Pew Study on Religious Violence

There was a recent splash in the headlines about the release of a Pew study showing that 2012 was a 6-year high in religious hostilities and persecution around the world. I looked into the study methodology and at first I was very impressed. It is a very complicated and thorough study.

Basically, they take the US State department publications and a few other publications for a country. Then 3 researchers who are blinded as to the country go through the publications and answer a series of questions about each country. They do this every year, which should allow them to see overall trends in religious violence and persecution on a global scale.

Now I am at best an amateur at evaluating political studies, but I noticed a few issues:

  1. Many of the questions are yes or no answers for the country, with no weighting for scale. So France and the UK got the same score for honor killings as Somalia and Afghanistan, because they both had some. And women were harassed for violating religious dress codes in France, the UK, Brazil, China, Egypt, Somalia and Afghanistan, so they all got the same score. There are two problems with this:
    1. All the study really says is that religious violence occurred in more countries in 2012 than previously. This is not the same as saying there were more instances of religious violence in the world, which is how most of the headlines portrayed the study.
    2. More populous countries are inherently going to be more likely to have a yes answer than a no answer. The study authors acknowledge this in the study writeup, but then say they don’t think it’s a big problem because many large countries had low scores and many small countries had high scores. But then one of the major conclusions of the study is that 75% of the global population lives where overall levels of religious restrictions or hostilities were high or very high in 2012!
  2. How well can the researchers really be blinded to the country they are reading about? I can’t imagine that I wouldn’t recognize my own country or the Arab spring from reading State Department reports.
  3. The questions about government restrictions generally gave a lower score for countries that treated all religions equally than if they showed some favouritism. This makes sense for things like countries only funding schools of a particular religion. But it also means that in many cases the UK, which does nominally have a state religion, could get a much lower score by moving to be more like China and ruthlessly prosecuting all religions equally.
  4. Are the same researchers used every year? Even if they are, could a personal impression that violence is going up cause them to give higher scores? I noticed several changes over time did not correspond to any events I know about.
    1. In 2007 the study found that the UK had no favoured religion enshrined in its constitution, but in 2012 it does. I can not find any information on the internet about this change to their constitution.
    2. In 2007 proselytising was not limited by any level of government in the USA. In 2012 it is limited for all religions. Again, I have no idea what resulted in this change.

I picked 9 countries, representing at least one from each continent that I was most interested in. (Randomization is for people doing rigorous political studies, not for amateurs criticizing them) I pulled the results from the study for each question into the following tables. Either my general impressions of different countries are badly biased, or there is something wrong with the study results. What do you think?

(The scores are on the top line for each question. Underneath is the yes or no answer, or for questions with other options a number which corresponds to the full answer below the table.)

Canada USA France UK China Egypt Afghanistan Brazil Somalia­
Does the constitution, or law that functions in the place of a constitution (basic law), specifically provide for “freedom of religion” or include language used in Article 18 ­­of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights?

0

Yes

0

Yes

0.5

(1)

0

Yes

0.5

(1)

0.5

(1)

0.5

(1)

0

Yes

0.5

(1)

Does the constitution or basic law include stipulations that appear to qualify or substantially contradict the concept of “religious freedom”?

0

No

0

No

0.67

(2)

0.33

(3)

0.67

(2)

0.67

(2)

0.67

(2)

0.33

(3)

0.67

(2)

Taken together, how do the constitution/basic law and other national laws and policies affect religious freedom?

0.33

(4)

0.33

(4)

0.33

(4)

0.33

(4)

1

(5)

1

(5)

1

(5)

0

(6)

0.67

(7)

Does any level of government interfere with worship or other religious practices?

0.33

(8)

0.67

(9)

1

(10)

0.67

(9)

1

(10)

1

(10)

1

(10)

0

No

1

(10)

Is public preaching by religious groups limited by any level of government?

0

No

0

No

0.5

(11)

0

No

1

(12)

1

(12)

0

No

0

No

1

(12)

Is proselytizing limited by any level of government?

0

No

1

(12)

0

No

0

No

1

(12)

0.5

(11)

0.5

(11)

0

No

0.5

(11)

Is converting from one religion to another limited by any level of government?

