Globalization Leading to More Restrictions on Religion?

In a report last year, the Pew Research Center noted a marked increase in legal restrictions on the practice of religion around the world. The report found that "The share of countries with high or very high restrictions on religious beliefs and practices rose from 31% in the year ending in mid-2009 to 37% in ...

By , a former associate editor at Foreign Policy.
Friedemann Vogel/Getty Images
Friedemann Vogel/Getty Images
Friedemann Vogel/Getty Images

In a report last year, the Pew Research Center noted a marked increase in legal restrictions on the practice of religion around the world. The report found that "The share of countries with high or very high restrictions on religious beliefs and practices rose from 31% in the year ending in mid-2009 to 37% in the year ending in mid-2010" and that three quarters of the world's population live in countries with "high government restrictions on religion." (That stat's due largely to China, but still.) These included not just laws in theocratic or autocratic regimes, but new restrictions in democracies such as Switzerland's 2009 minaret ban

A new paper in the journal Political Studies by  three Israeli political scientists suggests that this trend is an ironic byproduct of globalization, which has "has increased interpersonal contact between individuals from culturally diverse backgrounds." Rather than increasing tolerance, this new interaction actually "induces perceived threat to a hegemonic religion, which leads to more restrictions on religious freedom."

Using globalization indicators including communications, trade, tourism, and diplomatic contact for 147 countries, they find a correlation between a country's global oppenness and legal restrictions on religion. 

In a report last year, the Pew Research Center noted a marked increase in legal restrictions on the practice of religion around the world. The report found that "The share of countries with high or very high restrictions on religious beliefs and practices rose from 31% in the year ending in mid-2009 to 37% in the year ending in mid-2010" and that three quarters of the world’s population live in countries with "high government restrictions on religion." (That stat’s due largely to China, but still.) These included not just laws in theocratic or autocratic regimes, but new restrictions in democracies such as Switzerland’s 2009 minaret ban

A new paper in the journal Political Studies by  three Israeli political scientists suggests that this trend is an ironic byproduct of globalization, which has "has increased interpersonal contact between individuals from culturally diverse backgrounds." Rather than increasing tolerance, this new interaction actually "induces perceived threat to a hegemonic religion, which leads to more restrictions on religious freedom."

Using globalization indicators including communications, trade, tourism, and diplomatic contact for 147 countries, they find a correlation between a country’s global oppenness and legal restrictions on religion. 

One would assume that there’s a saturation level at which religious minorities are no loner perceived as a threat by the majority, or at which religious minorities are simply more integrated into their communities, but things may get significantly worse on this front before they get better. 


Joshua Keating was an associate editor at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @joshuakeating

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