February 26, 2015

New Report Examines Latest Trends in Religious Restrictions and Hostilities Worldwide

Overall Decline in Social Hostilities in 2013, Though Harassment of Jews Worldwide Reached a Seven-Year High

Media Contact: Katherine Ritchey, Communications Manager

202-419-4372, kritchey@pewresearch.org


Washington, Feb. 26, 2015 —  Worldwide, social hostilities involving religion declined somewhat in 2013 after reaching a six-year peak the previous year, but roughly a quarter of the world’s countries are still grappling with high levels of religious hostilities within their borders, according to the Pew Research Center’s latest annual study on global restrictions on religion.

The new study finds that the share of countries with high or very high levels of social hostilities involving religion dropped from 33% in 2012 to 27% in 2013, the most recent year for which data are available. These types of hostilities run the gamut from vandalism of religious property and desecration of sacred texts to violent assaults resulting in deaths and injuries.

By contrast, the share of countries with high or very high government restrictions on religion stayed roughly the same from 2012 to 2013. The share of countries in this category was 27% in 2013, compared with 29% in 2012. Government restrictions on religion include efforts to control religious groups and individuals in a variety of ways, ranging from registration requirements to discriminatory policies and outright bans on certain faiths.

The new report is the sixth in a series of Pew Research reports based on two indexes (the Government Restrictions Index and the Social Hostilities Index) used to gauge the extent to which governments and societies around the world impinge on religious beliefs and practices.

Looking at the overall level of restrictions – whether resulting from social hostilities or government policies – the study finds restrictions on religion were high or very high in 39% of countries in 2013. Because some of these countries (like China and India) are very populous, about 5.5 billion people (77% of the world’s population) lived in countries with a high or very high overall level of restrictions on religion in 2013, up from 76% in 2012 and 68% as of 2007.

Among the world’s 25 most populous countries, the highest overall levels of restrictions were found in Burma (Myanmar), Egypt, Indonesia, Pakistan and Russia, where both the government and society at large impose numerous limits on religious beliefs and practices. Among these populous countries, China had the highest level of government restrictions in 2013, and India had the highest level of social hostilities involving religion.

As in previous years, Christians and Muslims – who together make up more than half of the global population – faced harassment in the largest number of countries. Christians were harassed, either by government or social groups, in 102 of the 198 countries included in the study (52%), while Muslims were harassed in 99 countries (50%).

In recent years, there has been a marked increase in the number of countries where Jews were harassed. In 2013, harassment of Jews, either by government or social groups, was found in 77 countries (39%) – a seven-year high. Jews are much more likely to be harassed by individuals or groups in society than by governments. In Europe, for example, Jews were harassed by individuals or social groups in 34 of the region’s 45 countries (76%).

To measure global restrictions on religion in 2013, the study scores 198 countries and territories on the same 10-point indexes used in the previous studies:

  • The Government Restrictions Index measures government laws, policies and actions that restrict religious beliefs and practices. The GRI is comprised of 20 measures of restrictions, including efforts by government to ban particular faiths, prohibit conversion, limit preaching or give preferential treatment to one or more religious groups.
  • The Social Hostilities Index measures acts of religious hostility by private individuals, organizations or groups in society. This includes religion-related armed conflict or terrorism, mob or sectarian violence, harassment over attire for religious reasons or other religion-related intimidation or abuse. The SHI includes 13 measures of social hostilities.

The full report, “Latest Trends in Religious Restrictions and Hostilities,” is available on the website of the Pew Research Center’s Religion & Public Life project, as are the previous reports in the series.



Pew Research Center is a nonpartisan “fact tank” that informs the public about the issues, attitudes and trends shaping America and the world. It does not take policy positions. The center is a subsidiary of The Pew Charitable Trusts, its primary funder. The report 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.