Business: A powerful force for
interfaith understanding & peace


What are the Limits to Religious Expression in the Workplace?

22 Sep, 2017

A Sep 22, 2017 article by By Dana Wilkie published in the Society for Human Resource Management looks at this very issue. She asks “Can Religious Gatherings at Work Cross the Line?”

She writes: “An employee sends an e-mail to his entire department announcing that he’s going to start praying for the workplace each morning and inviting colleagues to join him in his office to pray to Jesus. He also asks co-workers to send him a list of personal concerns they’d like him to pray about.

“Should you allow this?

“The issue came up this week during a Society for Human Resource Management SHRM Connect online discussion.”


Brian Grim, president of the Religious Freedom & Business Foundation, offers some basic principles to keep in mind:

Title VII in U.S. law gives people the right to have their religious beliefs and practices accommodated in the workplace, within reasonable limits. People have a right to express their faith in the workplace as long as they don’t harass others or lead people to mistake their private expressions of faith for the employer’s views.

For example, employees can talk to coworkers about their beliefs, hang a religious picture or keep personal religious items at their work stations, wear religious clothing or jewelry, have personal devotionals (like reading scriptures in the break room), or even start a voluntary prayer group, that is unless the company has job-related policies that apply the same to everyone (such as keeping desks clear of any personal items when customers can see them) and thus can’t give an accommodation. If the company lets others express their personalities, religious people can too. Certainly, if a coworker asks another person in the company not to talk with him or her about his/her faith, then they need to stop. Continuing could be harassment.

Regarding supervisors, they must be careful not to inadvertently pressure subordinates or make them think they’ll get special treatment or access if they adopt the supervisors beliefs or, in this case, participate in the prayer initiative.

If a company allows employees to use company email for other personal initiatives, like announcing a car wash, or a gay pride march or a spontaneous happy hour, they should allow other personal requests. To single out religion as the only taboo topic could get the company into legal hot water.

Of course, if the company has a general policy against any personal announcements, then those of a religious nature would not be permitted. Even if someone has been out of line in a religious announcement, the best course of action may be to help people understand what’s appropriate and inappropriate rather than forbidding the topic altogether, thereby making religious employees feel like all other personal identities are acceptable except theirs.

Companies can forbid private, non-work meetings and gatherings on work premises. However, if they allow some non-work meetings, then they would be liable of religious discrimination if the forbid only religion-related meetings. Nevertheless, any meeting that leads to or involves harassment or exclusion of others would not be accommodated. For instance, a women’s empowerment meeting shouldn’t forbid men to join. Likewise a prayer meeting should turn anyone away due to their beliefs (religious or otherwise).

Follow this link for more resources including a video, and this link for in-company training related to workplace inclusion and diversity. Also, company’s can demonstrate their commitment to these values by signing the Corporate Pledge on Freedom of Religion or Belief.

Corporate Pledge on Freedom of Religion or Belief

27 Aug, 2017

by Amy Andrus and Athelia Graham, 2017 ICLRS Student Fellows

Brian J. Grim, founder and president of the Religious Freedom & Business Foundation, conducted a workshop at the 2017 Religious Freedom Annual Review entitled “Using Business to Advance Religious Freedom.”

Grim discussed the Corporate Pledge on Freedom of Religion or Belief (FoRB), a new instrument medium-to-large companies can sign that publicly demonstrates a commitment to practice no preference or discrimination based on employees’ religion. Grim asserted that the Pledge sends a clear message to current and prospective employees of a given business that “you can work here without changing who you are.” According to Grim, FoRB can become “one component of a company’s overall strategy to value its employees and increase their loyalty,” which benefits employees, employers, customers, and shareholders alike.

Grim’s Religious Freedom & Business Foundation is also developing a corporate diversity index, based on a 0–100 scale, that will rate workplaces worldwide on their religious freedom policies and practices. Companies that reasonably accommodate employees’ religious beliefs will receive favorable scores in addition to other benefits, such as boosting employee morale, increasing employee retention, reducing religious-based litigation, and avoiding harm to reputation. Grim stated that statistics indicate promoting religious freedom in the workplace and elsewhere is associated with more general social values as well, such as gender equality, sustainable economic development, reduced corruption, better education, and healthier human and social development.

According to Grim, religion will become a more contested space in our society, given statistics that decreasing numbers of Americans affiliate with a particular religion, but those who affiliate with a religion do so more strongly. He shared a prediction that “the next ‘big thing’ companies will have to navigate is religion.” Therefore, Grim argued, the Pledge is timely and will serve as a preventive measure to keep religious freedom and expression issues from becoming problematic in the workplace.

