International Institute for Religious Freedom

Clarification Regarding the Relationship between IIRF and the World Watch List of Open Doors



In the increasingly crowded landscape of religious freedom research, the International Institute for Religious Freedom (IIRF) stands as a reliable contributor, supporting collaborations with key initiatives like the Open Doors World Watch List (WWL) and IIRF’s new project, the Global Religious Freedom Index (GRFI). Let’s delve into the synergies, methodologies, and distinctions that define these endeavors.


Question: What is the relationship between the IIRF and the Open Doors World Watch List?

Answer: The International Institute for Religious Freedom (IIRF) is one of the oldest think tanks dedicated to the academic study and promotion of religious freedom. As part of its mission, it has always supported the research undertaken by World Watch Research (WWR), the research department of Open Doors, by providing methodological guidance, sharing expertise and networks, and taking its findings to academic and policy audiences.

In particular, the IIRF played an important role in the methodological overhaul process of the World Watch List (WWL) of WWR in 2012 and 2013. As a methodological consultant, the IIRF worked closely with WWR staff to review the WWL methodology to align it with academic standards. Even though the final decisions on methodological changes were always the responsibility of WWR, they always rested on a broad consensus, and were enriched by intense conversations between both entities.

After the methodological overhaul, the IIRF has been responsible for the annual audit of the World Watch List. Engaging renowned scholars specializing in religious freedom research, it critically examines the academic quality of the WWL. It has systematically confirmed that the product complies with academic standards and even goes beyond them. As part of its audit function, the IIRF has always been committed to publicly defending the WWL, in particular in academic, media and policy circles. When necessary, the IIRF provides WWR staff with helpful suggestions to improve the quality of its product.

Whilst this does not compromise the objectivity of the IIRF with regard to the annual audit of the WWL because it involves independent scholars belonging to renowned universities, the staff of the IIRF and OD share close connections. The current International Director of the IIRF, Dr. Dennis P. Petri, used to work as a persecution analyst for World Watch Research and has later had leadership roles in field operations. Staff of WWR are also published regularly in the IIRF’s flagship publication, the International Journal for Religious Freedom. WWR data is frequently used in the IIRF’s advocacy interventions.


Question: How does the Global Religious Freedom Index (GRFI) announced by Global Christian Relief differ from the Open Doors World Watch List?

Answer: With funding from Global Christian Relief, the IIRF is currently developing another instrument to measure religious freedom, the Global Religious Freedom Index (GRFI). This instrument is totally different from the WWL, both in terms of methodology and focus. To be specific:

  • Whilst the WWL is expert opinion based, curating the opinions of different streams of experts, the GRFI is a sociometric tool based on the coding of narrative sources.
  • Where the WWL specializes in Christians and the Church, the GRFI looks at all religious groups.
  • The WWL is based on heavy fieldwork thanks to the broad field presence of Open Doors, and therefore goes much more in-depth than the GRFI that is based on secondary, public sources and mainly provides a eagle’s view of the religious freedom landscape.
  • The GRFI is not a new instrument. It will update data between 2014 and 2022 from the Religion and State Project at Bar-Ilan University (Israel) that originally started in 1990. The process of updating is likely going to take three years. The plan is for a regional report to be released every 6 months until all the data is available for a global report to be delivered.

It is very important for the IIRF to stress there is no competition but that both tools are complementary and mutually enriching. They can also be used as sources for each other, enriching the religious freedom research space with different angles and approaches. The IIRF remains committed to using and defending the WWL.