The following review will appear in the forthcoming edition of the International Journal of Religious Freedom. Please download or subscribe here: journal.iirf.eu
Brian J. Grim, Roger Finke. The Price of Freedom Denied: Religious Persecution and Conflict in the Twenty-First Century. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010.
This is perhaps the best and most important publication on the topic of religious freedom to appear in recent years. Two statisticians of religion, Brian J. Grim, known as the head researcher of the study “Global Restrictions on Religion” of the Pew Forum (http://pewforum.org/docs/?DocID=491), and Roger Finke, a professor of sociology and Director of Religion Data Archives, show that religious freedom contributes to peace and stability within a society and does not endanger it.
Their basic thesis, which is supported by an enormous wealth of examples, statistics, and investigation, is simple: In countries with religious freedom there is much more social peace than in countries without it. Or in other words: The argument of many countries with a dominating majority religion, that they have to keep a check on smaller religions for the sake of social peace, is contradicted by reality.
Restriction of religious freedom is often in the first instance the reason for violent conflicts (p. 67). Religious homogeneity does not guarantee freedom from conflict, but it apparently encourages tensions.
Particularly noticeable is the study of Samuel Huntington‘s theory that assumes violence and unrest are the consequences of a clash of civilizations. This thesis, according to the authors, does not do justice to the internal diversity found within religions and cultures (pp. 62-68), for instance the tension between Sunnites and Shiites within an Islamic country. All of the available figures contradict the thesis that it is the tension between cultures which can cause additional tensions (pp.77-82). It is rather in a certain sense the suppression of these tensions in favor of an alleged monoculture in a country which intensifies the tensions.
Between the middle of 2000 and the middle of 2007 there were, of 143 countries, 123 countries (86%) in which people experienced violence or were forced to move on the basis of their religious affiliation (“physically abused or displaced,” p. 18). In 25 countries there were more than 10,000 people affected (p. 20), conspicuously among them many Islamic countries.
As documented by Grim and Finke, religious freedom viewed on the whole has increased in Christian countries in the sixty years from 1945 to 2005 and has decreased in Islamic countries (p. 172). This means that overall there is less religious freedom in Islamic countries than there was a century ago – and the development still remains regressive!
Two examples in this connection:
1. In Islamic countries (see pp. 160-201), in which there is almost exclusively no religious freedom, the level of violence and the propensity towards civil war is very high.
2. Terrorist movements predominantly come from countries without religious freedom (p. 198). In a few exceptions much less damage is caused in their own countries and they are not active internationally but nationally.
Specifically portrayed in the book among free countries (pp. 88-119) are Japan (a large amount of religious freedom), Brazil (religious freedom with some tension), and Nigeria (religiously split country). Among the countries that are not free (pp. 120-159) one finds China (religion as a threat), India (religion as a social monopoly), and Iran (religion as a social and political monopoly). The Islamic countries presented as a whole (p. 160-201).
This excellent book is proof of the fact that research on the topic of religious freedom is proceeding with more fervor, and it sets a standard for the future.