The four commitments of the pledge are 1) promoting sustainable and innovative business through protecting freedom of religion or belief, 2) promoting non-discrimination and non-harassment on the basis of religion or belief, 3) promoting religious accommodations and inclusion of religious beliefs, and 4) protecting and promoting freedom of religion or belief in our communities.

The pledge as well as additional information and resources for employers and employees to implement the pledge can be found below:

Video Recording | PowerPoint Presentation | Corporate Pledge

EU Parliament – 6 Sept. – Religion, Business & Human Rights

23 Aug, 2017

Wednesday 6th September 2017 from 2-4 pm
at the European Parliament (Room A5E-2)

Freedom of Religion or Belief is close to the core of every human being. Therefore, one might argue, religious freedom is first and foremost a private issue. So, what has the business world to do with religious freedom? Well, more than you might think!

Every day, businesses around the world bring together people from different backgrounds and religions to accomplish a shared purpose – producing a product or service for others.

At the same time, societies are becoming more and more religiously diverse. The Sustainable Development Goals 2030 include several references to diversity and inclusion, and it is widely accepted that diversity will increasingly impact employees and markets. Facilitating this diversity is one component of a company’s overall strategy to value their employees and increase their loyalty for the benefit of customers and shareholders. How do such business initiatives on religious diversity and inclusion – which result in defending and promoting Freedom of Religion or Belief in the workplace – relate to Europe’s policy to improve human rights? Join us to examine all these issues.

Speakers include:
Dr Brian Grim, President, Religious Freedom & Business Foundation,
Dr Ján Figel’, Special Envoy on Freedom of Religion or Belief outside the EU,
Amarjit Singh, Ernst & Young LLP,
Michael Wakelin, University of Cambridge,
Merete Bilde , European External Action Service (tbc)
and other EU representatives

Please, join us and register using this form if you do not have access to the EU premises in Brussels!

Organizers: The European Platform against Religious Intolerance and Discrimination (EPRID) & Quê Me: Vietnam Committee on Human Rights, in collaboration with the office of Ramon Tremosa i Balcells MEP.

Charlottesville Violence Highlights High Religious Hostilities in U.S. and World

14 Aug, 2017

The deadly anti-Semitic and racist demonstrations in the Virginia city of Charlottesville over the weekend are further evidence of high social hostilities involving religion in the United States.

Religious hostilities in the U.S. are high, according to the Pew Research Center’s past two annual reports (see line chart). The events in Charlottesville follow on from last weekend’s bombing of a Minnesota mosque.

Research show that religion-related hostilities negatively impact the economy. One sign of this is that the chief executive of Merck, one of the world’s largest pharmaceutical companies, resigned on Monday from President Trump’s American Manufacturing Council. “America’s leaders must honor our fundamental values by clearly rejecting expressions of hatred, bigotry and group supremacy,” said Merck & Co., Inc., CEO Kenneth Frazier.

The religious hostilities in the U.S. are part of a long-term global trend of increasing religious restrictions and hostilities. Indeed, a new analysis of the same Pew data show that the number of people living in countries with high religious restrictions and hostilities has reached nearly six billion people, or 78.5% of the world’s total population in 2017. This represents an increase of 1.1 billion since the first year of the study (see bar chart).* 

To see all the latest data, check out the Powerpoint below.

* Pew data are for 2007 – 2015. Population figures are from 2009 and 2017, the year the reports were released.

Walls and Religious Freedom in 5 Points

7 Aug, 2017

Good fences make good neighbors, so goes a popular saying. To what extent does this backyard wisdom apply to religious freedom today?

There are those who argue that walls are necessary to kept threats out. Others argue that the best way to overcome differences is to build bridges to those who are different and invite them in.

On August 25, 2017, Brian Grim, president of the Religious Freedom & Business Foundation, will address this question in the following 5 points during The Rimini Meeting, Europe’s largest regular summer gathering of people.*

1) Walls and Religious Freedom: Government and Social

There are two main ways religious freedom is inhibited today. The first is by government laws, actions and policies. The second is by prejudices, discrimination and violence by individuals and groups in society. See the latest data.

2) Walls that Fell: Iron and Bamboo

The Berlin Wall and the Bamboo Curtain are two walls that have fallen in living memory. In the case of the Berlin Wall, barriers are gone. In the case of China’s Bamboo Curtain, new walls have emerged such as its so-called Great Fire Wall, the nationwide internet censoring program. Despite the high level of government controls in China, religion has grown in the country. How is this possible? Read the story.

3) A Wall that Endures: The DMZ

The Korean War did not end, it came to a stalemate. The Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) separates a divided Korea. South Korea is one of the world’s most religiously diverse and free countries. Religious Freedom does not exist in the North. Is there any hope for religious freedom in the North? Read an update from the DMZ.

4) Walls for Security

From Israel to the U.S. southern border, governments and societies erect walls they argue are necessary for security. What impact do these walls have on religious freedom? Research, however, clearly shows that religious freedom leads to less conflict and more peace.

