Pew Research Center conducted an analysis of the position of the religion in 199 countries and territories around the world. All of these countries can be classified into one of four categories:
- States with an official religion;
- States with a preferred or favored religion;
- States with no official or preferred religion; and
- States with a hostile relationship toward religion.
The Pew data showed the following results about church-state relationship: More than one in five countries covered by this research favor specific religion and they have a state religion. A further 20% of the countries (40 governments around the globe) unofficially favor a particular religion, and in most cases the preferred faith is a branch of Christianity. Indeed, Christian churches receive preferential treatment in more countries – 28 – than any other unofficial, but favored, faith.
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.”
Countries with official state religion usually provide financial benefits for official state religions. Among the 43 countries with an official religion, 98% provide funding or resources for educational programs, property or other religious activities.
The most common government-endorsed faith is Islam, with 27 countries officially enshrining Islam as their state religion (most countries in the Middle East-North Africa region). Among the 43 countries with a state religion, 27 (63%) name Sunni Islam, Shia Islam or just Islam in general as their official faith. By comparison, just 13 countries (including nine European nations) designate Christianity or a particular Christian denomination as their state religion. Buddhism is the official religion in two countries, Bhutan and Cambodia. Israel is the only country in the world with Judaism as its official state religion.
A slim majority (53%) of countries has no official or preferred religion, and 10 (5%) are hostile to religion, the Washington-based Pew Research Center’s report shows. 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, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. 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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