Understand and analyse the role of religion in conflicts and peacebuilding in present-day societies, with this free online course.

39,608 enrolled on this course

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  • Duration

    6 weeks
  • Weekly study

    4 hours

Many conflicts in the world today are framed in terms of religion, but there is much discussion and confusion concerning the precise role religion plays in these conflicts. According to some, conflict and violence are inherent to religion. Others claim that religion is only the guise under which social, economic or political conflicts are fought out. The first step to solving religiously framed conflicts is understanding the role of religion in them, and that is what this free online course is about.

Our point of departure is that religion means different things in different circumstances and to different (groups of) people. Therefore, the aim of this course is to show how a religiously framed conflict can be studied in the wider cultural and political contexts of these conflicts. In the course material, we will refer to various religious, cultural and political settings. In addition, we invite you to engage in some modest research activities in your own environment and compare your own findings with those of fellow students.

In the first two weeks, we will discuss how the concepts of religion, conflict and violence have been understood historically and cross-culturally, and address the question of how they are linked. This will enable you to move beyond thinking about religion as either an unavoidable cause for conflicts or merely an excuse to mask more mundane conflicts of interest.

The third week focuses on the question of why religious conflicts have appeared to increase in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. During the fourth week, we will analyze case studies like conflicts over abortion policies in the United States and the rise of IS in the Middle East. In week five, we will shift our attention to the role of religion in peace building and reconciliation.

The course concludes with an assignment in which you will apply your newly acquired analytical tools to write a briefing paper on the role of religion in a specific conflict situation of your own choice.

After completing this course, you will have acquired the knowledge and analytical skills to develop critical insights into one of the most urgent issues of today’s world: the various roles of religion in conflicts.

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Skip to 0 minutes and 10 seconds Organisations like IS, Boko Haram, Al Qaeda, and also legal issues like ritual slaughter, circumcision, birth control. Many conflicts in the world today are framed in terms of religious conflicts. But are there different ways of looking at the relation between religion and conflict? Some people think, well, religion, that must be something bad. That must be the cause of these conflicts. In this course, you will learn to be more nuanced, to get a more nuanced understanding of the role of religion and conflict. The central focus is that religion doesn’t mean the same thing in all places, all times, and to all people. You can’t understand religion’s relationship with conflict unless you look at it in its political and cultural contexts.

Skip to 1 minute and 5 seconds This course, called religion and conflict will be taught by Doctor Marjo Buitelaar, Doctor Kim Knibbe, and myself Doctor Erin Wilson. We work for the centre for religion conflict in the public domain at the Faculty of Theology and Religious Studies at the University of Groningen. Students will gain insights into different roles that religion may play in conflicts. So they will learn to analyse conflict situations, but they will also explore the role of religion in peace building. So if you want to know more about the role of religion in present day conflicts, join us for this course.


  • Week 1

    Definitions and history

    • Welcome

      Introduction to FutureLearn, Religion and Conflict, and Week 1.

    • What is religion?

      What does the notion ´religion´ actually mean?

    • What is (violent) conflict?

      What situations count as 'conflict'? And are all conflicts violent?

    • Impact of secularisation thesis

      Learn about Secularization thesis, religion blindness and secular bias, and the impact each had on the social and political sciences

    • Conclusion Week 1

      Wrapping up Week 1 about definitions and history

  • Week 2

    The link between religion and conflict

    • Introduction to Week 2

      Learn about essentalist and constructivist approaches to religion, the influence of secularization thesis, and historcial examples of the ways religion is studied

    • Popular and scholarly understandings of the link

      Learn about poplar scholarly debates on the relation between religion and conflict, and discuss understandings in your own environment

    • Dimensions and limits of the link

      Learn about the different dimensions of the link between religion and conflict, as well as the limitations of its explanatory power in a complex and uncertain world

    • Conclusion Week 2

      Wrapping up Week 2 about the 'Relation between Religion and Conflict'

  • Week 3

    Bigger role for religion in conflict

    • Introduction to Week 3

      Why has role that religion plays in conflicts, increased over the last decades?

    • Failure of nation states

      What problems do modern nations states face, in a complex and uncertain world?

    • End of the Cold War

      The impact of the Cold War on the geopolitical landscape

    • Failure of grand secular narratives

      Learn about the instability of secular nation states in the 21th century

    • Globalisation I

      What is the impact of globalisation on religion?

    • Globalisation II

      What is the impact of globalisation on believers on a personal level?

    • Role of collective memory in conflict

      Learn about the role that collective memory, transferred by monuments, rituals or stories, play during a conflict situation

    • Conclusion Week 3

      Wrapping up Week 3 about the bigger role of religion in conflict

  • Week 4

    Case studies

    • Introduction to Week 4

      Learn how to analyse a case study involving religion and conflict

    • Legal conflict case study

      A step-by-step analyses of the Hobby Lobby case, a legal conflict in the United States about the freedom of religion

    • Violent conflict case study

      A step-by-step analyses of the violent conflict concerning Islamic State

    • Conclusion Week 4

      Wrapping up Week 4 about case studies

  • Week 5

    Looking forward: peacebuilding

    • Introduction to Week 5

      Can peace be built?

    • Role of religion in peacebuilding

      What role can religion have in peacbuilding and conflict resolution?

    • Role of collective memory

      Learn what we need to forget, in order to forgive

    • Case study: Bosnia

      Study peacebuilding and conflict resolution in the case of Bosnia

    • Case study: South Africa

      Study peacebuilding and conflict resolution in the case of South Africa

    • Conclusion Week 5

      Wrapping up Week 5 on peacebuilding

  • Week 6

    Give it your best

    • Introduction to Week 6

      What are blog posts and briefing papers?

    • Blog post

      Write a blog post on religion and peace building in South Africa.

    • Briefing paper

      Change policy one briefing paper at a time

    • Conclusion Week 6 and general conclusion

      Wrapping up Week 6 and looking back at what you have learned in this course

Learning on this course

On every step of the course you can meet other learners, share your ideas and join in with active discussions in the comments.

What will you achieve?

By the end of the course, you‘ll be able to...

  • Describe the historical development of definitions of religion
  • Identify the various factors that contribute to religiously framed conflicts
  • Assess present-day religiously framed conflicts in their historical, socio-cultural and political contexts
  • Identify core texts in the study of religion and conflict
  • Critical reading skills for analysing complex scholarly texts
  • Explain complex ideas to a general audience

Who is the course for?

This course is designed for undergraduate learners who are interested in analysing the relationship between religion and conflict from a social scientific perspective. Although anyone with an interest in the subject can join.

Who will you learn with?

Who developed the course?

University of Groningen

The University of Groningen is a research university with a global outlook, deeply rooted in Groningen, in the north of the Netherlands.

Learning on FutureLearn

Your learning, your rules

  • Courses are split into weeks, activities, and steps to help you keep track of your learning
  • Learn through a mix of bite-sized videos, long- and short-form articles, audio, and practical activities
  • Stay motivated by using the Progress page to keep track of your step completion and assessment scores

Join a global classroom

  • Experience the power of social learning, and get inspired by an international network of learners
  • Share ideas with your peers and course educators on every step of the course
  • Join the conversation by reading, @ing, liking, bookmarking, and replying to comments from others

Map your progress

  • As you work through the course, use notifications and the Progress page to guide your learning
  • Whenever you’re ready, mark each step as complete, you’re in control
  • Complete 90% of course steps and all of the assessments to earn your certificate

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