5) Walls of the Human Heart

There are many parables showing how the human heart can be the biggest wall against accepting others – a fundamental characteristic of religious freedom. What such parables as the Good Samaritan and the Woman at the Well have to say about religious freedom today? Read Grim’s comments at the Vatican on the role of love in religious freedom.

*The Rimini Meeting – or to give it its official title ‘the Meeting for the Friendship Amongst Peoples’, is a huge social/political/economic/cultural conference run by the Catholic organisation Communion and Liberation.

The Rimini Meeting

Held annually since 1980, the Rimini Meeting attracts over 800,000 people over a period of a week in August to attend talks on a wide range of subjects; from the particularly religious focussed talks through to discussions on Europe, the Economy, social networks etc. It’s no exaggeration to say that whatever your interests are, you’ll probably find a talk at the Meeting which addresses it.

The Meeting always has a stellar cast of panelists – both Italian and International – with government ministers, presidents, prime-ministers all rubbing shoulders with journalists, film-makers, and academics. The event is also organised with an international audience in mind, with simultaneous translation available for most of the large panel events.

Apart from a few people who work full-time for its planning, the festival is entirely staged, managed and dismantled by about 4000 volunteers (mostly university students) coming from all over Italy and other countries of the world.

The meeting has had about 800,000 attendees per year in the last editions. Several prominent people from science, culture, society and politics give lectures at the meeting, including Nobel prize recipients, religious authorities (the Pope participated in 1982), politicians and ministers (the Italian prime minister participated a few times), international authorities (Tony Blair and others), writers, musicians (Riccardo Muti participated).

After the meeting in Rimini, other similar events have been organized: among these, the New York Encounter, an event held in New York in January every year and the Cairo Meeting, held in Cairo (Egypt).

Brian Grim to Address Largest Ever World Congress for Religious Liberty

7 Aug, 2017

Brian Grim will address the largest-ever World Congress for Religious Freedom for August 22, 2017 in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida.

Join hundreds of academics, religious freedom advocates, public officials, attorneys, and religious leaders from around the globe for the 8th World Religious Liberty Congress.

Hear internationally renowned speakers and experts, and choose from a broad range of breakout groups available in English, Spanish, Portuguese and French. (Translation in these languages will also be provided for plenary sessions.)

Engage with an issue that has become increasingly urgent within today’s geopolitical landscape: Religious Freedom and the Hope for Peaceful Co-existence.

Make valuable contacts within the international religious freedom community.

Notes from DMZ in Korea

24 Jul, 2017

by Brian J. Grim

With tensions rising due to developments in North Korea’s nuclear missile program, what more strategic place to have the 2018 Global Business & Interfaith Peace Awards than on the Korean peninsula! (See my personal trip report at bottom.)

In my recent trip to South Korea (not North), significant strides were made in logistical preparation for the Global Awards. In my meeting with Mr. Lee Hee-beom (pictured), President of the PyeongChang Organizing Committee for the 2018 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games, he reaffirmed the recommendation of Christophe De Kepper, Director General of the International Olympic Committee, to hold the awards during the time of the Paralympics. (Mr.De Kepper made that recommendation before the first Global Awards during the 2016 Rio Olympic and Paralympic Summer Games).

The Religious Freedom & Business Foundation, together with the United Nations Global Compact, and the Global Compact Network Korea led by Ambassador Suk-Bum Park (recently the Korean Counsel-General in Houston), we will honor business CEOs who advance religious freedom, interfaith understanding and peace through their companies, advocacy, partnerships and/or philanthropy.

We hold the Awards every two years at each Summer and Winter Paralympics. It is especially appropriate to hold the Awards in the context of the Paralympics given that these Games highlight human triumphs over adversity, including athletes overcoming disabilities stemming from war and conflict.

The winners will be announced at the Awards based on the assessment of a very distinguished jury of high-level experts.

The experts hail from the United Nations (H.E. Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser, UN High Representative for the Alliance of Civilizations); the European Union (H.E. Ján Figeľ, Special Envoy for promotion of freedom of religion or belief outside the EU); the NGO religious freedom community (Dr. Katrina Lantos Swett, President of the Lantos Foundation for Human Rights & Justice, and a former head of the US Commission on International Religious Freedom); the business & peace community (Per L. Saxegaard, Business CEO, and Founder and Executive Chairman of the Business for Peace Foundation, Oslo, Norway); and the religion & peace community (Dr. Sunggon Kim, Honorary President, Asian Conference of Religions for Peace).

Introducing Dr. David Yoo

Dr. Kyung-Eui (David) Yoo (유경의) is the Religious Freedom & Business Foundation’s representative in Korea, responsible for logistics and programs for the 2018 Global Business & Interfaith Peace Awards to be held March 7-8, 2018, in Seoul and PyeongChang, Korea. The Awards are held biannually in the host country of the Winter and Summer Olympics and Paralympics.

