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Skip to 0 minutes and 9 seconds In the lecture about the impact of globalisation on identity, we have argued that one way people may cope with feelings of uncertainty and anxiety that living in an ever-faster changing world may cause is by constructing a strong group identity. Narratives about shared experiences are important tools in creating and maintaining group boundaries. Of particular relevance to this course is that collective memories about conflicts without groups, in particular, often play a crucial role in the construction of strong ethnic or religious identity and in creating clear boundaries between us and them. Many present-day conflicts between different ethnic or religious groups are often fueled by collective memories of previous clashes. Collective memories, therefore, play a major part in religiously framed conflicts.

Skip to 1 minute and 8 seconds In order to understand such conflicts, investigating the role of collective representations of the past in the present is, therefore, a must. In this lecture, we will reflect on how collective memories may have impact on conflicts. The longer a conflict persists, the larger the influence of collective memories on the nature of the conflict. Shared memories of conflicts are not static, but evolve over time. In prolonged conflicts, collective memories increasingly focus on the other party’s responsibility for the outbreak and continuation of the conflict and self-justification of the acts carried out by one’s own group.

Skip to 1 minute and 55 seconds Particularly in cases where conflicts have turned violent and are accompanied by the loss of lives, memories that emphasise victimisation of one’s own group and the violence of the “perpetrators” become dominant. In enduring conflicts, such memories tend to become institutionalised. They’re passed on to next generations through educational systems and other political and social-cultural channels. They can become part of the group ethos through rituals that commemorate the group’s victories and losses or monuments that honour the victims of intergroup conflicts. We are curious to know about rituals or monuments that serve these purposes in your own community of region. Therefore, at the end of this lecture, we have an assignment for you on this topic.

Skip to 2 minutes and 49 seconds Commemorative activities and objects related to collective memories about group conflicts in the past may contribute to the further development of a group identity based on a culture of violence. Also, as a conflict lingers on, various sectors within the groups involved may have obtained vested economic political or ideological interests in the continuation of the conflict. They may use their power to present it as an irreversible zero-sum situation and discourage peace building. Collective memories are very persistent. The relationship between groups that have been involved in conflicts in the past tend to remain vulnerable for a long time to come.

Skip to 3 minutes and 37 seconds Stories of personal experiences that people can easily identify with are often incorporated into collective representations of events and then become part of a group epos. Each age cohort will interpret such cross-generationally transferred stories in line with the prevailing situation and in line with their own experiences. In this way, dormant memories of past clashes may be activated again by different generations in different circumstances over different disagreements. In the process, the contents of such memories can change. This makes it all the more important for peace builders to address the collective memories that conflicting groups may have about conflicts in the past and critically assess their role in present-day relations between the groups.

Skip to 4 minutes and 34 seconds In week 5 of this course, which is dedicated to peace building, we will look into the importance of memory work in peace building.

The role of collective memories in conflicts

Continuing our thematic discussion about the interplay of Globalisation, Identity and Religion in conflicts, collective memory is another feature of this.

Collective memory plays and important role in how communities conceptualise these in-group/out-group distinctions, past wrongs and often act as a justification for further conflict with out-group members.

Up for debate

While watching you might like to consider the following:

  • What conflicts that you can think of have been or are being justified as a response to a collective memory?
  • What non-conflict examples of collective memory from your own culture, nation or family can you think of?
  • Are all collective memories framed negatively, why do you think this?

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Religion and Conflict

University of Groningen

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