The World Watch List methodology has defined the ‘five spheres concept’ to track the expressions of persecution in different areas of life. These five spheres express the squeeze (pressure) in each sphere of life. A sixth building block expresses the smash (plain violence), which potentially cuts across all five spheres of life. To determine the severity of pressure in each of the five areas, World Watch List researchers submit a series of questions to contacts around the world.

Personal time with the Bible, China, 2005

Private life

Private life is defined as the inner life of a Christian, the forum internum, the freedom of thought and conscience.

The guiding WWL question asked is: “How free has a Christian been to relate to God one-on-one in his/her own space?” This is not limited to the private home but can also apply to prison, for example, or a walk in the woods. This is irrespective of who the agent challenging this freedom might be.

The questions deal with conversion, private worship, possession of religious material, freedom of expression, e.g. in spoken word and writing, through images and symbols, access to information and media, privately sharing a belief with others, freedom of private assembly, freedom of private communication, and freedom of movement.

A Bangladeshi family in 2005.

Family life

Family life is defined as pertaining to the nuclear and extended family of a Christian.

The guiding WWL question asked is: “How free has a Christian been to live his/her Christian convictions within the circle of the family, and how free have Christian families been to conduct their family life in a Christian way?” It also asks: “How much have Christians been discriminated against, harassed or in any other way persecuted by their own families?”

The questions deal with the forced allocation of religious identity, registration of civil affairs, weddings, baptisms, burials, adoptions, child rearing, indoctrination of children, harassment of or discrimination against children, separation of families, isolation of converts, pressure to divorce, custody of children, and inheritance rights.

A building project in South Sudan

Community life

Community life is defined as the interaction of Christians with their respective local communities beyond the family level and below any supra-local level. This community life includes the workplace, business, health care, education, and local public life and civic order. A mobile person can have several local communities regarding different aspects of community life, e.g. origin or residence in one place and education or work in another.

The guiding WWL question asked is: “How free have Christians been individually and collectively to live their Christian convictions within the local community (beyond church life), and how much pressure has the community put on Christians by acts of discrimination, harassment or any other form of persecution?”

The questions deal with threat or obstruction to daily life, dress codes, monitoring of Christians, abduction and forced marriage, access to community resources, community ceremonies, participation in communal institutions and forums, pressure to renounce faith, access to health care, access to and disadvantages in education, discrimination in employment and obstruction in business, policing issues (fines, interrogations, forced reporting), and other ways of marginalization of Christians.

Protestors after a church is burned in Cairo, 2011.

National life

National life is defined as the interaction between Christians and the nation they live in. This includes rights and laws, the justice system, national public administration and public life.

The guiding WWL question asked is: “How free have Christians been individually and collectively to live their Christian convictions beyond their local community, and how much pressure has the legal system put on Christians, and how much pressure have agents of supra-local national life put on Christians by acts of misinformation, discrimination, harassment or any other form of persecution?”

The questions deal with national ideology, constitution, registration of religion in IDs, conscientious objection, travel within a country and abroad, discrimination by authorities, barring from public office or professional progress, policy interference with businesses, expression of opinion in public, Christian civil society organizations and political parties, reporting about religious or social conflicts, smear campaigns, toleration of public disrespect, religious symbols, blasphemy accusations, impunity, equal treatment in court, monitoring of trials.

The Moussa Church community in Upper Egypt resumes services two weeks after their church was attacked, 2013.

Church life

Church life is defined as the collective exercise by Christians of freedom of thought and conscience, particularly as regards uniting with fellow Christians in worship, life, service and public expression of their faith without undue interference. It also pertains to properties held or used by Christians for these purposes.

The guiding WWL question asked is: “How have restrictions, discrimination, harassment or other forms of persecution infringed upon these rights and this collective life of Christian churches, organizations and institutions?”

The questions deal with the hindrance in gathering of Christians, registration of churches, monitoring or closing of unregistered churches, church building and renovation, expropriation and non-return, disturbance or disruption of services, prevention of activities inside or outside churches or among youth, acceptance of converts, monitoring of preaching and published materials, election and training of leaders, harassment of leaders or their families, Bibles and other religious materials and their printing, importing, selling or dissemination, and confiscation, broadcasting and Internet use, interference with ethical convictions (regarding family and marriage) and personnel policy of Christian institutions, Christian civil society organizations and social activities, foreign Christian workers, and the denouncing of government persecution.

Personal belongings of the victims of a deadly bomb blast at All Saints Anglian Church in Peshawar, Pakistan, in September 2013.

Plain violence

Plain violence is defined as the deprivation of physical freedom or as serious bodily harm to Christians or serious damage to their property.

The guiding WWL question asked is: “How many cases of such violence have there been?”

The questions deal with the killing of Christians, serious damage to communal Christian buildings, detention without trial, jailing, abduction, rape and sexual harassment, forced marriage, other physical or mental harm, serious damage to the homes and businesses of Christians, and eviction and flight.


Source: World Watch List unit, Open Doors International