Oct 5, 2017

More than 20% of countries have official state religions - survey

Most of 43 countries with a state religion are in Middle East and North Africa with majority Muslim, according to research
Harriet Sherwood Religion correspondent
The Guardian
October 3, 2017

More than one in five countries has an official state religion, with the majority being Muslim states, and a further 20% of countries have a preferred or favoured religion.

A slim majority (53%) of counties has no official or preferred religion, and 10 (5%) are hostile to religion, according to a report by the Washington-based Pew Research Center.

Most of the 43 countries with state religions are in the Middle East and North Africa, with a cluster in northern Europe. Islam is the official religion in 27 countries in Asia and sub-Saharan Africa as well North Africa and the Middle East.

Thirteen countries – including nine in Europe – are officially Christian, two (Bhutan and Cambodia) have Buddhism as their state religion, and one (Israel) is officially a Jewish state. No country has Hinduism as its state religion.

The Pew report says: “In some cases, state religions have roles that are largely ceremonial. But often the distinction comes with tangible advantages in terms of legal or tax status, ownership of real estate or other property, and access to financial support from the state. In addition, countries with state-endorsed (or ‘established’) faiths tend to more severely regulate religious practice, including placing restrictions or bans on minority religious groups.”

The report adds: “In a few cases, a country’s official religion is primarily a legacy of its history and now involves few, if any, privileges conferred by the state. And a few other countries fall at the other end of the spectrum, making their official religion mandatory for all citizens.”

Christianity is the favoured faith in 28 of the 40 countries with a preferred religion. More than half of the total provide funds or resources for religious education programmes that largely benefit the preferred religion, and a third provide funding or resources for religious buildings.

In 10 countries, the state either tightly regulates religious institutions or is actively hostile to religion. They include China, Cuba, North Korea, Vietnam and several former Soviet republics. According to Pew, these are “places where government officials seek to control worship practices, public expressions of religion and political activity by religious groups”.

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