This information provides background information for a basic understanding of the World Watch List (WWL) scoring system and of the terminology used in the Country persecution dynamics. For more and deeper analysis, read through the most up-to-date version of the methodology report, which is available here.
World Watch List background philosophy
Persecution situations are usually highly complex and it is not always clear if and to what extent pressure felt by Christians or even violence against them is directly related to their Christian faith. Basically, persecution is related to religions, ideologies or corrupted mind-sets, i.e. elementary human impulses seeking exclusive power in society. The WWL methodology considers these impulses to be the power sources behind eight different “persecution engines.”
Diagram 1: Persecution engines acting as vehicles for the different elementary human impulses seeking exclusive, absolute power
World Watch Research uses the term “Persecution engine” to describe a distinct situation which is causing Christians to be persecuted either violently on non-violently. This situation of persecution can be considered as the consequence of a societal “power dynamic.” A power dynamic normally represents a worldview that has a claim of superiority over other worldviews. That is not a problem in itself, as long as this power dynamic is coupled with a true sense of pluralism. When this is not the case, the drivers of the power dynamic will strive for absolute submission of society to their worldview. The drivers of the power dynamics are often smaller (radical) groups within the broader group of adherents of that worldview, who are not necessarily representative of that broader group, but who somehow get sufficient space to maneuver towards their aim. Examples of power dynamics are secular humanism, Islam and Communism.
In total, WWR has defined 9 persecution engines corresponding to their related background power dynamics, as illustrated in the diagram below. These persecution engines each display their own brand of hostility towards Christians and are central both for scoring the WWL questionnaires and for the analysis of the persecution of Christians and their communities.
Diagram 2: Nine Persecution engines and their corresponding societal Power dynamics
Definition of persecution
There is no international, legal definition of persecution. Situations can be defined as persecution where persons experience the denial of the rights listed in Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. However, the WWL methodology has opted for a theological rather than a sociological definition: Any hostility experienced as a result of one’s identification with Christ. This can include hostile attitudes, words and actions towards Christians. This broad definition includes (but is not limited to) restrictions, pressure, discrimination, opposition, disinformation, injustice, intimidation, mistreatment, marginalization, oppression, intolerance, infringement, violation, ostracism, hostilities, harassment, abuse, violence, ethnic cleansing and genocide.
How the WWL is compiled
Open Doors has been monitoring the worldwide persecution of Christians since the 1970s. The WWL methodology gradually evolved during the 1980s and 1990s and was comprehensively revised in 2012 by Open Doors’ research unit, World Watch Research (WWR), in order to provide greater credibility, transparency, objectivity and academic quality. Further refinements are regularly made.
The WWL methodology distinguishes two main expressions of persecution: squeeze (the pressure Christians experience in all areas of life) and smash (plain violence). While smash can be measured and tracked through the reporting of concrete incidents, squeeze is documented by discerning how Christian life and witness is placed under pressure in 5 specific spheres of life. After a series of initial research inquiries, a questionnaire consisting of 84 questions (covering the reporting period, currently October 1 – September 30) is s filled out by researchers in (and those externally involved with) countries where persecution takes place. All questions used per sphere of life and violence (Blocks 1-6) can be found in Appendix 1, including a further 16 questions (requiring a paragraph of descriptive text giving background information) which make up Block 7 of the questionnaire. The answers to Block 7 questions are not used for scoring but for country dossier analysis.
For each country being researched, violence data and detailed descriptions of pressure on Christians are supplied by:
In-country networks—who contribute as much grass-roots level information as possible.
Open Doors country researchers – who assemble input from their in-country networks, add their own expertise and fill out WWL questionnaires for the specific countries under research.
External experts – who provide information which can be used for cross-checking the filled-out country questionnaire.
WWR analysts – who combine the above research with their own monitoring results and compile a final version of the completed questionnaire.
The questions in Blocks 1 to 5 of the WWL questionnaire are not answered with a simple yes or no. A set of variables are taken into consideration:
The number of categories of Christian communities affected by persecution (max. 4 points);
The proportion of general population living in the territory affected by persecution (max. 4 points);
The intensity of persecution (max. 4 points);
The frequency of persecution (max. 4 points).
A scoring grid – see Diagram 3 below – is used to convert the descriptive questionnaire answers into numbers. A score for each Block question is calculated1 from the average of the number of points recorded for each of the four variables.
Diagram 3: WWL scoring grid
The resulting score for each question thus contributes to the overall score for pressure in the question’s relevant Block. With the overall score for each Block calculated, the levels of pressure in the corresponding ‘Spheres of life’ (e.g. Block 1 = Private life; Block 2 = Family life etc.) can be clearly presented. Different persecution engines (see list in Appendix 5), persecution drivers (see list in Appendix 6) and a distinct persecution pattern (see Appendix 7) become visible for analysis. Please note: In Block 6 of the questionnaire a different scoring system is used: The first two questions, which deal with killings of Christians and attacks on churches and other Christian buildings, are scored up to a maximum of 30 points each. The other 10 questions together share a maximum total of 30 points.
A final score is calculated for each country which is then used to determine the order of countries scoring 41 points or more (i.e. countries experiencing high, very high or extreme levels of persecution) in the annually published World Watch List . An audit is made by the International Institute for Religious Freedom (IIRF)4 to confirm that all results have been calculated in accordance with WWL methodology.
Despite their differing persecution situations, this scoring method makes a comparison between countries possible. It is possible because the methodological starting-point focusses on what Christians are experiencing in their daily life (Blocks 1-4) and what difficulties the Church is facing on a daily basis (Block 5). Violent incidents (all recorded in Block 6) can occur in any of the Spheres of life (Blocks 1-5). Thus, for instance, a country in which the main Persecution engine is Islamic oppression can be compared with a country where Organized corruption and crime is dominant. Diagram 5 below shows the Block and overall scores for the five highest ranking countries in the WWL 2021 reporting period.
The most important reason for ranking countries is to be able to present a complex reality to the broader public. However, WWL rankings only offer a valid comparison between countries scored in the same WWL reporting period; if different WWL reporting periods are being compared then only the final scores make a valid comparison possible. Both ranking and final score must always be viewed in conjunction with the corresponding WWL Full Country Dossier which individually explains the persecution situation of a country in more depth.