How important is religion to understanding peace?
Analysis into the drivers of peace reveals religion’s role in influencing harmony and stability.
Many may think religion is the main cause of conflicts around the world, or alternatively many may perceive religion as an advocate for harmony. Research by the Institute for Economics and Peace (IEP) shows that when it comes to affecting levels of peace within countries, religion is not a major driver.
According to the research, other socio-economic factors have a more significant influence on peacefulness than religion. Corruption, gross domestic product (GDP) per capita, inequality, gender, political terror and intergroup cohesion all have more significant relationships with the level of a country’s peace than religion.
The research indicates that these factors are globally more significant determinants in driving violence and conflict in society than the presence of religious belief.
The only significant connection between peace and religion found in IEP’s analysis is that high levels of peace are related to either low levels of religious diversity, or high levels of religious diversity.
Moderate levels of diversity see lower levels of peace highlighting the bell curve nature of the link between peace and religious diversity.
IEP investigated the empirical relationships between peace, as measured by the Global Peace Index, and various religious measures related to levels of religious belief, restrictions and hostilities towards religion, combined with a number of other socio-economic factors, to statistically explain the relationship between religion, peace and conflict.
A key source of information in the analysis include two indices created by Pew Research which measure government restrictions on religion and social hostility towards religious groups
Religious plurality has a pacifying effect
There are religious characteristics that are associated with peace, such as whether a country contains a dominant religious group.
IEP found higher levels of peace in countries without dominant religious groups and less government restrictions on religion.
According to the analysis, countries without a dominant religious group are on average, 17 per cent more peaceful than countries with a dominant religious group. These countries also have on average 25 per cent less religious restrictions and religious hostilities are 40 per cent lower.
Religious plurality appears to have a pacifying effect, if there are no official restrictions. Alternatively, if the members of a religious group dominate, they are likely to be able to access and use the power of the state, which can lead to persecution of other religious groups.
Countries where 60 per cent of the population identifies with a particular belief system or denomination have a dominant religious group.
More restrictions with mid-range levels of religious diversity
On a regional scale, both religious homogeneity and heterogeneity are associated with greater religious freedom.
Regions with mid-range religious diversity tend to have the most government restrictions and social hostilities towards religion.
The two most religiously homogeneous regions, Central America and Caribbean and South America, have the lowest levels of government restrictions and religious hostility.
The three most religiously diverse regions, North America, AsiaPacific and Sub Saharan Africa, have similarly low levels of government restrictions and religious hostilities.
In contrast, the regions with mid-range levels of religious diversity have the highest levels of government restrictions and religious hostility and the lowest levels of peace. Russia and Eurasia, South Asia and the Middle East and North Africa all have mid-range levels of religious diversity.
Europe runs against this regional trend. However, this may be because Europe contains the majority of the world’s full democracies, and full democracies have more explanatory power for peace than religious diversity does.
Democracies can influence peace
When it comes to peacefulness, full democracies outperform every other government type.
Full democracies are on average 58 per cent more peaceful, have 131 per cent less religious restrictions and 49 per cent less religious hostility than authoritarian regimes.
While there are a disproportionately high level of non-believers in full democracies when compared to other forms of government, the overall proportion of atheists are generally very low and are therefore incapable of creating a strong influence on the factors that affect peace.
IEP research find that full democracies are peaceful regardless of the levels of religious belief.
Alternatively, authoritarian regimes have the lowest performance in peace and religious restrictions.
On the Social Hostilities Index, authoritarian regimes are the second best performing government type, reflecting that an “enforced peace” can occur in some authoritarian contexts.