Understanding Religious Identity and the Causes of Religious Violence

Topics: Religion, Faith, Religious pluralism Pages: 25 (7255 words) Published: April 10, 2011
Saira Yamin: Understanding Religious Identity and the Causes of Religious Violence Peace Prints: South Asian Journal of Peacebuilding, Vol. 1, No. 1: Spring 2008

Understanding Religious Identity and the Causes of Religious Violence Saira Yamin

Abstract The paper examines various scholarly works that explore the causes of religious violence. It addresses questions such as: what elements of religion contribute to violence and protracted conflict; how does religious identity motivate groups engaged in aggressive behavior; other than threat to and preservation of religious identity, what might be significant underlying causes of the conflict; and, what parallels could be drawn with ethnic conflict in the construction of religious identity and group organization? In conclusion, the paper proposes an analytical framework for designing an intervention in religious conflicts. Author Profile Ms. Saira Yamin is pursuing a Ph.D. in Conflict Analysis and Resolution at George Mason University, Virginia. She is also a Faculty Member at the Department of Defense and Strategic Studies, Quaid-e-Azam University, Islamabad. Her publications include a book titled Stability Through Economic Cooperation In A Nuclear Environment, which was granted a research award by the Regional Center for Strategic Studies, Colombo. Yamin has published widely in various international journals and newspapers.

Available from http://www.wiscomp.org/peaceprints.htm

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Saira Yamin: Understanding Religious Identity and the Causes of Religious Violence Peace Prints: South Asian Journal of Peacebuilding, Vol. 1, No. 1: Spring 2008

Understanding Religious Identity and the Causes of Religious Violence Saira Yamin

“Le coeur a ses raisons que la raison ne connaît point." ("The heart has its reasons that reason does not know at all.") Les Pensées, (Thoughts) Blaise Pascal, 1665 The Problem Empirical research reveals that “about two thirds of contemporary wars turn on issues of religious, ethnic, or national identity. Less than 10 percent begin as interstate conflicts.”1 What causes conflict between religious groups and why does the preservation of religious identity lead to violent conflict? The post 9/11 state of world affairs has revived an interest in scholarly research in investigating the causes of “religious” violence. Religiously motivated violence is not a recent phenomenon, however the post 9/11 rhetoric, much of which seems to promote theories such as Huntington’s Clash of Civilizations, is a compelling enough reason to explore whether the world order is really in the process of being redefined by major civilizations and religious groups. Amongst the many possibilities of confrontations that Huntington’s thesis examines, foremost are the existing frictions and hostilities between Islam and the West, the latter, to a certain extent, being an allusion to Christian culture and values.2 Huntington maintains that trends in global conflict after the end of the Cold War are increasingly appearing at the civilizational cleavages illustrated in Figure 1. Examples of wars such as those following the break up of Yugoslavia, in Chechnya, and between India and Pakistan have been cited to substantiate his thesis. The notion that religion plays a critical role in the mobilization of ethnic conflicts is also being actively investigated by social scientists. In predominantly Muslim Chechnya, which has been experiencing high and low intensity warfare since 1991, the roots of the conflict between the Muslims and the Russian authorities can be traced back to the mid-eighteenth century. Likewise, religious cleavages between the Catholics, the Serb Orthodox and Muslims of former Yugoslavia have been cited as a distinctive factor in the disintegration of the country. The case of India’s partition at the time of liberation from the British Raj in 1947 was also premised on the struggle for identity by the Muslims of British

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