Dr. Brian Grim, lead researcher and author of a new Pew Forum Report, will discuss the “Rising Tide of Religious Restrictions around the World”.

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Even before the recent turmoil in the Middle East and North Africa – including attacks on U.S. embassies and the killing of an American ambassador – the region was experiencing increasing hostilities and tensions involving religion. A new report by the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life finds that as of mid-2010 – six months before the outbreak of events that would become known as the Arab Spring – Middle East-North Africa had by far the world’s highest levels of social hostilities involving religion as well as government restrictions on religious beliefs and practices.

The new study, which is part of the Pew-Templeton Global Religious Futures project, finds that the share of countries with high or very high restrictions on religion rose from 31% in the year ending in mid-2009 to 37% in the year ending in mid-2010. Because some of the most restrictive countries are very populous, three-quarters (75%) of the world’s approximately 7 billion people live in countries with high government restrictions on religion or high social hostilities involving religion, up from 70% a year earlier.

A rising level of restrictions occurred in each of the five major regions of the world. In three regions – Europe, Middle East-North Africa and sub-Saharan Africa – the median levels of both government restrictions and social hostilities increased from mid-2009 to mid-2010. In the Americas, the median level of government restrictions increased, while in the Asia-Pacific region, the median level of social hostilities increased.

Restrictions on religion rose not only in countries that began the year with high or very high restrictions or hostilities, such as Indonesia and Nigeria but also in many countries that began with low or moderate restrictions or hostilities, such as Switzerland and the United States.

This is the third time the Pew Forum has measured restrictions on religion. The new study scores 197 countries and territories on the same two indexes used in the previous studies – the Government Restrictions Index (GRI) and the Social Hostilities Index (SHI). The 197 countries and self-administering territories covered by the study contain more than 99.5% of the world’s population.

The full report – including a summary of results, index scores by region, results by country, the methodology and an interactive graphic showing the levels of restrictions in the worlds’ 25 most populous countries – is available on the Pew Forum’s website.

The Pew Forum’s work on global restrictions on religion is part of the Pew-Templeton Global Religious Futures project, an effort funded by The Pew Charitable Trusts and the John Templeton Foundation to analyze religious change and its impact on societies around the world.

The Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life conducts surveys, demographic analyses and other social science research on important aspects of religion and public life in the U.S. and around the world. As part of the Washington-based Pew Research Center, a nonpartisan, nonadvocacy organization, the Pew Forum does not take positions on policy debates or any of the issues it covers.

Brian J. Grim, Ph.D. is director of cross-national data and senior researcher in religion and world affairs at the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life in Washington, D.C. Dr. Grim is co-investigator for the international religious demography project at Boston University’s Institute on Culture, Religion and World Affairs, where he co-edits the World Religion Database (Brill online). He is also co-author with Roger Finke of The Price of Freedom Denied: Religious Persecution and Conflict in the 21st Century (Cambridge, 2011), based on an award-winning article in the leading sociology journal, American Sociological Review. In 2011, he was awarded the year’s outstanding research article by the World Association of Public Opinion Researchers for “Western Views Toward Muslims: Evidence from a 2006 Cross-national Survey” (with Richard Wike). His findings on international religious demography and religious freedom have been covered by the major media including the BBC, CNN, Fox, the Associated Press and Reuters, and he frequently presents to high level governmental and nongovernmental groups in the U.S. and abroad. Dr Grim has extensive overseas experience. From 1982-2002, he lived and worked as an academic and development coordinator in China, the former USSR, Central Asia, Europe and the Middle East.