0

No

1

Yes

0

No

0

No

1

Yes

1

Yes

1

Yes

0

No

1

Yes

Is religious literature or broadcasting limited by any level of government?

1

Yes

1

Yes

0

No

1

Yes

1

Yes

1

Yes

1

Yes

0

No

1

Yes

Are foreign missionaries allowed to operate?

0

Yes

0

Yes

0.5

(13)

0.5

(13)

1

No

0.5

(13)

0.5

(13)

0

Yes

1

No

Is the wearing of religious symbols, such as head coverings for women and facial hair for men, regulated by law or by any level of government?

1

Yes

1

Yes

1

Yes

1

Yes

1

Yes

1

Yes

1

Yes

0

No

1

Yes

Was there harassment or intimidation of religious groups by any level of government?

0.5

(14)

1

(15)

1(15)

1

(15)

1

(15)

1

(15)

1

(15)

0.5

(14)

1

(15)

Did the national government display hostility involving physical violence toward minority or nonapproved religious groups?

0

No

0

No

0No

0

No

1

Yes

1

Yes

1

Yes

0No

1

Yes

Were there instances when the national government did not intervene in cases of discrimination or abuses against religious groups?

0

No

0

No

0

No

0

No

0

No

1

Yes

1

Yes

0

No

1

Yes

Does the national government have an established organization to regulate or manage religious affairs?

0

No

0.67

(16)

1

(17)

0

No

1

(17)

1

(17)

1

(17)

0

No

0.67

(16)

Did the national government denounce one or more religious groups by characterizing them as dangerous “cults” or “sects”?

0

No

0

No

1

Yes

0

No

1

Yes

1

Yes

1

Yes

0

No

0

No

Does any level of government formally ban any religious group?

0

No

0

No

0

No

0

No

1

(20)

1

(20)

0.33

(18)

0

No

1

(20)

Were there instances when the national government attempted to eliminate an entire religious group’s presence in the country?

0

No

0

No

0No

0

No

1

Yes

1

Yes

1Yes

0

No

1

Yes

Did any level of government ask religious groups to register for any reason, including to be eligible for benefits such as tax exemption?

0.33

(21)

0.33

(21)

0.33(21)

0

No

1

(23)

1

(23)

1(23)

0

No

0.33

(21)

Did any level of government use force toward religious groups that resulted in individuals being killed, physically abused, imprisoned, detained or displaced from their ­homes, or having their personal or religious properties damaged or destroyed?

0

No

0.2

(24)

0.6(26) 0.2

(24)

0.8

(27)

0.6

(26)

0.6(26)

0.2

(24)

0.4

(25)

Do some religious groups receive government support or favors, such as funding, official recognition or special access?(Score determined by subquestions in italics below)

0.25

0.10

0.15 0.93

0.23

0.8

1

0.13

0.8

Does the country’s constitution or basic law recognize a favored religion or religions?

0

No

0

No

0No 1Yes

0

No

1

Yes

1Yes

0

No

1

Yes

Do all religious groups receive the same level of government access and privileges?

0.25

(30)

0

(29)

0.25(30) 1(32)

0.5

(31)

1

(32)

1(32)

0

(29)

1

(32)

Does any level of government provide funds or other resources to religious groups

1

(34)

0.5

(33)

0.5(33) 1(34)

1

(34)

1

(34)

1(34)

0.5

(33)

0

No

Does any level of government provide funds or other resources for religious education programs and/or religious schools.

1

(34)

0.5

(33)

0.5(33) 0.5(33)

1

(34)

1

(34)

1(34)

0.5

(33)

0

No

Does any level of government provide funds or other resources for religious property (buildings, upkeep, repair or land)

0

No

0.5

(33)

0.5(33) 0.5(33)

1

(34)

1

(34)

1(34)

0

No

0

No

Does any level of government provide funds or other resources for religious activities other than education or property?

0.5

(33)

0.5

(33)

0.5(33) 1(34)

0

No

1

(34)

1(34)

0

No

0

No

Is religious education required in public schools?

0.5

(35)

0

No

0No 1(36)

0

No

0

No

1(36)

0.5

(35)

1

(36)

Does the national government defer in some way to religious authorities, texts or doctrines on legal issues?

