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Rumi Forum Podcast

Rumi Forum was founded in 1999 with the mission to foster interfaith dialogue and intercultural understanding. The Forum aims to stimulate exchange of opinions in order to advance culture of democracy, freedom of thought, human rights and peace. For over 20 years, the Forum provides a common platform for building relationships, mutual learning and information exchange among adherents of different faiths. Our work has a particular focus on pluralism, peacemaking, interfaith dialogue, intercultural understanding, social harmony and community cohesion.

Sep 8, 2015


On March 31st, 2015 Peter Henne of the Pew Research Center presented the Global Religious Restrictions report’s findings on the trends of global religious restrictions.


Paul Marshall of the Hudson Institute joined him for an engaging discussion on the significance of the report.

In February 2015, the Pew Research Center released its sixth report on Global Religious Restrictions. These reports analyze trends in religious restrictions and hostilities around the world through a rigorous and innovative quantitative analysis. The latest report highlights a general decline in social hostilities even as a significant portion of the world’s population remains in highly restrictive countries. It also points to widespread harassment of Jews, as well as other religious groups, and restrictions on religious minorities. Peter Henne, a Research Associate with the Pew Research Center and primary researcher on the report, will present findings from the report and answer questions. Paul Marshall, a Senior Fellow at the Hudson Institute, will respond to the report’s findings and moderate the discussion.


Peter Henne argues that freedom of religion has been one of the key issues in the international community after World War II and since then has been a very contested issue on the global platform. The research he produced with the Pew Center is an attempt to create a new way of studying, measuring and understanding religious freedom. Instead of focusing on measuring the amounts of religious freedom as a concept, this particular series of reports analyzes to an extent of where governments and societies restrict religious beliefs and practices.The report relies on identifying certain laws and policies which might infringe upon religion, in addition to the social dimension in this measure. To accomplish this, two indexes that they developed are used: the Government Restrictions Index and the Social Hostilities Index–that gauge government restrictions on religion and social hostilities involving religion in nearly 200 countries and territories. Ultimately, with the results created by these indexes each country is assigned a score as an indicator of how “free” that state is deemed to be. The initial report created in 2009, established a baseline for each country and the five major geographic regions of the globe. From this baseline, the report is very valuable in the way it provides an analysis of the changes in the level of restrictions and hostilities in these countries (alternatively regions) over a period of time.

In the 6th published report since 2009, Henne declared that the center found a slight drop in social hostilities around the world however, government restrictions have remained in relatively stable conditions. 77% of the world’s population lives in restrictive country conditions (taking into account the levels of both government and social religious restrictions). China tops the list of offenders for its multiple persecutions against Buddhism, Christianity and Islam, with Pakistan coming close behind for its bans on Muslim dress and literature, its religion-related terrorism, multiple cases of forced conversions and mob violence. Some countries surveyed under the report have seen an increase in religious restrictions either perpetrated by social groups or the government. For example Turkey who, on top of the restrictions already put into place against Muslims, have experienced new government policies and laws that increase hostilities throughout the country. On the other hand Russia for example, has experienced high spikes in social violence with attacks against Muslims, and mob violence led by militant groups.

The Pew report looks at to which groups were specifically harassed because of restrictions on religion and to what extent they were harassed by social or governmental conditions. Through their research they found that violence conducted against Judaism has notably increased steadily since the first report in 2009. Those who practice Judaism are harassed in 77 countries around the world, specifically experiencing an increase in European countries. When the center broke down the numbers, it was shown that the levels of harassment were at an all-time 7 year high, and that Jews were mainly being harassed on a social level rather than by state governments.

Another interesting trend that the research uncovered was the big area of harassment conducted between both Christians and Muslim. Christians are harassed in 120 countries out of the 200 surveyed, and Muslims are harassed in 99 of those 200 countries around the world. Again, when the numbers are broken down further we find a very intriguing difference between the harassment experienced by both groups. Christians are found to often be more harassed by state governments, where 85 reported countries harbor restrictions against the religion and 71 countries harass the group on a social level. For Muslims it is the complete reverse in terms of religious restrictions. 84 countries are reported to harass Muslims on a social level, and 73 of those countries have laws or policies in place that restrict the religion. These distinctions allow us to gain insight into what types of harassment is occurring, and where in the world we are finding these kinds of restrictions. *It is important to note the findings by the Pew Center have shown that religious restrictions affect different kinds of groups around the world, other than the above mentioned examples.

Further on in his discussion, Peter Henne presented a new analysis that relates to contemporary issues in concerns of highlighting government and social restrictions that target minority groups. Some examples of factors the center examined was the banning of certain religious groups (the Falun Gong/Falun Dafa in China), attempts at trying to remove a certain religious group, development of hate/extremist groups, groups trying to control other religious groups, violent acts against the minority groups etc. Restrictions against religious minority groups are present throughout the world in where ⅓ of countries examined contain governmental restrictions, with ⅔ of the countries in the report that contain social hostilities within their borders. All of the countries that experienced a significant increase in anti-minority hostilities are not isolated cases Henne says, but rather tend to go hand-in-hand with the broader restrictions that are placed on a given society outside of the context of religion. By looking at the median level of restrictions in different regions around the world where high levels of government and social hostilities are happening the report found that the Middle East/North African region topped the list as the most restrictive, with the Asian-Pacific region in 2nd and Europe taking the 3rd spot.

While religious freedom is a very complex topic to measure, the report is aims to be an information source that is primarily objective in nature and a source that can be used when engaging in debate about this very diverse and complicated issue. The report, Henne mentioned does not go into the strict causes of why religious restrictions are changing in certain countries, or why restrictions are happening where they are, nor did the report address the broader economic context of each country–which could, he suggested play a role in affecting religious restrictions. The Pew Research Center’s work on global restrictions on religion is part of the Pew-Templeton Global Religious Futures project, which analyzes religious change and its impact on societies around the world. The initiative is funded by The Pew Charitable Trusts and the John Templeton Foundation. This report is a collaborative effort based on the input and analysis of the following individuals from the Pew Research Center’s Religion & Public Life Project. Find related reports online at About the Pew Research Center: Pew Research Center is a nonpartisan fact tank that informs the public about the issues, attitudes and trends shaping America and the world. It does not take policy positions. It conducts public opinion polling, demographic research, media content analysis and other empirical social science research. The center studies U.S. politics and policy views; media and journalism; internet and technology; religion and public life; Hispanic trends; global attitudes; and U.S. social and demographic trends.

All of the center’s reports are available at Pew Research Center is a subsidiary of The Pew Charitable Trusts.


 Peter Henne is a Research Associate with the Pew Research Center, where he runs an ongoing  project on global restrictions on religion. He has published numerous scholarly articles on religion  and international relations, and has discussed global religious issues on NPR, Southern California  Public Radio and other media outlets. Peter has a Ph.D. in Government from Georgetown  University.


 Paul Marshall is Senior Fellow at the Hudson Institute’s Center for Religious Freedom,  Washington DC, Distinguished Senior Fellow the Institute for the Study of Religion at Baylor  University, Senior Fellow at the Leimena Institute, Jakarta, and Visiting Professor at the Graduate  School of Syarif Hidayatullah State Islamic University (UIN) Jakarta, Indonesia. He is the author  and editor of more than twenty books on religion and politics, especially religious freedom, and his writings have been translated into 22 languages.