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?

Respect for All Spiritual Traditions

Our belief systems, particularly our spiritual beliefs and traditions, are increasingly important dimensions of culture. We must be able to bridge religious and spiritual differences if we are to live together in a collaborative, inclusive, respectful world. Yet this dimension is far too often overlooked and shortchanged in the intercultural literature.

Today, in this blog post, I offer up a few quotes that speak to me about this topic. It is my hope that taking a few moments to reflect might help each of us better do our part to promote inter-religious understanding.

We are fortunate that so many schools of divinity, congregations, spiritual communities and ecumenical groups use Cultural Detective to promote tolerance, understanding and respect. I’d welcome hearing from any of you about the efforts in which you’re engaged. Please, also, share with us quotes on this topic that speak to you.

“Impiety: Your irreverance toward my deity.”
—Ambrose Bierce

“When political conflict is religionized, it is absolutized.”
—Jonathan Saks

“Once you attempt legislation upon religious grounds, you open the way for every kind of intolerance and religious persecution.”
—William Butler Yeats

“So many Gods, so many creeds; so many paths that wind and wind; when just the art of being kind is all this sad world needs.”
—Ella Wheeler Wilcox

The joke (instead of a proverb) in Cultural Detective Jewish Culture that illustrates the value of “group solidarity” (CLASSIC cross-cultural miscommunication; enjoy!):

Several centuries ago, the Pope decreed that all Jews had to convert to Catholicism or leave Italy. There was a huge outcry from the Jewish community, so the Pope offered a deal. He’d have a religious debate with the leader of the Jewish community. If the Jews won, they could stay in Italy; if the Pope won, they’d have to convert or leave.

The Jewish people met and picked an aged and wise rabbi to represent them in the debate. However, as the Rabbi spoke no Italian, and the Pope spoke no Yiddish, they agreed that it would be a ‘silent’ debate.

On the chosen day the Pope and Rabbi sat opposite each other.

The Pope raised his hand and showed three fingers.
The Rabbi looked back and raised one finger.

Next, the Pope waved his finger around his head.
The Rabbi pointed to the ground where he sat.

The Pope brought out a communion wafer and a chalice of wine.
The Rabbi pulled out an apple.

With that, the Pope stood up and declared himself beaten, saying that the Rabbi was too clever. The Jews could stay in Italy.

Later the cardinals met with the Pope and asked him what had happened. The Pope said, ‘First I held up three fingers to represent the Trinity. He responded by holding up a single finger to remind me there is still only One God common to both our beliefs. Then I waved my finger around my head to show him that God was all around us. He responded by pointing to the ground to show that God was also right here with us. I pulled out the wine and wafer to show that God absolves us of all our sins. He pulled out an apple to remind me of the original sin. He bested me at every move, and I could not continue.’

Meanwhile, the Jewish community gathered to ask the Rabbi how he’d won. ‘I haven’t a clue,’ the Rabbi said. ‘First, he told me that we had three days to get out of Italy, so I gave him the finger. Then he told me that the whole country would be cleared of Jews and I told him that we were staying right here.’
‘And then what?’ asked a woman.
‘Who knows?’ said the Rabbi. ‘He took out his lunch so I took out mine.”