Social hostilities related to religion climbed to a six-year peak in 2012, according to a new report by the Pew Research Center.
One-third of the 198 countries and territories in the Pew Research
Center’s study had “high” or “very high” social hostilities involving
religion, an increase from 29 percent in 2011 and 20 percent in 2007.
Some of these countries are very populous.
Collectively, they are home
to almost 75 percent of the world’s population.
Social hostilities include “abuse of religious minorities by private
individuals or groups in society for acts perceived as offensive or
threatening to the majority faith of the country,” the Pew Research
Center explained Jan. 14.
Violence has intensified in predominantly Buddhist Sri Lanka, where
monks have attacked both Muslim and Christian places of worship. Attacks
on Coptic Christians in Egypt rose in 2012, and Hindu nationalist
groups in India have intensified efforts to enforce religious norms.
Mob violence related to religion has also increased, as has
religion-related terrorist violence, which includes an August 2012
shooting at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin which killed six worshipers and
About 18 percent of countries experienced sectarian or communal violence in 2012, up from eight percent in 2007.
The percentage of countries with harassment of women over religious
dress has risen to 32 percent, an increase from seven percent in 2007.
Every country that had “very high” social hostilities in 2011 continued
to rank “very high” in 2012: Pakistan, India, Russia, Israel, Indonesia,
Iraq, Nigeria, Somalia, Sudan, the Palestinian Territories, Egypt,
Yemen, Afghanistan and Kenya. Additionally, six new countries joined
this list: Syria, Lebanon, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Thailand and Burma.
Among the regions of the world, only the Americas avoided an increase in
social hostilities related to religion. The Middle East and North
Africa witnessed the sharpest increase.
Although social hostilities have risen significantly, the number of
countries with formal laws restricting religion has risen only slightly.
In 2011 there were 20 countries ranked at a “very high” level of
government restrictions on religion, a number which increased to 24 the
However, restrictions increased in areas such as government interference
with worship or religious practices, limits on public preaching, and
the use of government force against religious groups or individuals.
Government interference with worship or other religious practice
increased to 74 percent of surveyed countries from 69 percent in 2011
and 57 percent in 2007. Public preaching is now restricted in 38 percent
of countries, while almost half of countries have used force against
religious groups or individuals.
Pew researchers drew on publicly available information sources including
the U.S. 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 and Amnesty International.
Some of the reported increases could be due to the use of better
information sources, though the Pew Research Center said there is no
evidence of a general information-based bias towards reporting higher
The report does not include scores from North Korea because it is “effectively closed to outsiders.”