0

No

0

No

0No 1Yes

0

No

1

Yes

1Yes

0

No

1

Yes

(1)    The constitution or basic law does not specifically provide for freedom of religion but does protect some religious practices

(2)    Yes, there is a qualification and only some religious practices are protected

(3)    Yes, there is a qualification

(4)    National laws and policies provide for religious freedom, and the national government generally respects religious freedom in practice; but there are some instances (e.g., in certain localities) where religious freedom is not respected in practice

(5)    National laws and policies do not provide for religious freedom and the national government does not respect religious freedom in practice

(6)    National laws and policies provide for religious freedom, and the national government respects religious freedom in practice

(7)    There are limited national legal protections for religious freedom, but the national government does not generally respect religious freedom in practice

(8)    Yes, in a few cases

(9)    Yes, in many cases

(10) Government prohibits worship or religious practices of one or more religious groups as a general policy

(11)  Yes, for some religious groups

(12)  Yes, for all religious groups

(13)  Yes, but with restrictions

(14)  Yes, there was limited intimidation

(15)  Yes, there was widespread intimidation

(16)  Yes, but the organization is noncoercive toward religious groups

(17)  Yes, and the organization is coercive toward religious groups

(18)  Yes: Security reasons stated as rationale

(19)  Yes: Nonsecurity reasons stated as rationale

(20)   Yes: Both security and nonsecurity reasons stated as rationale

(21)   Yes, but in a nondiscriminatory way

(22)  Yes, and the process adversely affects the ability of some religious groups to operate

(23)   Yes, and the process clearly discriminates against some religious groups

(24)  Yes, 1-9 cases of government force

(25)  Yes, 10-200 cases of government force

(26)  Yes, 201-1,000 cases of government force

(27)  Yes, 1,001-9,999 cases of government force

(28)  Yes, 10,000+ cases of government force

(29)  All religious groups are generally treated the same

(30)  Some religious groups have minimal privileges unavailable to other religious groups, limited to things such as inheriting buildings or properties

(31) Some religious groups have general privileges or government access unavailable to other religious groups.

(32)  One religious group has privileges or government access unavailable to other religious groups, and it is recognized by the national government as the official religion.

(33) Yes, but with no obvious favoritism to a particular group or groups.

(34) Yes, and with obvious favoritism to a particular group or groups.

(35) Yes, by at least some local governments

(36) Yes, by the national government

Canada USA France UK China Egypt Afghanistan Brazil Somalia
Were there crimes, malicious acts or violence motivated by religious hatred or bias?(Score determined by subquestions below)

0.5

0.5

0.67

0.67

0.5

1

0.5

0.33

0.83

Did individuals face harassment or intimidation motivated by religious hatred or bias?

1

Yes

1

Yes

1

Yes

1

Yes

1

Yes

1

Yes

1

Yes

1

Yes

1

Yes

Was property damaged as a result of religious hatred or bias?

1

Yes

1
Yes

1

Yes

1

Yes

0

No

1

Yes

0

No

1

Yes

1

Yes

Were there detentions or abductions motivated by religious hatred or bias?

0

No

0

No

0

No

0

No

0

No

1

Yes

0

No

0

No

1

Yes

Were individuals displaced from their homes because of religious hatred or bias?

0

No

0

No

0

No

0

No

0

No

1

Yes

0

No

0

No

0

No

Were there physical assaults motivated by religious hatred or bias?

1

Yes

1

Yes

1

Yes

1

Yes

1

Yes

1

Yes

1

Yes

0

No

1

Yes

Were there deaths motivated by religious hatred or bias?

0

No

0

No

1

Yes

1

Yes

1

Yes

1

Yes

1

Yes

0

No

1

Yes

Was there mob violence related to religion

0

No

0

No

1

(2)

0.5

(1)

0.5
(1)

1

(2)

1

(2)

0

No

0.5

(1)

Were there acts of sectarian or communal violence between religious groups?

0

No

0

No

0

No

1

Yes

1

Yes

1

Yes

1

Yes

0

No

1

Yes

Were religion-related terrorist groups active in the country?

0.25

(3)

0.75

(5)

0.75

(5)

0.5

(4)

1

(6)

0.75

(5)

1

(6)

0.25

(3)

1

(6)

Was there a religion-related war or armed conflict in the country?

0

No

0.25

(7)

0

No

0

No

0

No

0

No

1

(8)

0

No

1

(8)

Did violence result from tensions between religious groups?

1

(11)

0.67

(10)

1

(11)

1

(11)

0.67

(10)

1

(11)

1

(11)

0.67

(10)

1

(11)

Did organized groups use force or coercion in an attempt to dominate public life with their perspective on religion, including preventing some religious groups from operating in the country?

0

No

0.33

(12)

1

(14)

0.67

(13)

0

No

1

(14)

1

(14)

0.33

(12)

1

(14)

Did religious groups themselves attempt to prevent other religious groups from being able to operate?

0

No

0

No

1

Yes

0

No

0

No

1

Yes

1

Yes

0

No

1

Yes

Did individuals or groups use violence or the threat of violence, including so-called honor killings, to enforce religious norms?

0

No

0

No

1

Yes

1

Yes

0

No

1

Yes

1

Yes

1

Yes

1

Yes

Were individuals assaulted or displaced from their homes in retaliation for religious activities, including preaching and other forms of religious expression, considered offensive or threatening to the majority faith?

0

No

0

No

1

Yes

1

Yes

0

No

1

Yes

1

Yes

0

No

1

Yes

Were women harassed for violating religious dress codes?

0

No

0

No

1

Yes

1

Yes

1

Yes

1

Yes

1

Yes

1

Yes

1

Yes

Were there incidents of hostility over proselytizing?

0

No

0

No

0

No

0

No

0

No

0

No

1

(16)

0

No

1

(16)

Were there incidents of hostility over conversions from one religion to another?

0

No

0

No

0

No

1

(15)

0

No

1

(16)

1

(16)

0

No

1

(16)

  1. Yes, but there were no deaths reported
  2. Yes, and there were deaths reported
  3. Yes, but their activity was limited to recruitment or fundraising
  4. Yes, with violence that resulted in some casualties (1-9 injuries or deaths)
  5. Yes, with violence that resulted in multiple casualties (10-50 injuries or deaths)
  6. Yes, with violence that resulted in many casualties (more than 50 injuries or deaths)
  7. Yes, with fewer than 10,000 casualties or people displaced
  8. Yes, with millions of casualties or people displaced
  9. There were public tensions between religious groups, but they fell short of hostilities involving physical violence
  10. Yes, with physical violence in a few cases
  11. Yes, with physical violence in numerous cases
  12. Yes, at the local level
  13. Yes, at the regional level
  14. Yes, at the national level
  15. Yes, but they fell short of physical violence
  16. Yes, and they included physical violence

The Blessed Ghoul of Calcutta’s second Miracle

Reading in Ocean

This is the life.

On vacation in Cuba I was attempting to ride the waves in my inner tube but the waves just weren’t  strong enough for a decent ride. In fact I looked around and could not see a single white crest of a breaking wave. Bobbing in my tube, somewhat bored, I realized I had a copy of Christopher Hitchens’ “The Missionary Position” that I was not particularly concerned with getting home in one piece. I ran to shore, tossed it in a ziplock bag and headed back out to sea.

I paddled out past the breaking waves (which appeared while I went to get the book) until the lifeguard whistled at me for going too far (about 50m out). Then I leaned back and got absorbed in the book. Suddenly I noticed my tube being pulled outwards and looked up. A giant wave was forming right behind me. I frantically tried to maneuver my way over it, but could really only use my legs as I was holding the book in my left hand and the handle of the tube in my right.

Just as I thought I was going to make it over, the wave broke beneath me, catching the front edge of my tube. Next thing I knew I was racing toward shore, clutching the Hitch over my head like a waving bull rider and crossing my knees to avoid completely losing my bathing suit. It was the best tube ride of my life. I finally bottomed out to substantial applause from those watching me by the shore.

Mother Teresa's Divine light

Mother Teresa’s earthly miracle was making this image clear through divine light. The cameraman credits Kodak’s low light film.

As I paddled my way back out I realised that many people would consider this story a miracle. It seems at least as improbable as becoming pregnant after two years of trying, or filming a movie in low light. In fact, I’m pretty sure that this guy would find it just as amusing that I did not see the miraculous in this experience as I find his miracle:

Why did I not consider this improbable tube ride to be the undeniable work of a diety?

