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The number of countries in which religious groups faced high levels of restrictions or hostility from the government increased to 56 nations in 2018, according to a Pew Research Center report published Nov. 10.

This is the most recent year for which data is available and represents a four-nation increase from 2017.

The 2018 total matches 2011 and is just below the all-time high of 57 countries in 2012. The 56 nations are 28% of the 198 analyzed for the report.

The number of nations with high levels of social hostility toward religion declined to 53 in 2018. This is down from 56 countries in 2017 and 12 nations below the all-time high of 65 in 2012.

Pew created a Government Restrictions Index (GRI) and a Social Hostilities Index (SHI) to assess the degree to which religious groups faced restrictions on their free expression of religion from both government entities and society at large. This is the 11th annual report.

Each index uses a series of questions to determine the level of religious restrictions and social hostilities by creating a rating for each nation on a 10-point scale. Higher scores indicate higher levels of restriction and hostility.

GRI questions include “Does the constitution or basic law include stipulations that appear to qualify or substantially contradict the concept of ‘religious freedom’?” and “Is converting from one religion to another limited by any level of government?”

SHI questions include “How many different types of crimes, malicious acts or violence motivated by religious hatred or bias occurred?” and “Did organized groups use force or coercion in an attempt to dominate public life with their perspective on religion, including preventing some religious groups from operating in the country?”

A majority of the 56 nations with a high to very high GRI score in 2018 were in the Asia-Pacific (28 countries) and the Middle East-North Africa or MENA (18) regions.

Of the 53 countries with high to very high SHI scores, a majority were from three regions: Europe (16), Asia-Pacific (14) and MENA (11).

“Taken together, in 2018, 40% of the world’s countries (80 countries overall) had ‘high’ or ‘very high’ levels of overall restrictions on religion – reflecting either government actions or hostile acts by private individuals, organizations or social groups – down slightly from 42% (83 countries) in 2017,” Pew said. “This remains close to the 11-year peak that was reached in 2012, when 43% (85 countries) had high or very high levels of overall restrictions.”

A methodology further explaining the data sources and process by which Pew assessed each country’s religious restrictions and hostilities is available here.

The full report is available here.

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