If Policy Makers Cared About Data, They’d Care About Freedom of Religion or Belief (FoRB)

by vaughn_admin  //  

July 5, 2016

By: Brian Grim

“In God we trust, all others bring data.”—W. Edwards Deming

“We are drowning in information and starving for knowledge.”—Rutherford D. Roger

In the following paragraphs, I’ll apply these two provocative quotes, both from the preface of The Elements of Statistical Learning, to freedom of religion or belief with Deming’s goal for statistical data squarely in view: to provide “a rational basis for action.”


Growing Religion.

The past decade has seen the largest social science effort to collect and analyze data on international religious demography, resulting in a series of scholarly publications, including the World Religion Database  (Brill), The World’s Religions in Figures  (Wiley-Blackwell), The Global Religious Landscape  (Pew Research), and the just released Yearbook of International Religious Demography  (Brill).

This body of research points to one thing: Religion is growing and will continue to grow globally, with about 9 in 10 people projected to be affiliated with religion in 2030 compared with 8 in 10 in 1970, as shown in the chart above. This growth is projected to occur despite trends toward disaffiliation in the global North, where population growth is stagnating. By contrast, populations are growing in the more religious global South.

Growing Restrictions on Freedom of Religion or Belief.

In recent years, Pew Research has measured restrictions on religious freedom based on methods I developed with my Penn State colleague, Roger Finke. The results of these studies show that there has been a dramatic rise in the level of religious restrictions and hostilities. For instance, in 2007, fewer than 30 percent of countries had high restrictions on freedom of religion or belief, but by 2012, this figure increased to 43 percent. And because several of these countries are very populous, 76 percent of the world’s people—that’s 5.3 billion people—live with high government restrictions on religion and/or high social hostilities involving religion.

These data are clear: They point to a global religious freedom crisis that will become even more acute as the world becomes more religious and as global mobility mixes people and their beliefs at an unprecedented rate.


The data on religious freedom provide more than just information; they provide knowledge. Specifically, analysis of the data reveals two very important empirical relationships:

  1. 1. The combined effects of government and social restrictions on religious freedom lead to violent religious persecution and conflict.
  1. 2. The respect of freedom of religion or belief leads to peace and prosperity.

These relationships were first expounded in The Price of Freedom Denied: Religious Persecution & Conflict in the 20th Century . The book convincingly demonstrated the restriction of freedom of religion or belief most directly leads to religious violence and persecution, not other factors such as Huntington’s civilization divides.

Peace and stability are particularly important for business because where stability exists, there are more opportunities to invest and conduct normal and predictable business operations, especially in emerging and new markets.

A recent study, “Is Religious Freedom Good for Business? A Conceptual and Empirical Analysis ,” further investigated the relationship of religious freedom and business, and found religious freedom to be one of only three factors significantly associated with global economic growth, looking at 173 countries in 2011 and controlling for two dozen different financial, social, and regulatory influences.

As the world navigates away from years of poor economic performance, freedom of religion or belief may be an unrecognized asset to economic recovery and growth, according to this new study. The study examines and finds a positive relationship between religious freedom and 10 of the 12 pillars of global competitiveness, as measured by the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Index.

The new study observes that religious hostilities and restrictions create climates that can drive away local and foreign investment, undermine sustainable development, and disrupt huge sectors of economies. Perhaps most significant for future economic growth, the study notes that young entrepreneurs are pushed to take their talents elsewhere due to the instability associated with high and rising religious restrictions and hostilities—the very places where entrepreneurship is needed to bring economic possibilities to growing and restless populations.

Acting on Data and Knowledge

Based on these trends and empirical relationships, it is therefore in the interest of policy makers throughout the world to respect and protect freedom of religion or belief (FoRB) because FoRB promotes peace and stability, respects diversity, guards the rights of minorities and women, and creates environments where economic competitiveness flourishes and sustainable development is possible. It is also in the interests of businesses to protect religious freedom within their companies and communities. Indeed, businesses are at the crossroads of culture, creativity, and commerce, and, therefore, businesses can and should be among the most FoRB-Friendly institutions on earth.

Brian J. Grim is president of the Religious Freedom & Business Foundation and a leading expert on the socioeconomic impact of restrictions on religious freedom and international religious demography.

This piece was originally authored on September 29, 2014 for the Religious Freedom Project at Georgetown’s Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs.