Positive Indexes as a Framework for Building Religious Freedom in Central Asia 

A new approach to evaluating Religious Freedom will shift focus from negative indicators to positive metrics


Posted By
Dr. Maksym Vasin, Senior Researcher at LYN Community, Ph.D. in Law
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The Love Your Neighbor Community (LYNC) has been working in Central Asia to promote religious freedom for a decade. LYNC’s activities aim to create multi-faith and multi-sectoral spaces in Kazakhstan to discuss “covenantal pluralism” and “cross-cultural religious literacy” [1].  

On January 29, 2024, LYNC hosted a pivotal briefing on “Building Religious Freedom in Central Asia” at the Army & Navy Club in Washington, D.C. The event spotlighted the significant strides toward fostering religious freedom and social cohesion within the region.   

I was honored to present LYNC’s pioneering research in assessing religious freedom with positive indicators and indexes. This approach allows the nurturing and enhancement of religious freedom and social cohesion in Kazakhstan and can be applied to other countries, primarily in Central Asia and those where religious life is regulated by law.   

How are we used to evaluate the level of religious freedom? In most international reports, you will primarily read how repressive religious legislation is, how severely religious minorities are persecuted, the number of prisoners of conscience and banned churches, or other dramatic facts. Over the years, such a purely negative assessment has cemented some countries’ image as a violator of religious freedom. Every year, we wait with interest to see which countries will be included in the list of Countries of Particular Concern or Special Watch List again. It becomes difficult to notice positive changes in this outrush of criticism.  

Instead, LYNC offers a new metric for assessing the state of religious freedom based on positive indicators and indexes. Our metric aims to create a framework for building religious freedom even in countries that we used to consider authoritarian and unfree. Besides, we believe that our positive indexes will foster competition among countries worldwide. They can compete to improve their performance to restore the trust of worldwide religious freedom alliances, foreign investors, and other international partners.  

I will give an illustrative example of how LYNC’s positive indexes differ from a common approach. For example, the Pew Research Center uses two 10-point indexes – the Government Restrictions Index (GRI) and the Social Hostilities Index (SHI) to rate the levels of religious freedom restrictions in a country. The GRI comprises: 20 indicators of restrictions, including efforts by the government to ban particular faith communities, prohibit conversion, limit preaching, or give preferential treatment to one or more religious groups. The SHI includes 13 indicators of social hostilities, considering acts of religious hostility by private individuals, organizations, and groups in society. 

However, LYNC’s approach is not to record negative trends. Instead of this, we propose to monitor positive changes. We desire to encourage governments to take at least minor steps toward building religious freedom.  

LYNC’s positive metric includes two components: (1) Policies and Implementation Development Index and (2) Social Cohesion and Religious Pluralism Index. 

Currently, the Policies and Implementation Development Index is based on 17 positive indicators in two dimensions:  

  1. Compliance of legislation with international standards
  2. Implementation of legislation by international standards  

Each indicator consists of five points designed to demonstrate the country’s progress in building religious freedom, from minimal positive changes to the desired international standards.  

The Social Cohesion and Religious Pluralism Index aims to assess the dynamics of social cohesion and the appreciation of religious pluralism. This index also has two dimensions:  

  1. Building trusting multi-faith and church-state relations to achieve religious pluralism
  2. Increasing cross-cultural religious literacy

The index is based on 14 quantitative indicators and eight qualitative indicators. For data collection in Kazakhstan, LYNC will cooperate with a regional network of religious freedom roundtables created on the model of the IRF Secretariat, based in Washington, D.C., to interview local religious leaders and government officials.  

LYNC continues to develop this system of indexes and positive indicators to measure the positive tendencies in religious freedom and pluralism. Kazakhstan is a pilot country, so we consider both the cultural characteristics of Central Asia and the geopolitical context of post-Soviet countries. Throughout 2024, we plan to consult about this research with our partners in Kazakhstan and experts in the United States, such as the U.S. Department of State, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, and others. This will allow us to improve our indexes to ensure a valid and accurate reflection of the state of religious freedom and social cohesion in Kazakhstan.  

The LYNC’s innovative research will benefit not only Kazakhstan and Central Asia, but also international religious freedom. I believe it will be a game-changing initiative in assessing religious freedom in different countries, encouraging governments to make positive changes. Our positive indexes will create a strategic framework for building religious freedom and motivate countries to improve their performance, knowing what steps may be next. 

We still have a lot of work to do to implement this pioneering approach, so I encourage all partners and stakeholders to support the LYNC project. We are open to communication and partnership to develop this initiative. 



Dr. Maksym Vasin, a seasoned religious freedom expert, joined LYNC in September 2023, bringing over 15 years of experience as executive director of the Ukrainian Institute for Religious Freedom. Specializing in legislation, multi-faith dialogue, and church-state cooperation, he trained on human rights and religious freedom for organizations like the OSCE and the UN. With a doctorate in law and participation in Oxford programs, his research focuses on global religious freedom promotion, including peace-building roles of religious organizations and the impact of conflicts on faith-based communities, notably in Ukraine.

1 Wade Kusack. In Search of a Welcoming Environment for Religions in the “New Kazakhstan.” The Review of Faith & International Affairs, 2023: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/15570274.2023.2261709 

Join in on the conversation

09 Feb, 2024
Thank you for this article. It completely resonates with my thoughts. Now it's time to change the whole paradigm. If we want to promote FoRB in Central Asian region, we should take into account the geopolitical situation and the Soviet past of this region. As history shows, dictating manner of international actors would not help to make the FoRB better in Kazakhstan, for example. They need to approach to this problem in a context-based manner, truly understanding the reasons behind Kazakhstan's unwillingness to change its policies. Only after this realization, it is possible to transform the situation.