Global Restrictions on Religion, 2007-2016

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In December 2009, Pew Research Center released “Global Restrictions on Religion,” the first in a series of annual reports on a data-coding project that seeks to measure levels of government restrictions on religion and social hostilities involving religion around the world.

The reports use two indexes to rate nearly 200 countries and self-governing territories on their levels of restrictions and hostilities. The Government Restrictions Index (GRI) is based on 20 indicators of ways that national and local governments restrict religion, including through coercion and force. The Social Hostilities Index (SHI) is based on 13 indicators of ways in which private individuals and social groups infringe upon religious beliefs and practices, including religiously biased crimes, mob violence and efforts to stop particular religious groups from growing or operating. The reports include data on the number and types of documented incidents of religion-related violence, including terrorism and armed conflict.

As of June 2018, Pew Research had published nine reports on global restrictions on religion, analyzing a total of 10 years’ worth of data (the first two reports covered a total of three years, from 2007 to 2009). The data are presented as a semiwide-format dataset, in which each row is a country-year observation (for example, “Afghanistan, 2007”). The columns contain all of the variables presented in Pew Research Center’s annual reports on restrictions on religion, as well as some additional variables analyzed in separate studies. The dataset currently contains data from 2007 through 2016.
Data File
Cases: 1,976
Variables: 81
Weight Variable: None
Data Collection
Date Collected: 2007-2016
Original Survey (Instrument)
Global Restrictions on Religion
Funded By
The Pew Charitable Trusts
The John Templeton Foundation
Collection Procedures
The methods used to asses and compare restrictions on religion were developed by former Pew Research Center senior researcher Brian J. Grim in consultation with other members of the center's staff, building on a methodology that Grim and Professor Roger Finke developed while at the Pennsylvania State University's Association of Religion Data Archives. The goal was to devise quantifiable, objective and transparent measures of the extent to which governments and societal groups impinge on the practice of religion. The findings were used to rate countries and self-governing territories on two indexes that are reproducible and can be periodically updated.

This research goes beyond previous efforts to assess restrictions on religion in several ways. First Pew Research Center has coded (categorized and counted) data from a variety of sources, including reports by the U.S. State Department, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion & 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, to mention just a few. Pew Research Center coders have looked to the sources only for specific well-documented facts, not opinions or commentary.

Second, Pew Research Center staff have used extensive data-verification checks that reflect generally accepted best practices for such studies, such as double-blind coding (coders do not see each other's ratings), inter-rater reliability assessments (checking for consistency among coders) and carefully monitored protocols to reconcile discrepancies among coders.

Third, the coding has taken into account whether the perpetrators of religion-related violence were government or private actors. The coding has identified how widespread and intensive the restrictions were in each country.
Sampling Procedures
The 198 countries and self-administering territories covered by the data contain more than 99.5 percent of the world’s population.4 They include 192 of the 193 member states of the United Nations as of 2013, plus six self-administering territories – Kosovo, Hong Kong, Macau, the Palestinian territories, Taiwan and Western Sahara. Reporting on these territories does not imply any position on what their international political status should be, only recognition that the de facto situations in these territories require separate analysis.

Although the 198 countries and territories vary widely in size, population, wealth, ethnic diversity, religious makeup and form of government, the coding does not attempt to adjust for such differences. Poor (or developing) countries are not scored differently from wealthy (or developed) ones. Countries with religiously diverse populations are not “expected” to have more social hostilities than homogeneous ones, and democracies are not assessed differently from authoritarian regimes.

The primary sources indicate that the North Korean government is among the most repressive in the world, including toward religion. But because independent observers lack regular access to North Korea, the sources are unable to provide the kind of specific, timely information that forms the basis of this data. Therefore, North Korea is not included on either index.
Principal Investigators
Pew Research Center's Religion & Public Life Project
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