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Skip to 0 minutes and 9 seconds Most scholars on contemporary religion and conflict agree that the end of the Cold War was a defining moment for the seeming resurgence of religion in international politics. The ideological conflict between the capitalist democratic United States and the communist authoritarian Soviet Union dominated the global political landscape for much of the 20th century. The conflict commenced soon after the conclusion of World War II and lasted until the 1990s. There is some disagreement over when the Cold War actually ended. Some scholars argue that it concluded with the fall of Berlin Wall in 1989, others with the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1992.

Skip to 0 minutes and 50 seconds It is perhaps more accurate to think of it as a process with begin with the introduction of Glasnost, understood as an opening up of Soviet society to outside influences; and Perestroika, major restructuring of the Soviet economy and government by Mikhail Gorbachev; and concluded with the formal collapse of the Soviet Union in 1992. The conflict is referred to as the Cold War because actual direct violent conflict between the United States and the Soviet Union didn’t occur. Rather, the conflict was fought out in smaller battles through their allies in various parts of the world.

Skip to 1 minute and 25 seconds Key conflicts during this period included the Korean War, the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Vietnam War, and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in the late 1970s and early 1980s. The impact of this global ideological conflict, many scholars argue, was that other sources of ideological and identity conflict were subordinated to the broader conflict between capitalist democracy and communist authoritarianism, including religious identities. Once this global ideological framework no longer governs strategic decision making, other sources of identity and conflict began to reemerge. The withdrawal of the United States and Soviet Union support for many proxy regimes in Africa and the Middle East also contributed to increase state failure and the opening of power vacuums with multiple actors vying for control.

End of the Cold War

This video charts the impact of the end of the cold war on the global resurgence of religion. Even though some scholars disagree on the actual end of the cold war, they do agree that this left a vacuum that for much of the 20th century had been filled with political conflict.

This vacuum was then filled by many religions not only vying for a place in the former Soviet Union, but also as a contender in Geo-political affairs. See our ‘See also’ section for further reading.

Up for debate

While watching this video it might be valuable to reflect on some of these questions:

  • Why might Religion have become such a prominent player in people’s lives in the former Soviet Union?
  • Why do you think that Religion may have been one of the contenders in the power vacuum after the end of the Cold War?
  • When do you think that conflicts began to be seen as Religiously Motivated, or having a strong Religious element to them?

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Religion and Conflict

University of Groningen

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