Variance in Tradition by Country

The Country Similarity Index attempts to quantify how similar countries are to each other relative to other countries. The index is a statistically-based way to measure this. 20% of the index is based on culture. 20% of a country’s culture score (4% of the overall Country Similarity Index score) is allocated for a country’s traditions. For the purposes of this section, these include religious denomination and belief, as well as religious and secular holidays. Circumcision practices are also considered.

Religious Origins

The vast majority of people in the world follow a religion that originated from two major origins. Christianity, Islam, and Judaism are all monotheistic religions that essentially came from a similar tradition in the Middle East. These are known as Abrahamic religions. These religions now dominate Europe, Australia, Africa, and the Americas. Dharmic religions include both Hinduism and Buddhism. They are polytheistic and originated in India, but also spread to Southeast and East Asia. Eastern Religions like Taoism, Shintoism, and Confucianism are also prevalent in the Sinosphere. Another less widely disbursed branch of religions originate in Africa. These animistic folk religions most notably include Voodoo and are most prevalent in Benin and Togo.

The CIA Factbook and Wikipedia are the main sources of the data:


The world’s major religions include Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, and Eastern Folk religions. Christianity is dominant in Europe, Australia, the Western Hemisphere, and Southern Africa. Islam is most common in the Middle East, North Africa, Turkic countries, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Malaysia, and Indonesia. Buddhism is practiced most widely in Southeast Asia, but also in East Asia and Sri Lanka. Hinduism, despite having many adherents, only has a majority in India and Nepal, but it also has a significant following among the Indian diaspora throughout the world. This category also factors in the amount of irreligious people in a country. Czech Republic is one of the least religious countries in the world. In general, Northern Europe, Eastern Europe, and East Asia have the largest percentage of irreligious people. This is in part because many of these countries had governments controlled by the Communist Party, which discouraged religion.

The CIA Factbook and Wikipedia are the main sources of the data:

Religious Denomination

Christianity has four major branches: Catholic, Protestant, Oriental Orthodox, and Eastern Orthodox. Catholicism is common in Southern Europe. It was also spread throughout Latin America by Spain, France, and Portugal. Protestantism is common in Northern Europe, which split from Catholicism during the reformation, beginning in the 16th century. It was also spread to many British colonies. The Oriental Orthodox and Eastern Orthodox denominations broke off from the Catholic church even earlier. The Eastern Orthodox denomination is most concentrated in Eastern Europe. The Oriental Orthodox church is by far the smallest branch. It is the major denomination in only three countries: Armenia, Ethiopia, and Eritrea. Muslims are also split into several major groups including Sunnis, Shi’ites, and Ibadis. The vast majority of Muslims are Sunnis. Iran and Azerbaijan are two countries that have a majority Shi’ite population, but it is also common in Iraq and Yemen. Ibadis are only common in Oman. Buddhism also has three major schools: Mahayana, Theravada, and Vajrayana. The Mahayana school is most common in East Asia and Vietnam. The Theravada school is concentrated in Southeast Asia and Sri Lanka. The Vajrayana school is the smallest. It is most common in Tibet, Bhutan, and Mongolia.

The CIA Factbook and Wikipedia are the main sources of the data:

Religious Holidays

In former the United Kingdom and British colonies, it is quite common for there only to be two public holidays for historically religious celebrations: Christmas and Easter. Other Catholic and Protestant countries tend to have more religious public holidays. Christmas and Easter are nearly universal. Pentecost, Halloween, Assumption Day, Ascension Day, and Epiphany are also common holidays. Orthodox Christian countries often do not celebrate Christmas in December and instead celebrate it in January. Easter is also celebrated on a different date than in Catholic and Protestant countries. In East Asia, most countries do not have public holidays for religion. The exception is South Korea, which celebrates Vesak Day and Christmas. Vesak, also known as Buddha Day, is often a public holiday in Southeast Asian countries. In Muslim countries, Eid Al-Fitr and Eid Al-Adha are the most common public holidays. Most Turkic countries only have a public holiday for these two festivals. Other Muslim countries tend to have more religious public holidays. The most common ones include Mawlid, Ashura, Hijra, and Leilat al-Meiraj. is the main source of the data:

Secular Holidays

In a vast majority of countries have a public holiday on New Year’s Day and Labor Day on May 1st. There are few other secular holidays celebrated in many countries. Spain and several countries in the Western Hemisphere celebrate Columbus Day in November. Former USSR countries often have public holidays for Women’s Day and Victory Day in May. The Lunar New Year and Mid-Autumn Festival are common holidays in East Asia. Nowruz, also known as Persian New Year, is celebrated in Albania, Iran, and various Turkic countries. The Queen’s Birthday is a public holiday in several former British colonies, especially in Oceania. In Caribbean countries, Emancipation Day is a common holiday, commemorating the abolition of slavery. Midsummer’s Eve is often celebrated in countries around the Baltic Sea. Armistice Day is a public holiday in many countries that were involved in World War 1. Israel is one of the few countries that does not have any secular public holidays, perhaps because they already have many religious holidays filling their calendar. is the main source of the data:

Male Circumcision

Male circumcision is nearly universal for Muslims and Jews. Outside of these two groups it is relatively rare. There are some exceptions however. It is also a common medical procedure in the United States, Australia, South Korea, the Philippines, and many Sub-Saharan African countries. There is considerable debate in the medical community as to whether the procedure is useful.

Beyond Circumcision is the main source of the data:

Countries were categorized into the following percentages of circumcised males:
0-10, 10-30, 30-50, 50-70, 70-90, 90-100

Female Circumcision

In most countries, female circumcision is not common. Female circumcision is less related to religion than male circumcision is, but it is still most prevalent in Muslim countries, especially in the Sahel. It is not common in Algeria and Morocco, however most women are circumcised in countries as various as Indonesia, Ethiopia, and Egypt.

BBC and Forward UK are the main sources of the data:

Countries were categorized into the following percentages of circumcised females:
0-15, 15-30, 30-45, 45-60, 60-85, 85-100

Obviously there is no one clear way to determine how similar one country is to another. How would you quantify how similar one country is to another?
Please leave any thoughts in the comments section.

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