David is also president of Love in Lights, an international social enterprise devoted to providing villages lacking electricity with the appropriate technology to improve the quality of life of families around the world.

In addition to being RFBF’s coordinator the 2018 Global Business & Interfaith Peace Awards, David Yoo has been engaged in numerous athletic activities with a focus on peace including organizing an international professional football club match and an international football competition for women. He believes sportsmanship is the soil where effective peace initiatives grow. David has worked with the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) in 2008 as a member of the Special Project Bureau, FIFA Committee. In 2010, he was Secretary General of the International Peace Sports Federation, and in 2012 he served as President of the International Boxing Federation (IBF) Asia.

In the lead-up to the Global Business & Interfaith Peace Awards, David is serving as Secretary General of the 2017 Appropriate Technology & Humanitarian Aid and Development Global Expo, planned for December 1-3, 2017, in Seoul.


I was in Seoul to participate in a UNESCO working group to address the rise of nationalism and its impact on peace, cohesion and global citizenship — vital topics given the situation in North Korea today. The group was organized by UNESCO-Headquarters, the Korean National Commission for UNESCO (KNCU) & the Asia-Pacific Centre of Education for International Understanding (APCEIU).

There are strong indications that in various regions of the world populist nationalisms and economic protectionism are on the rise. According to recent reports and studies, globalization in trade is in retreat.

Sentiments of support towards nationalist parties and movements (extreme and not so extreme) are being fueled by sharp concerns about unemployment rates and rising income inequalities, as well as negative attitudes towards globalization and immigrants. These political and economic trends seem to be profoundly opposed to what UNESCO’s Global Citizenship Education has been promoting, namely an education that should aim to empower learners to assume active roles to face and resolve global challenges and to become proactive contributors to a more tolerant, inclusive, peaceful and secure world. Paradoxically, in this context, we are witnessing an unprecedented global commitment to quality education and its pivotal role in lifting the disenfranchised out of poverty and accelerating the achievement of peace and sustainable development.

UNESCO is preparing a report on the seminar with recommendations for next steps.

A highlight of my trip was a visit to the DMZ with David Yoo and another colleague from the U.S., John Dickson. It was a highlight not because of the tragedy of the ongoing division of Korea, but because it took me to the place where my father was stationed as a G.I. during the war.

The drive north east along the DMZ from Seoul is not one my Dad would have done (mostly dirt roads back then), but as I showed him the pictures upon returning, they brought back lots of memories. Aside from modernization, one of the big difference he saw in the pictures between then and now is the abundance of trees and greenery today. During the fighting, everything was stripped bare for fuel or shelter.

Having grown up with him telling stories from those days made the trip especially meaningful. Also, the picture at the bottom is from the months before the Armistice was signed. My Dad was on the G.I. baseball (really softball) teams that competed with other G.I. teams, esp. after the Armistice. He wouldn’t have known it then, but he helped bring to Korea what is now its favorite pastime – baseball (according to the Korean Times).

There is hope in South Korea that the upcoming Olympics will be an opportunity to make peace with the North. So, in a small way, through the Global Business & Interfaith Peace Awards I’m hoping to carry on my father’s legacy of sports and peace.

Religious Freedom Fosters Political Stability, Economic Development & Women’s Empowerment

22 Jul, 2017

by Brian J. Grim

Religious freedom plays an important part in flourishing societies, including fostering political stability, economic development and women’s empowerment.Religious freedom is also instrumental in achieving sustainable, inclusive and equitable economic growth, creating greater opportunities for all, reducing inequalities, raising basic standards of living, fostering equitable social development and inclusion, and promoting integrated and sustainable management of natural resources and ecosystems.

Roger Finke and my 2011 Cambridge University Press book, The Price of Freedom Denied, was a groundbreaking analysis of many of these factors. While the book’s primary focus was on how guarantees and respect for freedom of religion or belief by governments and groups in society is associated with less violence and more social and political stability, it also looked at other statistical relationships.

As shown in the chart, religious freedom is statistically correlated with well over a dozen indicators of societal well-being. One of the strongest correlations (besides with other freedoms) is with gender empowerment (.48, where 1.0 is a one-to-one correlation).

Religious freedom is also associated with lower levels of armed conflict, lower poverty, overall livability, lower income inequality, more foreign direct investment and higher earned incomes for women and men.

Religious Freedom and Economic Growth

I’ve also looked as some of the other correlations in more detail, which you can explore in the analysis and links below.

How does religious freedom align with the sustainable development goals?

