A World of Intolerance: Pew study shows increase in hostility toward religion

Remembering shooting victims at a candlelight vigil in 2012 at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin

A Pew Research Center study issued Jan. 14 shows another increase in hostility toward religion by most of the world's 198 nations.

The share of countries with a high or very high level of social hostilities involving religion reached a six-year peak in 2012, the study said. The share of countries with a high or very high level of government restrictions on religion, though, stayed roughly the same in 2012, the year reviewed.


This is the fifth time the Pew Research Center has reported on religious restrictions around the globe. The report was issued in advance of the U.S. observance of Religious Freedom Day, Jan. 16.

The number of nations showing hostilities toward Christians rose from 106 to 110, according to the study. Christians have been the subject of religious hostility in more nations than any other group. But those countries showing hostilities toward Muslims jumped from 101 to 109 in 2012.

In fact, hostilities toward Jews, Hindus, Buddhists and folk religionists were all up from 2011 levels. The only group recording a decrease were "others," which includes Sikhs, Baha'is, Zoroastrians and other groups.

In overall changes taking into account both social hostilities and government restrictions, 61 percent of nations recorded an increase, 29 percent recorded a decrease and 10 percent had no change.

On a scale of 0 to 10, 20 nations were given a score of at least 7.2, indicating very high social hostilities on religion, up from 14 in 2011. Pakistan once again topped the list. New countries joining the list were Syria, Lebanon, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Thailand and Myanmar.

In the case of government restrictions, the number of countries given a score of 6.6 or higher on a zero-to-10 scale indicating very high restrictions increased from 20 in 2011 to 24 in 2012. Egypt led both years. New to the list are Azerbaijan, Tajikistan, Morocco, Iraq and Kazakhstan; Yemen dropped off the list.

"Overall, across the six years of this study, religious groups were harassed in a total of 185 countries at one time or another," the study said. "Members of the world's two largest religious groups -- Christians and Muslims, who together comprise more than half of the global population -- were harassed in the largest number of countries, 151 and 135, respectively."

On social hostilities involving religion, the Middle East-North Africa region had a score of 6.4, more than twice that of the next-most-hostile region. The Americas had the lowest score, at 0.4.

The Pew study cited the August 2012 shooting at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin that left six worshippers dead and three others wounded as an incidence of "religion-related terrorist violence." The report said episodes took place in about 20 percent of all countries in 2012, more than double the 9 percent figure of 2007.

The Middle East-North Africa region also had the highest regional score of government restrictions toward religion, at 6.2. The Americas were given the best score here, too, at 1.5.

The United States received its third straight year of "moderate" for both government restrictions on religion and social hostilities toward religion. Pew does not issue scores for individual countries, it said, "because there are numerous tie scores and the differences between the scores of countries that are close to each other on this table are not necessarily meaningful."

"None of the 25 most populous countries had low social hostilities involving religion in 2012," the report said, while only five -- Brazil, South Africa, the Philippines, Japan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo -- had low government restrictions on religion.

Countries whose score increased by at least one full point on Pew's "social hostilities index" were Afghanistan, Somalia, the Palestinian territories, Syria, Kenya, Lebanon, Bangladesh, Thailand, Myanmar, Mali, Tunisia, Kosovo, Mexico, Greece, Algeria, France, Georgia, Italy, Vietnam, Turkey, Libya, Bahrain, Guinea, Ghana, Tuvalu, the Netherlands, China, Angola, Poland, Belgium, Zambia, Samoa, South Sudan, Comoros, Madagascar, Malawi, Slovenia, Ireland and Mozambique.

Nations that gained at least a full point on Pew's "government restrictions index" were Tajikistan, Morocco, Iraq, Kazakhstan, Turkey, Bulgaria, Rwanda, Djibouti, Austria, Tuvalu, Iceland, Zambia, Hungary and Montenegro.

To make its determinations, Pew used 18 widely cited, publicly available sources of information, including reports by the State Department, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief, the Council of the European Union, the United Kingdom's Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Human Rights Watch, the International Crisis Group, Freedom House and Amnesty International.

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James Lawton
5 years ago
Why would anyone find this surprising when the major religious groups show such hostility to each other and even to the members of own communities. Can anyone say today: 'See how [these Christians] love one another.' Or, “They are people who loved each other for Allah’s sake, without being related to one another or being tied to one another by the exchange of wealth."
David Magnani
5 years ago
James - seems a little like blaming the victim here. When governments restrict religious fervor- often is it because they are threatened by the prospect of split loyalty - "Render to Caesar..." may not be the defining precept for activists who are spiritually motivated. Or possibly they are threatened by the fact that their own practice does lot align well with the most basic precepts of their dominant religious groups.
Mike Evans
5 years ago
Seems that nobody likes anybody very much. A lot of it starts from attacks by various religious leaders themselves; why are we surprised when their disciples follow suit. We would have instant mideast peace if we could construct an attitude of tolerance between Shiite and Sunni. Not much different than the religious wars between Catholics and Protestants or the cold war between US Christians and Russian Christians.


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