Lack of Diversity Correlates with Religious Hostility

world-religious-diversityQuick! What is the most religiously diverse area of the world? Not the Middle East—it’s primarily Muslim, and not Latin America—it’s primarily Christian.

It is, of course, the Asia Pacific region, home to a great diversity of religious traditions including Islam and Christianity, as well as Buddhism, Hinduism, Confucianism, and loads more. This is just one interesting tidbit from a report on world religions released this week by the Pew Research Center.

More noteworthy than this fact, however, is that some of the world’s least religiously diverse places are home to the highest rates of social violence involving religion. Of the five countries exhibiting the most religious violence:
  • Afghanistan and Somalia both rank in the bottom ten for religious diversity, with a “Religious Diversity Index” or RDI of 0.1.
  • Pakistan ranks as having “low diversity,” with an RDI of 0.8.
  • India (RDI 4.0) and Israel (RDI 4.5) are ranked as “moderately diverse.”

If diversity indeed correlates with lower violence, that is indeed good news for diversity and pluralism, and a desire to discourage violence and promote inclusion are good reasons to put Cultural Detective Islam and Cultural Detective Jewish Culture to good use! And please, help us create packages for other major world religions! Such tools are especially needed given that the Pew Research studies show huge increases in religious hostilities in nearly every world region.

increase in religious hostilities

How did this finding, correlating the lack of religious diversity and hostility, come about? In December 2012, Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion and Public Life published a report entitled, “The Global Religious Landscape,” based on data gathered in 2010. It found, in part, that:

“Worldwide, more than eight-in-ten people identify with a religious group. A comprehensive demographic study of more than 230 countries and territories … estimates that there are 5.8 billion religiously affiliated adults and children around the globe, representing 84% of the 2010 world population of 6.9 billion.”

01_groupsThen, in January 2014 Pew published the results of another study in its article, “Religious Hostilities Reach Six-Year High.” It involved data on 198 countries:

“A third (33%) of the countries and territories in the study had high religious hostilities in 2012, up from 29% in 2011 and 20% as of mid-2007. Religious hostilities increased in every major region of the world except the Americas.”

socialHostilitiesJust this month, April 4, 2014, the Pew-Templeton Global Religious Futures project, which analyzes religious change and its impact on societies around the world, published further analysis that it conducted on the 2010 data. They produced a very interesting index that ranks each country by its level of religious diversity—its RDI, or “Religious Diversity Index.” RDI was calculated based on the percentage of each country’s population that belongs to the eight major religious groups defined by Pew. The closer a country comes to having equal shares of the eight groups, the higher its score on the 10-point index.

To quote from the report,

“In order to have data that were comparable across many countries, the study focused on five widely recognized world religions—Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam and Judaism—that collectively account for roughly three-quarters of the world’s population. The remainder of the global population was consolidated into three additional groups: the religiously unaffiliated (those who say they are atheists, agnostics or nothing in particular); adherents of folk or traditional religions (including members of African traditional religions, Chinese folk religions, Native American religions and Australian aboriginal religions); and adherents of other religions (such as the Baha’i faith, Jainism, Shintoism, Sikhism, Taoism, Tenrikyo, Wicca and Zoroastrianism).”

This, of course, means that diversity within these larger religious sub-groups was not examined.

Linking the findings from phase two (social hostility) and phase three (religious diversity) shows the correlation between lack of religious diversity and social hostility.

I would emphasize that the link between lack of religious diversity and increased social violence does not appear to be a finding reported by Pew Research. Rather, it is an observation written by Emma Green in The Atlantic. The top five—and many others—of the most socially hostile countries do indeed have lower RDIs. However, there are countries with low religious diversity that also show low ratings for religious hostility: Namibia, Marshall Islands, Malta, Kiribati, Cambodia, Djibouti, Lesotho, and Grenada among them.

The research is definitely worth reading. The overall increase in religious hostility is driven by certain types of hostility, including abuse of religious minorities, harassment of women over religious dress, violence to enforce religious norms, mob violence related to religion, and religion-related terrorist violence. Click on any photo to enlarge.

Emma Green ends her article with an interesting thought:

“It may not be true everywhere, but these data suggest something remarkable: Religious pluralism can be, and often is, compatible with peaceful societies.”

What do you think? What is your experience? What successful efforts have you seen to bridge religious differences and increase tolerance and respect?

9 thoughts on “Lack of Diversity Correlates with Religious Hostility

  1. Dianne, this is fascinating and intriguing as well. I would guess that when two or more groups are close contact and one group controls access to the resources the other needs or wants, the emphasis on ethnic/racial/religious identity becomes much stronger and can fuel major conflicts. Some anthropologist assert that a strong emphasis on ethnic/racial identity is “the mask of oppression.” So I often wonder if the conflict is really about religious belief/faith or is it about access to social resources. This calls for more and important research. Let’s go.


      • I am still eager to do that piece on Christianity. I had intended to get the previous work which was done to see where to go from there. Lots of family issues — my son had a life-threatening work related accident which has claimed alot of attention and rightly so. Do you have any of the previous draft material? How is life in Mexico? How is your son doing?


  2. Hello Dianne, I agree that we need to increase understanding of all religious and spiritual beliefs. Given the current “mindful revolution” (see Time magazine and Huff Post), it may be timely to create a program on Buddhism. I can direct you to several highly qualified individuals who may be interested in collaborating with CD. Let me know if you’re interested.
    My email address is:
    Warm regards,


      • Dianna, I would enjoy helping you with this project. As a student of Buddhism, I am currently enrolled in an online Buddhist study program at Princeton. Our professor is a visiting lecturer, and a well known author. He may have the time and interest to partake in your program. I can provide his email. Also, I am a member of a Zen Center in Santa Fe. The founder is very prominent worldwide, and in much demand for speaking engagements, so she may not have the time to get involved with CD, but could be helpful with contacts.
        Another prominent Buddhist is Jack Kornfield. His interview on Oprah is an excellent introduction to Buddhism, and can be found on Youtube. His books are on Amazon, and he is active in workshop events on Buddhism and mindfulness. Other prominent Buddhist are
        Pema Chodron and Sharon Salzberg. I can provide contact info for you.
        The other professors I have in mind are with Universities, and also write books and lecture,
        so they may be interested in your project. I don’t know them personally, so would not be able to introduce them to you offline.
        Let me know how I can be of further assistance, and all the best with your tour of colleges
        for your son!
        Warm regards,

        Liked by 1 person

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