IMG_3796[1]

Pondering Saintly Wrath

Could the ride have been a result of God’s anger over reading Christopher Hitchens? Heck, according to the Catholics the Blessed Ghoul of Calcutta is capable of interceding herself! Quick, someone phone the Vatican and inform them Mother Teresa’s second miracle was one of Saintly Wrath!

However, this seems like an odd conclusion given that I thoroughly enjoyed the tube ride. Was the punishment a wardrobe malfunction that as far as I know was visible to only me and the omniscient? (Perv!)

God’s punishments have certainly (and inexplicably) become less violent than the old testament rains of fire and brimstone, but I would think he could at least capsize the tube and send the book sailing off to Florida. He turned Lot’s wife into a pillar of salt for looking back, but reading Hitchens in open ocean didn’t even deserve the noseful of brine I expect for doing stupid things in the ocean?

Ignoring the no swimming signs

No swimming signs are for people who believe in Poseidon!

My first lesson about miracles is that I’m already resisting the temptation to embellish the tale. It would be so easy to claim that I was reading the chapter “miracle” at the time of the ride. But I wasn’t, I was just finishing part II of “Good Works and Heroic Deeds”. And without actually lying, there is certainly a temptation to leave out details that make it sound more impressive than it is. I’ve compressed the timeline like this happened as soon as I decided to read about Mother Teresa in the ocean. But I read the whole book in the ocean, and this happened on the second day. When I said I bottomed out, I imply that I rode the full 50m to shore, but I leave out the fact that the beach was incredibly shallow, and I bottomed out on a sandbar, riding only about 30m. Which was fortunate, because my ride attracted quite a bit of attention, and my bathing suit was around my knees.

IMG_3788[1]

Note the boaters standing waist deep behind me.

The second important point here is that if I considered this to be a divine sign, I presumably would have stopped reading heretical diatribes in the ocean.  But I read every last word of the Missionary Position bobbing on a tube in the Caribbean Sea. And I did get a couple more rides, though none as impressive as that first one. In fact, after a couple of days I concluded that I had thoroughly misunderstood the nature of the miracle.  God was so enthralled by Hitchens that I could not be capsized while reading the book. It took downright stupidity to break that myth; I finally succeeded in capsizing the tube while sitting bottomed out in the sand in the breaking waves on a particularly turbid day, clutching the heretical baggie as a talisman. But even then I failed to lose or destroy the book or pickle my sinuses.

I did seem to have better luck riding the waves while reading than while actually trying to ride the waves. But I attribute this to two things.

  1. I am considerably more patient while reading a book then while waiting for a good wave to arrive.
  2. Although few of the waves were strong enough for a solid ride, the ones that were broke out where I was reading, not in the shallower water where I was attempting to ride.

I didn’t capsize the tube while intentionally riding the waves either. But I assumed that that was all skill. I wasn’t sitting on my tube, but through it, making it much easier to keep the weight forward for the ride and much harder to flip.

Serious tube surfing


Proper tube wave riding technique. Also allows you to keep hold of the bottom of your bathing suit at all times.

Later in the week I noticed a man floating on the breaking waves on an air mattress. Though it certainly did not look relaxing, I only saw him capsize once. The waves simply weren’t strong enough to capsize anything. Though they sometimes looked impressive and produced a lot of froth, the force was almost entirely toward the shore, with no downward component.

But I wanted to ensure that this logic wasn’t the affect of my secular bias against all things miraculous. I searched my hotel room for a control book to read, but unfortunately the Gideons do not operate in Cuba. I decided that if God controls the waves he should have equal control of them at the shore. Would I have more trouble writing a curse in the sand before it got washed away than something more pious?

Hasa Diga Ebo Wai

Only 13 more months I can get away with saying this in Edmonton without people knowing what it means. (http://edmonton.broadway.com/shows/book-mormon-baa/)

Sandart Sistine Chapel

Much less offensive

Definitely not. In fact if you look closely you’ll notice the second image required the use of Photoshop because I couldn’t get the full image complete before the waves washed it away. Of course that could be God protesting against my attempt to use an artistic ability he did not bless me with.

Either way I flew home convinced that my ride had nothing to do with God.