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?
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?
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.
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.