April 11, 2017

Global Restrictions on Religion Rise Modestly in 2015, Reversing Downward Trend

4. Among the most populous countries, Russia, Egypt, India, Pakistan and Nigeria had highest overall restrictions on religion in 2015

Examining the world’s 25 most populous countries is a way to see the restrictions on religion that have the potential to impact the highest number of people. More than 5 billion people – about 75% of humanity – live in these 25 countries, although the populations within these nations likely do not necessarily experience government restrictions or social hostilities equally.

Among this group of populous countries, Russia, Egypt, India, Pakistan and Nigeria had the highest combined levels of government restrictions and social hostilities involving religion in 2015, while Brazil, Japan, South Africa, Ethiopia and the Philippines had the fewest restrictions and hostilities.

Looking at just government restrictions, Egypt, China, Iran, Russia and Indonesia had the highest levels in 2015, with each country falling into the “very high” restrictions category. In contrast, Brazil, Japan, the Philippines, South Africa and the United Kingdom all fell into the “low” category in 2015.

Nigeria, India, Russia, Pakistan and Egypt had the highest levels of social hostilities involving religion among the 25 most populous countries in 2015. All fell into the “very high” hostilities category. Ethiopia, Vietnam, Brazil, Japan and China, meanwhile, had the lowest levels of social hostilities, and all fell into the “moderate” category. The fact that none of the 25 most populous countries fell into the “low” social hostilities category may indicate that large populations carry an inherently greater risk of incidents of social hostilities, simply because there are more people.

Among the most populous countries, Egypt and Russia were the only ones to be among the highest five in both government restrictions and social hostilities, while Japan and Brazil were the only countries to be in the lowest five in both of these measures. Indeed, government restrictions and social hostilities are not necessarily correlated: In some places (such as Russia and Egypt) there are high restrictions and hostilities, but in others, such as China, some of the highest levels of government restrictions in 2015 were accompanied by some of the lowest levels of social hostilities.

In 2015, none of the 25 most populous countries experienced a large change in its Government Restrictions Index score. Russia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the United States, experienced modest increases of between 1.0 and 1.9 points in their scores, while Turkey experienced a modest decrease.

Three countries – the Philippines, Germany and the Democratic Republic of the Congo – had large increases (2.0 points or more) in their Social Hostilities Index score in 2015, although none moved into the “very high” category.