Religious Deregulation: A Key to Understanding Whether Religious Plurality Leads to Strife

Brian J. Grim, Pew Research Center and Boston University
Vegard Skirbekk, International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA)

The dangers of religious pluralities seemingly appear all too obvious. With ever-present religious conflicts around the globe and throughout history, religious plurality seems to be the spark, if not the flame, that leads to raging conflicts within and between countries. Indeed, this apparent relationship serves to motivate and justify states’ denying religious freedoms. The concern is that to leave religion unchecked and without adequate controls will result in the uprising of religions that are dangerous to both state and citizenry. This paper tests the proposition that as religious freedoms increase, violent religious persecution and conflict decline. Using data on nearly 200 countries, the study finds that religious deregulation and de jure and de facto protections for religious freedoms coincide with pluralities in which no single religion can monopolize religious activity and all religions can compete on a level playing field. Religious grievances against the state and other religions are reduced because all religions can compete for the allegiance of people without the interference of the state. Rather than religious plurality leading to strife, the data indicate that it is the attempt to prevent religious pluralities from existing that tends to be the source of social strife related to religion.

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Presented in Session 181: Population, Conflict, and Religion