A high or very high social hostility toward religion was reported in a third of the 198 countries and territories analyzed by the Pew Research Center in a report released on Tuesday, marking an increase in almost every major region around the world.
The study showed that the 33 percent hostility reported in 2012 represents a six-year peak, up from 29 percent in 2011 and 20 percent in mid-2007. The sharpest spike was reported in the Middle East and North Africa, which Pew attributed to the recent political revolutions sometimes referred to as the Arab Spring.
Pew noted that six countries in total were found to have very high social hostilities in 2012, but not in 2011: Syria, Lebanon, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Thailand and Burma (Myanmar). Those nations join several others already on that list, the vast majority of them from Asia and Africa. At the same time, 38 percent, or 76 countries were found to have low levels of religious hostility in 2012, which is down from 87 (44 percent) countries the year before.
Christians and Muslims were the two religious groups harassed in the most countries between June 2006 and December 2012. Christians faced harassment in 151 countries, Muslims in 135, and Jews in 95.
Pew explained that a difference exists between groups more likely to be harassed by the government and those more likely to experience harassment from individuals or groups in society. It noted that Jewish people faced more social harassment, in 66 different countries, than they did government harassment, in 28 different countries. Some minority faiths, however, like Sikhs and Baha'is, experienced more government harassment (in 35 countries) than they did from society (in 21 countries).
The Americas reported less social hostilities than the global medium, with the U.S. displaying a moderate level of social hostility toward religion. In Mexico the social hostility was marked as high, and in Canada it was low.
Pew noted in its survey that it covered 99.5 percent of the world's population, and asked 20 questions relating to government restrictions on religion, and 13 questions on social hostilities.
The study clarified that one notable country missing from the list is North Korea. Sources indicate that the Pacific nation "is among the most repressive in the world with respect to religion as well as other civil and political liberties," but because of how closed off the country is to outsiders and independent observers, sources are unable to provide the kind of specific information needed by Pew.
The extensive study looked at religious hostilities through a number of different graphs, analyzing the levels of abuse minority religious groups face, the violence and threats imposed to enforce religious norms, the harassment of women, and other categories.
Earlier in January, watchdog group Open Doors released its annual World Watch List, which exposes the countries where Christians face the most persecution.
The top of the list was also heavily occupied by Middle East countries, with the exception of North Korea, which remained as the most oppressive country for Christians. The other nations at the top of the persecution list included: Somalia, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Maldives, Pakistan, Iran, and Yemen.