Ending Poverty

Religious freedom helps tackle “small-p” poverty through “self reliance”

Poverty, some argue, can only be effectively tackled by governments enforcing top-down, big-P Poverty reduction policies and programs. But a host of religious groups haven’t gotten the memo. Innovative faith-based initiatives worldwide are tackling poverty using bottom-up, small-p poverty alleviation approaches that empower individuals to be resourceful, resilient and self-reliant.

Indeed, a central aspect of religious freedom is that it gives faith groups license to innovate and contribute to the wellbeing of individuals, communities and nations. But where religious freedom is curtailed, so are such innovations. For instance, reform-minded Saudi princess Basmah bint Saud argues, religion “should not be a shield behind which we hide from the world but a driving force that inspires us to innovate and contribute to our surroundings.”

This first installment of an ongoing series on the connection between religious freedom and sustainable development describes these small-p initiatives and concludes with a case study of how one faith group is directly targeting and reducing poverty in its congregations worldwide. Such faith-based activities are facilitated by religious freedom and directly contribute to Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 1 – Ending poverty in all its forms everywhere.

Also see the related World Economic Forum Agenda article by Brian Grim and Linda Woodhead, Can religion make economic growth more fair?

SDG5-genderEmpowering Women

Brian Grim, President, Religious Freedom & Business Foundation, and Jo-Ann Lyon, General Superintendent, Wesleyan Church, explore how religious freedom contributes directly to women’s empowerment.

Religion is often seen as a barrier to gender parity. Stories abound of gender-based violence done in the name of religion. As a result, in many cases, the issues of religion and gender parity are often dismissed as too complicated to address. There appears to be no way to unwind this rather complex multi-institution.

However, a critical factor overlooked in this conversation is religious freedom. Unless there is religious freedom, minority groups, including women, will not be at the table and their vital, productive and creative voices will not be heard. Corporations and economies will suffer if they miss out on the contribution of women. The denial of religious freedom contributes to gender inequality throughout the world.

Extremist ideologies such as ISIS represent the complete loss of religious freedom, and when respect for a diversity of religious beliefs and practices disappears, gender equality suffers.

Goal 16 - PeaceFostering Peace

A global study challenges myth of religious violence. The research found no general causal relationship between religion and conflict when looking at all of the current conflicts in the world.

The study, conducted by the Institute for Economics and Peace (IEP) in conjunction with the Religious Freedom & Business Foundation, aims to get beyond ideology to provide a more comprehensive understanding of how religion interacts with peace.

Quantitative analysis has revealed that many of the commonly made statements surrounding the relationship between peace and religion are not supported by the analysis contained in this study.

Countries with greater religious freedoms are generally more peaceful, whereas countries with less religious freedom are generally less peaceful.

The most influential factor affecting religious freedom is the government type. Full democracies are the most peaceful and have the greatest level of religious freedom, regardless of the type of religious belief or various religious characteristics.

Chinese Faith Communities Contribute Significantly to Local and National Prosperity

22 Jul, 2017

by Brian J. Grim (葛百彦教授)

Excerpt from article in The Review of Faith & International Affairs.


Freedom of religion can contribute to a rich pluralism that is itself associated with economic growth. For instance, the world’s 12 most religiously diverse countries each outpaced the world’s economic growth between 2008 and 2012, according to recent research. Indeed, the active participation of religious minorities in society often boosts economic innovation, as the history of the Industrial Revolution has shown.

In China, during the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s and 70s, religion was outlawed and many people were persecuted for their beliefs. While it is true that China continues to regulate religion more strictly than other countries, current conditions are far freer. This relative opening-up of society has resulted in the spread of religion, such that China is now home to the world’s second-largest religious population after India, according to the latest demographic estimates.

new study in the China Economic Review finds a link between Christianity, adhered to by some 5% of China’s population, and the nation’s economic growth.

Arguably, ensuring freedom for religious groups in China and elsewhere is a way to stimulate and sustain growth in the decades ahead. It’s something every country can benefit from.

The Economic Strength of China

The latest forecasts indicate that Asia’s economic powerhouse, China, will soon overtake the United States as the world’s largest economy, and by one measure, it has already done so. The IMF (2014) already estimates China’s gross domestic product (GDP) to be $17.6 trillion compared with the $17.4 trillion for the U.S., based on Purchasing Power Parity (PPP) dollars. PPP attempts to take into account the actual cost of goods and services in each country. This means the same basket of goods can be purchased more cheaply in China, giving real purchasing power benefits. So, while China’s unadjusted GDP ($10.4 trillion) has not caught up with the U.S. ($16 trillion), these new estimates reflect enormous economic growth in China. In 1980, the U.S. unadjusted GDP ($5.8 trillion) was nearly 30 times greater than China’s ($0.2 trillion), according to the IMF.

