Religious Diversity Worldwide

religious diversity by pew forum

Most religious diverse nations are found in South East Asia

It won’t come as any surprise that Vatican City is the least religiously diverse ‘country’ in the world. More than 99% of inhabitants are Christian.

What might be more surprising is that of the 12 most religiously diverse countries in the world, six of them are in the Asia-Pacific region, five are in sub-Saharan Africa and one is in Latin America.

Pew Research analyzed data on religious affiliation within 232 countries and territories, organized into six major regions: Asia and the Pacific, Europe, Latin America and the Caribbean, the Middle East and North Africa, North America and sub-Saharan Africa. Eight religious categories were taken into account, including Buddhism, Christianity, folk or traditional religions, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, other religions considered as a group, and the religiously unaffiliated.

Pew measured religious diversity as the percentage of a country’s population that identifies with each religious group. The closer that country is to an equal division among groups, the higher its religious diversity index.

The United States is considered to have ‘moderate’ religious diversity, as roughly 78% of Americans identify as Christian. The second largest group in the U.S. identifies as ‘unaffiliated.’

This study, however, takes a relatively straightforward approach to religious diversity. It looks at the percentage of each country’s population that belongs to eight major religious groups, as of 2010.2 The closer a country comes to having equal shares of the eight groups, the higher its score on a 10-point Religious Diversity Index.

The choice of which religious groups to include in this study stems from the original research that was done for “The Global Religious Landscape” report. That study was based on a country-by-country analysis of data from more than 2,500 national censuses, large-scale surveys and official population registers that were collected, evaluated and standardized by Pew Research staff and, in the case of European countries, by researchers at the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) in Laxenburg, Austria.

In order to have data that were comparable across many countries, the study focused on five widely recognized world religions – Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam and Judaism – that collectively account for roughly three-quarters of the world’s population. The remainder of the global population was consolidated into three additional groups: the religiously unaffiliated (those who say they are atheists, agnostics or nothing in particular); adherents of folk or traditional religions (including members of African traditional religions, Chinese folk religions, Native American religions and Australian aboriginal religions); and adherents of other religions (such as the Baha’i faith, Jainism, Shintoism, Sikhism, Taoism, Tenrikyo, Wicca and Zoroastrianism).

Some efforts to measure religious diversity have attempted to take into account subgroups of the major religious traditions.3 The main challenge in looking at religious diversity in this way is the serious data limitations for subgroups within religions other than Christianity. For most countries, Pew Research was able to generate estimates for four main types of Christians – Catholics, Protestants, Orthodox and the remainder as an “other” category.4 For some countries with large Muslim populations, Pew Research has estimated the size of two main subgroups – Sunnis and Shias – but these are only approximations, expressed in ranges.5 Beyond Christians and Muslims, cross-national demographic data on religious subgroups are generally not available. For this reason, the study is limited to the eight major categories described above.

Sources: Huffington Post and Pew Forum