictions in 2013. Among the 59 countries with at least one of these restrictions, 43 (73%) had high or very high government restrictions on religion as of 2013. By contrast, 11 countries (8%) without such government restrictions on religious minorities had a high or very high level of overall government restrictions in 2013. And all of the countries with very high overall government restrictions had at least one of the restrictions aimed at religious minorities.

Similarly, countries with at least one type of social hostility targeting religious minorities were more likely to have a high level of overall social hostilities than were countries without such hostilities. Among the 120 countries with at least one of these hostilities, 53 (44%) had high or very high religious hostilities as of 2013. And all of the countries with a very high level of overall social hostilities involving religion had at least one of these hostilities targeting religious minorities.

Countries with social hostilities targeting religious minorities tended to be among the countries that experienced significant increases in social hostilities between 2012 and 2013. All 12 countries whose scores on the Social Hostilities Index went up by one point or more experienced at least one type of hostility targeting religious minorities.

Compared with social hostilities, there was a much weaker relationship between government restrictions that tend to target religious minorities and changes in a country’s score on the Government Restrictions Index. Among the eight countries whose scores on the GRI rose by one point or more between 2012 and 2013, five had at least one type of restriction aimed at religious minorities and three did not. The difference between the two groups was negligible, indicating little relationship between government restrictions on minorities and change in GRI scores.

  1. See U.S. Department of State. July 28, 2014. “Vietnam.” 2013 Report on International Religious Freedom.
  2. See U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom. 2014. “Indonesia.” 2014 Annual Report.
  3. See U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom. 2014. “China.” 2014 Annual Report.
  4. See U.S. Department of State. July 28, 2014. “Iraq.” 2013 Report on International Religious Freedom.
  5. See U.S. Department of State. July 28, 2014. “Burma.” 2013 Report on International Religious Freedom.
  6. See U.S. Department of State. July 28, 2014. “Moldova.” 2013 Report on International Religious Freedom.
  7. See U.S. Department of State. July 28, 2014. “Pakistan.” 2013 Report on International Religious Freedom. Ahmadiyya (or Ahmadi) refers to a religious movement that emerged in late 19th century India around Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (1835-1908), whose followers believe he was a mujaddid (reformer) who showed the way to revive and restore Islam.