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Skip to 0 minutes and 8 seconds Turning to religion can be of great help, both to individuals and groups, to decrease ontological insecurity, provide a basis for homesteading, and building a strong, clear identity. It supplies people with concrete temporal and spatial anchor points to develop a narrative that links the past, present, and future. It also provides a rich repertoire of stories, symbols, and practises that individuals and groups can draw on to formulate a sense of shared identity. How is this desire for strong religious identity in times of insecurity related to the religious framing of conflicts? As we discussed in the lectures of week two in this course, it is not world views or beliefs as such that create conflicts.

Skip to 1 minute and 4 seconds But the conditions in which said world views and beliefs are translated by social actors into pragmatic paradigms for action are the basis of the meanings that they attribute to the situation. The specific issue here is how the ontological insecurity and existential anxiety that results from globalisation may inform the ways actors interpret potential competitions or disputes with others in terms of a religious conflict that must be ended, even my violent means if need be. To explain why outsiders are so easily turned into enemies, the concept of the abject other can be helpful.

Skip to 1 minute and 54 seconds The theory of the abject other addresses the question, why feelings of fear, loathing, and even hatred may creep in our perceptions of others and how these feelings can grow particularly strong in times of uncertainty. According to the theory of the abject other, what makes us perceive strangers who penetrate our life worlds as threatening is that they challenge our symbolic order. We can see that they are both similar and different to us. But adequate information to assess in what ways they are familiar and in what ways they are strange is lacking. In other words, strangers are an ambiguous presence. Our frames of reference fail to help us categorise them.

Skip to 2 minutes and 51 seconds Since our familiar frames of reference and scripts for actions appear to disintegrate in ambiguous situations, we experience such circumstances as unpleasant, if not dangerous. As a result, a strong desire to reduce this ambiguity arises. Creating clear boundaries between us and the ambiguous others is an effective way to resolve anxiety and restore the symbolic order. What is particularly interesting here is that psychological research has pointed out that, regardless the criteria on the basis of which in and outgroups are constructed, people tend to regard their ingroup more highly than the outgroup. They tend to ascribe more positive qualities to their own group and more negative qualities on the outgroup. More in particular, ingroup taboos are often projected onto members of outgroups.

Skip to 3 minutes and 54 seconds We tend to ascribe to outsiders the less favourable urges and qualities that we have been taught to reject or suppress as members of our own specific ingroup. It, therefore, concerns urges and qualities that we feel ashamed about. This tendency to ascribe to others what we abhor in ourselves explains why members of other cultural groups are often associated with dirty or perverse activities and attitudes.

Skip to 4 minutes and 28 seconds What makes the feelings of repulsion and danger that we project on others even stronger is that we tend to interpret the unpleasantness and the danger that resides in the ambiqious situation itself to the “abject” qualities we ascribe to outsiders. In other words, by projecting what we have been taught to discard as abject qualities in ourselves onto strangers, we reduce ambiguity and create a clear separation between self and other. Moreover, the uncomfortable feelings that accompany ambiguity make way for more pleasant feelings of superiority of the ingroup.

Skip to 5 minutes and 15 seconds To sum up, creating boundaries between self and other by turning strangers into enemies is a way of reducing ambiguity and uncertainty. More specifically, by demonising the other– for example, by ascribing them repulsive qualities and filthy habits– by doing this, the self becomes sacralised and the other is debased. Once the other is reduced to inhumanity, any required act to divide between the deserving self and the guilty other can be justified. In this sense, the psychological process by which abject others are created sheds light on the situation in which acts of boundary making that are framed in religious conflicts can turn extremely violent.

The impact of globalisation on identity - part 2

This video follows from the previous steps, in furthering the discussion of Globalization and Identity. It addresses how the translation of certain identity concepts and understandings of religion into a Global sphere have contributed to causing conflicts.

One such key concept is the process of creating an ‘abject other’ or labeling a group as different and projecting less favourable concepts of social taboos or less cultured social practices on them. This in turn can foster a strengthened sense of cultural identity for the in-group and can contribute to on-going conflicts.

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Religion and Conflict

University of Groningen

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