The causes of societal discrimination against religious minorities in christian-majority countries

Jonathan Fox, Roger Finke, Dane R. Mataic

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations
10 Downloads (Pure)


Using the Religion and State-Minorities and WVS datasets, this study examined the impact of religiosity in Christian-majority countries on societal religious discrimination (i.e., discrimination by non-state actors) against religious minorities. We found that increased levels of religious activity and commitment in a country lead to less discrimination against Muslim and Jewish religious minorities but more discrimination against Christian minorities. We offered two explanations for this complex relationship. First, when Christian-majority nations hold high levels of religiosity, other Abrahamic religions are potential allies in the fight against secularism. Second, in religiously active Christian-majority nations, the majority religion views Christian minorities (rather than Jews and Muslims) as an unwanted competitive threat because denomination switching is more common within the same religious tradition.

Original languageEnglish
Article number611
Issue number8
StatePublished - Aug 2021

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 by the authors. Licensee MDPI, Basel, Switzerland.


Funding: The Israel Science Foundation (Grant 23/14), The German-Israel Foundation (Grant 1291-119.4/2015) and the John Templeton Foundation. This research was supported by the Israel Science Foundation (Grant 23/14), the German–Israeli Foundation (Grant 1291-119.4/2015), and the John Templeton Foundation. Any opinions expressed in this study are those of the authors alone and do not necessarily reflect those of the supporters of this research. For a survey of this literature, see Wald and Calhoun-Brown (2011, pp. 350–57) and Eisenstein (2008). See also Westfall and Russell (2019). For a review of the research on the relationship religion holds with grievances, violence, terrorism, and civil wars, see Deitch (2020), Fox et al. (2019), Mishali-Ram and Fox (2021), and Zellman and Fox (2020). Christian Today, “Buddhist Extremists Attack Christian-Run Children’s Home in Sri Lanka”, by Daniel Blake, 14 August 2006; Christian Solidarity Worldwide, “Sri Lanka: Religious Freedom in the Post-Conflict Situation”, 1.1.10, available online: (accessed on 1 February 2020); Reuters, “Anti-Christian Feeling Rises in Buddhist Sri Lanka”, by Lindsay Beck, 4 February 2004; OneWorld, “Sri Lankan Buddhists Target Christians for Monk’s Death”, 23 December 2003. The Hurriyet Daily News, “Church Responsible for Bias in Greece Says Report”, 15 September 2009; In Cyprus, “Church Sticks to its Guns on Cremation”, by Elias Hazou 2013, available online:; Cyprus Today, “Cyprus Considered the Law on Cremation”, 9 June 2013, available online: (accessed on 1 February 2020). The Christian Science Monitor, “Gay Rights Could be Major Hurdle for Moldova’s EU Bid”, by Kit Gillet, 29 November 2013;, Radio Free Europe, Radio Liberty; “Gloves Come Off In Moldova’s Church-State Battle”, By Mircea Ticudean, 3 July 2013; available online: (accessed on 1 February 2020). Our emphasis on Christian-majority countries is both out of necessity and convenience. The data used for analyses are unfortunately limited in observations outside of Christian-majority countries. We discuss below that our analytical sample becomes too limited if we were to replicate our models from Christian-majority countries to other religious majority countries with an assessment of religiosity. As future international survey collections, such as the World Values Survey Wave 7 are released, our sample can include additional countries never surveyed by the WVS and with a religious majority outside of Christianity, such as the United Arab Emirates (Islam) and Mongolia (Buddhism). At the 26th Annual International Law and Religion Symposium (8 October 2019), the director for the International Center for Law and Religious Studies at Brigham Young University, Brett Scharffs, described the Catholic Church as the most powerful institution advocating for religious freedom. For a more general discussion on the topic of religious freedom, see Fox (2021). The RASM dataset categorizes Jehovah’s Witnesses and several other groups as cults which places them in a different category as other religious minorities. As all 17 country-years for Jehovah’s Witnesses are within Christian-majority countries and discrimination against them is high, it is unlikely that including them in the Christian category would change this study’s results for Christian minorities. Population variables were taken from the Religious Characteristics of States (RCS) dataset (Brown and James 2018). Although an assessment of other religious majority countries would be beneficial to our argument, there are substantially fewer non-Christian-majority countries in our sample than there are Christian-majority countries. We did, however, run additional models accounting for alternative variations and patterns. These include Muslim-majority countries, West/non-West countries, and developed/non-developed countries. Further, country governance such as the presence of an independent judiciary as well as free and open elections are routinely shown to reduce levels of state restrictions on religious minorities (Finke et al. 2017b; Finke and Mataic 2021; Mataic and Finke 2019). We included these measures in additional tests finding no significant relationship with SRD across all of our models. Christian minorities experience significant discrimination in Mexico and three of the Orthodox-majority countries, Bulgaria, Romania, and Moldova. In Moldova and Bulgaria, the discrimination is primarily against U.S. Protestant denominations that are making inroads into these countries but not Catholics. In Romania, it is against these groups as well as the Greek Catholic Church, which has been targeted for significant harassment by Romanian Orthodox priests (Fox 2020).

FundersFunder number
German–Israel Foundation
John Templeton Foundation
German-Israeli Foundation for Scientific Research and Development1291-119.4/2015
Israel Science Foundation23/14


    • Discriminaiton
    • Minorities
    • Religion


    Dive into the research topics of 'The causes of societal discrimination against religious minorities in christian-majority countries'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

    Cite this