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
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