The story of China’s economic growth is not primarily one of competition with the U.S. The story is more complex. Peston (2014) argues that “the most important number in the world, for the past 30 years and next five years, is China’s growth rate” (italics mine). Following 30 years of rapid growth at 10 percent annually, China’s growth slowed to 7 percent as the global economy went through the 2008 downturn. China’s slowdown has adverse implications for all. Living standards in the West have been shored up because China made the things people buy cheaper and cheaper. According to Peston, “We should be under no illusion that the really big thing in the world which will have an impact on our living standards is what happens in China. Nothing else really matters in comparison.”

What’s beneath China’s remarkable economic growth, which has not only given fuel to global growth but also lifted more than 500 million people out of abject poverty?

In part it is due to Deng Xiaoping opening China to market mechanisms, modern technology, and management from the West. And certainly, Chinese government policies moving the country from international isolation to integration have played a significant role. But according to Zhao (2013, 2014), an expert in Chinese business and strategic development at Siemens Corporation, these explanations are insufficient given the potential drags on the economy from government inefficiency and corruption, which President Xi Jinping is struggling to contain (Li and McElveen 2014).

China’s Religion Factor

Zhao argues that Western learning and pro-growth government policies have set loose the real creators of China’s economic success—its people and the largely Confucian culture that makes them “ambitious, hardworking, thrifty, caring for their families, and relentlessly pursuing good education and success” (2014).

Moreover, it is important to get past the notion that China is an unreligious country (see Table). On the one hand, it has more religiously unaffiliated people than any other country, and it is led by a party officially committed to atheism. But on the other hand, China is now home to the world’s second largest religious population after India, according to the latest demographic estimates (Pew Research Center 2012).

Specifically, China is home to the world’s largest Buddhist population, largest folk religionist population, largest Taoist population, 7th largest Christian population, and 17th largest Muslim population (ranking between Yemen and Saudi Arabia in size) making China one of the world’s most religiously diverse nations—something which is also associated with economic growth (Grim 2014a). But the projected growth of Christianity is of particular note. A study by Purdue University’s Yang, cited recently in the Economist (2014), finds that China’s Christian population may become the world’s largest by 2030.

The growth of Christianity and the growth of China’s economy may be related, according to a new study in the China Economic Review (Wang and Lin 2014). In the study, Qunyong Wang from the Institute of Statistics and Econometrics, Nankai University, Tianjin, and Xinyu Lin from Renmin University of China, Beijing, find that Christianity boosts China’s economic growth. Specifically, they find that robust growth occurs in areas of China where Christian congregations and institutions are prevalent.

Using provincial data from 2001 to 2011 in China, Wang and Lin investigated the effect of religious beliefs on economic growth. Among the different religions analyzed, they found that Christianity has the most significant effect on economic growth.

The first among several reasons Wang and Lin site for this effect is that government-recognized Christian congregations and institutions account for 16.75 percent of all religious institutions, and such institutions are tied to economic benefit (see next paragraph). The share of Chinese institutions that are Christian is far higher than the share of the Chinese population made up of Christians affiliated with government-approved churches, which is only about 3 percent. In addition, tens of millions of Chinese belong to unregistered Protestant and Catholic Churches, and many of these also have congregational properties, clinics, and even educational institutions.

Such institutions tend to stimulate economic growth for individuals and communities. Consider, for example, a study (Cohen and Jaeger 2011) in Philadelphia led in part by Prof. Cnann (2014) of the University of Pennsylvania. They found that the 12 congregations examined contributed $52 million in annual economic value to the city of Philadelphia, for an average of $4.3 million per congregation. These benefits not only include direct spending for goods, services, and salaries, but also the safety net and networks provided to individuals, the magnet effect of attracting everything from lectures to weddings, and valuable public spaces that provide communities with centers of cultural, ethical, spiritual, and even recreational value. Such benefits likely occur in China as well, as congregational behavior is broadly similar.

Furthermore, Wang and Lin argue that Chinese Christianity’s social doctrines may also have economic impact. They suggest that Christian ethics emphasize the overall development of human beings, not just economic development. For instance, they observe that the Christian obligation to be accountable to God and their fellow believers tends to result in legal and rational investment behavior rather than illicit or wild speculation.

It may be that the impact of Christianity identified by Wang and Lin is similar to the impact of Confucianism identified by Zhao. In a public dialogue at Peking University (Beijing Forum 2010), world-renowned Confucian scholar, Prof. Tu Weimin of Harvard, and Christian theologian Jürgen Moltmann of the University of Tübingen, found commonalities between Confucianism and Christianity. For instance, Confucius’s famous quote, “Do not do to others what you don’t want to be done to you,” is almost a perfect mirror image of Jesus’s golden rule, “Do to others whatever you would have them do to you.”

