Religious Distance

Differences in religion amongst countries are measured using three scales:

R1 is a 5 point scale which quantifies the difference between the dominant religions of any two countries, i and j,

R2 is a 5 point scale based on the incidence of country i’s dominant religion(s) in country j, and

R3 is a 5 point scale based on the incidence of country j‘s dominant religion(s) in country i.

The scores for each of these indicators and the resultant factor (see below concerning the confirmatory factor analysis) can be found in an attached Excel spreadsheet at the bottom of this page. This spreadsheet contains the values for 22,350 country pairs (i.e. n x n-1 for 150 countries) for three specific time periods (1995, 2005 and 2015). The precise coding for these variables is explained below. 

R1  – Distance Between Major Religions

The first religion indicator is the distance between the two closest major religions for each pair of countries. This distance is based on the ‘Family of Religions’ (attached at the bottom of the page) and is coded as follows:  

5 – if in different families of religion
4 – if in the same family, but are different religions
3 – if in the same religion, but in different divisions
2 – if in the same division, but different denominations or sects
1 – if in the same denomination or sect

R2 & R3 – Incidence of One Country’s Major Religion(s) in Other Countries

The second and third religion indicators measure the proportion of the population in one country that belong to the same religion as a significant proportion of another country. 

R2 concerns the incidence of country i’s major religion(s) in country j, and
R3 concerns the incidence of country j’s major religion(s) in country i.  The indicators are coded as follows:  

5 – if less than 1%
4 – if greater than or equal to 1% but less than 5%
3 – if greater than or equal to 5% but less than 50%
2 – if greater than or equal to 50% but less than 90%
1 – if greater than or equal to 90%  

Where a country has more than one major religion, a weighted average is calculated.  

Relig fis the single-factor solution, using principal component analysis, for R1, R2 and R3 

Relig Dist  – is Relig f  re-scaled such that the lowest possible score (1, 1, 1) equals zero (0), and the maximum possible score (5, 5, 5) equals ten (10)


A major religion is defined as any religion to which more than 20% of the population claim an affiliation. 

Within a religion which is deemed ‘major’, only the divisions which represent at least one quarter of that religion’s adherents are deemed relevant for this analysis.  E.g. Sunni Muslims must represent at least 25% of a county’s Muslims to be considered a ‘major’ group. 

Similarly, only denominations and sects which represent at least one quarter of that religion’s division are considered ‘major’.  E.g. Baptists must represent at least 25% of a country’s Protestants to be considered ‘major’ in these analyses. 

If no divisions or denominations/sects reach that threshold, the largest division and denomination/sect will be used.   

For the 150 countries used in these analyses, 11 religions,  17 corresponding divisions/rites, and 40 denominations/sects qualified as ‘major’. 

These religions have been grouped into a hierarchy of families of religions, religions, divisions of within each religions (e.g. denominations/sects). 

These categories are based on a range of sources:

Barrett, D. B., World Christian Encyclopedia, 1982;  
Whaling, F., Religion in Today’s World, 1987
Harris, I. et al, Contemporary Religions: A World Guide, 1992;
O’Brien, J. & M. Palmer, The State of Religion Atlas, 1993;
Glasse, C., The Concise Encyclopedia of Islam, 2001; and .

Excel files documenting the hierarchy of religions and the major religions for each country are attached at the bottom of this page.

Relig– Differences in Religion Factor:

The preceding three indicators have be reduced to a single factor using confirmatory factor analysis (cfa).  This factor score has been estimated using all 14,280 country pairs.  The individual factor loadings and the Cronbach alpha are reported below.

  Relig f – 3 item factor score for differences in religion    0.878
  R1 – Distance between Major Religions 0.876
  R2 – Incidence of i’s major religion in country j 0.910
  R3 – Incidence of j’s major religion in country i 0.910


The primary sources for these estimates were:

Relig Dist_all years_n22350


Major Religions by Country – 1995

Major Religions by Country – 2005

Major Religions by Country – 2015