Israel is the only country with Jewish symbols on its national flag, but it is one of many flags populated with religious imagery, according to a new study by the Pew Research Center.
The Israeli flag includes the Star of David along with a white and blue striped background representing a traditional Jewish prayer shawl. The UK’s “Union Jack,” on the other hand, includes the crosses of St. George, St. Patrick and St. Andrew.
According to the study, a third of the world’s 196 countries feature religious symbols.
Christian markings appear on 31 national flags from Europe, Asia and the Pacific, and the Americas, making up about half of the world’s flags with religious symbols.
Some Commonwealth countries continue to incorporate the Union Jack as a part of their own flags, including Fiji, Tuvalu, Australia, and New Zealand.
Spain, Greece, Norway, and the Dominican Republic are among the other countries with Christian national symbols.
About a third of the world’s flags with religious symbols are of Islamic inspiration, and Islamic markings are featured on the flags of 21 countries in sub-Saharan Africa, the Asia-Pacific region and the Middle East and North Africa. Many of these present an Islamic star and crescent on their national flag.
Not all similar imagery is necessarily religious. Singapore, for instance, has a crescent and stars on its flag, but they do not have religious meaning. According to the government of Singapore, the crescent moon “represents a young nation on the ascendant, and the five stars depict Singapore’s ideals of democracy, peace, progress, justice and equality.”
Buddhist or Hindu religious symbols figure on five national flags, while six other countries have imagery associated with other religions on their flags. The national flags of Uruguay and Argentina, for instance, both feature shining golden suns thought to represent the Incan sun god Inti.
The American flag does not feature religious symbols, but those of a number of states do. Some, such as Alabama and Florida, contain adaptations of the St. Andrew’s cross, while the New Mexican state flag depicts a red sun on a yellow background, representing the spiritual history of the Zia Pueblo.
Thomas D. Williams can be followed on Twitter @tdwilliamsrome