Wang and Lin found some positive, though inconsistent economic effects from China’s other major faiths, including folk religion, Buddhism, Islam, and Taoism. (Confucianism was not included in their study, and is not counted as an official religion by the government.) They conclude that the implication is not for the country to favor one faith above another, but to “build a better-informed economics, and in the long run, better policy” (Wang and Lin 2014, 286).

While it is true that China continues to regulate religion more strictly than most other countries in the world, current conditions are freer and less restrictive than they were in the 1960s and 1970s. Perhaps just as China has radically deregulated its economy with successful outcomes, further deregulation of religion may be one way to help keep China’s economic miracle alive for decades to come.


Bates, M. Searle. 1945. Religious Liberty: An Inquiry. New York: International Missionary Council.

Beijing Forum. 2010. Inter-faith Dialogue between Jürgen Moltmann and Tu Weiming. Beijing: Peking University, November 8. Accessed December 15, 2014.

Cnaan, Ram. 2014. Religion and the Local economy: The Halo Effect. Gold Coast: G20 Interfaith Summit. Griffith University. November 17. Accessed December 15, 2014.

Cohen, Diane, and A. Robert Jaeger. 2011. Sacred Places At Risk Partners for Sacred Places: New Evidence On How Endangered Older Churches And Synagogues Serve Communities. Philadelphia, PA: Partners for Sacred Places. Accessed December 15, 2014.

Creighton, Sam. 2014. “China’s war on Christians: Biblical Statues Destroyed as Part of Widening Crackdown in Country’s ‘Jerusalem’.” Mail Online, May 1, 2014. Accessed December 15, 2015. 

Economist, “Religion in China: Cracks in the Atheist Edifice,” November 1, 2014.

Grim, Brian J. 2014a. “Countries with Very High Religious Diversity—Including China—Outpace World in Economic Growth.” The Weekly Number, April 21, 2014. Accessed December 15, 2014. 

Grim, Brian J. 2014b. “Corruption Higher Where Governments Restrict Religious Freedom.” The Weekly Number, May 5, 2014. Accessed December 15, 2014. 

Grim, Brian J. 2014c. “World’s Most Corrupt Countries Also Highly Restrict Religious Freedom.” The Weekly Number, December 8. Internet last accessed December 15, 2014. 

Grim, Brian J. 2014d. “Four Ways Businesses can Help Build Peace.” World Economic Forum, Blog. Accessed December 15, 2014.

Grim, Brian J., Gregory Clark, and Robert Snyder. 2014. “Is Religious Freedom Good for Business?: A Conceptual and Empirical Analysis.” Interdisciplinary Journal of Research on Religion, 10, Article 4, Internet last accessed December 15, 2014.

Grim, Brian J., and Roger Finke. 2011. The Price of Freedom Denied: Religious Persecution & Conflict in the 21st Century. New York: Cambridge University Press.

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U.S. Faith Communities Contribute Significantly to Local and National Prosperity

22 Jul, 2017

by Brian J. Grim

Religion annually contributes nearly $1.2 trillion of socio-economic value to the U.S. economy, according to a September 2016 study my daughter, Melissa Grim, J.D., and I published in the Interdisciplinary Journal of Research on Religion.

  • — That is equivalent to being the world’s 15th largest national economy, putting it ahead of about 180 other countries.
  • — It’s more than the annual revenues of the world’s top 10 tech companies, including Apple, Amazon and Google.
  • — And it’s also more than 50% larger than that of the annual global revenues of America’s 6 largest oil and gas companies.

So – you might say – that represents a lot of spiritually inspired fuel being pumped into the U.S. economy.

Religion does play a unique role in the socio-economic behaviors of Americans. For example, adults who are highly religious are significantly more likely than those who are less religious to report they did volunteer work and made donations to the poor in the past week, according to the Pew Research Center.

unique-religious-impactAs I’ll explain, the contributions of religion to American society fall into three general categories:

  • — $418 billion from religious congregations
  • — $303 billion from other religious institutions
  • — $437 billion from faith-based, faith-related or faith-inspired businesses

All these figures come from a careful analysis of survey and financial data from a wide range of national sources detailed in the research article in the Interdisciplinary Journal of Research on Religion, including:

  • — National Congregations Study
  • — Religious Congregations and Membership Study
  • — Private School Universe Survey
  • — Institution of Education Sciences
  • — Becker’s Hospital Review
  • — Revenue reports of faith-based health organizations, charities & businesses
  • — Faith-related business data by Oxford University’s Said Business School Professor Theodore Roosevelt Malloch
  • — Congregational “halo effect” analysis by University of Pennsylvania Professor Ram Cnaan
  • — World Economic Forum’s Global Agenda Council on the Role of Faith

religion-valued-at-over-one-trillionCongregations contribute $418 billion to the American economy each year.

