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Six Countries will be Central to the Next Phase of a Groundbreaking Global Survey 

One of the most comprehensive and influential surveys of religious beliefs and practices worldwide will extend its long-term studies of religious change and take a deep look at the religious landscape of six East Asian countries over the next three years. Since its public launch in 2009 as a joint venture between Pew Research Center and the John Templeton Foundation, the Pew-Templeton Global Religious Futures project has combined high quality and broad-ranging research with careful analysis to describe and forecast religious trends around the world.

Starting with its inaugural report on “Mapping the Global Muslim Population,” published in 2009, the project has released dozens of reports, including major surveys of religion in India and Latin America, the social and political attitudes of Muslims, and worldwide findings on religion’s relationship to happiness, civic engagement and health. The project’s publicly searchable data covers 234 countries and territories worldwide, and its annual reports on government and social restrictions of religion offer regular insight into demographic and political trends.

The seventh phase of the project is being made possible by $7.6 million in new funding, anchored by a $2.7 million grant from the John Templeton Foundation. In this phase researchers will survey 1,750 individuals in each of six countries — Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Vietnam, and Mongolia — gathering and coding information about religious and cultural beliefs and practices that will enable cross-comparison with others in East Asia and worldwide. 

The surveys will combine frequently used measures of religious identities with new questions geared to East Asian contexts, where individuals’ beliefs, practices, and senses of religious identity may not fit into exclusive categories such as Shinto, Buddhist, Confucian, and Daoist. In Japan, someone who identifies as a nonbeliever may perform a ritual visit to a shrine during their children’s school exams without even knowing whether the shrine is Shinto or Buddhist. In South Korea, surveys show that 35 percent of respondents say they feel “close to the Confucian way of life” even though other surveys report that less than 1% of Koreans identify as Confucians.

In addition to surveys in East Asia, this phase will include demographic analysis of how the global religious landscape has changed since 2010 and how the religious composition of the world’s migrants has shifted in recent decades. The project will continue to calculate its annual indices of government and social hostilities towards religion in nearly 200 countries, providing a look at how and where levels of hostility have changed over time, including new questions to assess the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on religious restrictions in the 25 most populous countries.

Findable, Accessible, Interoperable, Reusable

The results will be made public in reports on demographic factors in religious change and cross-national surveys of religion and will be made available on the project’s website. In the future, an interactive website will offer tools to let individual users explore the underlying data in more depth and make meaningful comparisons. The update to the project’s data sources will reflect the FAIR principles for scientific data management and stewardship — gradually making its data more easily findable, accessible, interoperable and reusable.

“East Asia offers fascinating avenues for research into a diverse range of religious attitudes and identities,” says Erik Gjesfjeld, a Program Officer in Human Sciences at the John Templeton Foundation. “This phase of the Global Religious Futures project builds on previous studies focused on Asia and will attempt to understand religion by going beyond categorical measurement of religious identities, given that people can hold multiple religious identities simultaneously. We believe this approach will provide a window onto the complex relationships among religious practices and the worldviews implicit in those practices. Overall, the project will better describe the diverse landscape of East Asian religious and spiritual life, how it has been changing, and what the future might look like.”

Still Curious?

Read more than a decade’s worth of reports and analysis at the Global Religious Futures website.