  • — This comes from more than 344,000 congregations representing hundreds of different denominations and religions.
  • — By way of context, this number represents 26 congregations for every one Starbucks in the United States. So you’d have to pass 26 places of worship in order to find your first Starbucks brew.
  • — Unlike a coffee that has one basic service, these congregations provide 1.5 million different types of social and community service programs.

Congregations have four main avenues of socio-economic impact:

  • — The local spending and operations of congregations themselves
  • — Primary and secondary schools attached to local congregations
  • — The Magnet effect of attracting additional activity to the local community
  • — And the value of the impact all these activities have on individuals

Each year congregations spend $84 billion on their operations ranging from paying hundreds of thousands of personnel, to paying for goods and service as diverse as flowers, sounds systems, maintenance, and utilities. Almost all being spent right in the local community.

Schools attached to congregations employ 420,000 full time teachers and train 4.5 million students each year. By comparison this is the same number as the total population of Ireland or New Zealand.

Congregations are like magnets attracting economic activity ranging from weddings, as I’ve already mentioned and can give personal detail on, to lectures, congresses, and even tourism. For instance, 120,000 congregations report that people visit them to view their art and architecture. Here are just a few examples….

Finally, and most importantly, it’s what congregations do in their communities that makes the biggest socio-economic contribution. These programs impact individuals and families in a variety of important ways.

For example:

  • — Congregations provide 130,000 alcohol recovery programs such as The Saddleback Church “Celebrate Recovery” program that has helped over 27,000 individuals over the past 25 years.
  • — Congregations provide 120,000 programs to help the unemployed. For example, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has employment service centers in each of their stakes across the country (and across the world), for that matter.

Some of this work runs counter to stereotypes some may have about religious groups. For instance,

  • — Nearly 26,000 congregations are engaged in some form of active ministry to help people living with HIV-AIDS. That makes one HIV-AIDS ministry for every 46 people who are HIV positive. Just this past weekend on 9/11, under the sponsorship of Walgreen’s and the “First Ladies” (pastors’ wives) of Chicago, nearly 50 Chicago churches hosted free screening for HIV and other diseases.
  • — In fact, the data show that congregations overwhelmingly include a society-building, outward community focus, with over 320,000 congregations helping to recruit volunteers for programs outside their walls, to non-religious groups, ranging from Big Brothers and Big Sisters to the United Way and the American Red Cross.

I’d like to briefly tell you the story of how a congregational school impacts individuals who then impact the community for good. St. Benedict’s Prep readies 530 mostly poor, mostly minority boys for college and beyond. In an area where public schools are working hard just to keep young men from ending up in gangs, in jail or dead, St. Benedict’s sends 95% of its graduates to college, including a sizable number to Ivy League schools.

And graduates, such as Uriel Burwell, return to make an impact. Upon graduating from Drew University, Uriel returned to his childhood neighborhood to build 50 new affordable houses, rehabilitate more than 30 homes and attracted more than $3 million funding to build additional affordable homes and apartments in the area.

Religious Institutions: If we extend our view beyond what happens at local congregations and schools, we can find tens of thousands of other religiously-affiliated charities, health care facilities, and institutions of higher learning also doing these sorts of good works every day. These add another $303 billion of socio-economic impact to the US economy each year.

These includes:

  • — Charities such as the Knights of Columbus whose 1.5 million members respond to disasters and other human needs
  • — Health care services such as provided by the Adventist Health Systems which employ 78,000 people in 46 hospitals
  • — Institutions of higher education such as Brandeis University which is one of thousands of religiously-based colleges throughout the country
  • — I could go on for hours describing such as institutions as Islamic Relief USA, which responded to the water crisis in Flint, Michigan, by hiring 20 local staff and distributing 135,000 gallons of water during the height of the water crisis.
  • — Rather than continuing to give examples, I will now move to the third sector, business

Businesses: Religion related business add another $438 billion to the US economy each year. These include faith-based businesses, ranging from the Halal and Kosher food industries to religious media such as EWTN and the Christian Broadcast Network.

The largest group within this sector are not religious companies, per se, but are faith-inspired or religion-friendly companies. Tyson’s Foods, for example, employs a large force of chaplains for their multi-religious workforce.

Across the country there are associations of CEOs who seek to put the moral and ethical teachings of their faith to practice in their business. One such association is C12 with over 2,500 members, some of whom have business worth billions of dollars.

I’d like to end with a surprising example – an example showing how one American CEO, motivated by his faith, has started a company in Mozambique that not only stocks the shelves of America’s major food stores – from Giant and Wegmans to Whole Foods and H.E.B. – but empowers tens of thousands of people. His innovative business model is based on what he calls a “reverse tithe” – where 90% of profits go back into the local community. That means many American consumers are participating in a faith endeavor, perhaps unaware.