Skip to 0 minutes and 1 secondIn this course we study the link between religion and conflicts by analysing the framing of conflicts in religious terms. Our point of departure is the view that social actors do not put a religious norm or model into practise independent of the immediate context of action. It is not worldviews or beliefs as such that turn conflicts into religious conflicts, but it is the conditions in which such worldviews and beliefs are translated by social actors into pragmatic paradigms for action on the basis of the meanings that actors attribute to their situation. This does not mean, however, that we assume that the religious framing of a conflict is simply a disguise for struggle over economic, political, or social interests.

Skip to 1 minute and 0 secondsThe role of religion in conflicts should not be explained away. To the contrary, if people define their situations as real, then these situations are real in their consequences. While the link between religion and conflicts is always contingent, once one of the parties involved interprets a conflict situation in religious terms, we had better take the religious meanings they attribute to the dispute seriously if we want to understand their motivations and actions. This means that explanations for the link between religion and conflicts cannot be universal, but can only be formulated for specific instances of religious conflicts. For each case study this involves a multi-dimensional analysis.

Skip to 1 minute and 58 secondsOne dimension concerns an investigation into the historical developments of the ways in which political, social, economic circumstances have given rise to a situation of conflict between different groups. Another dimension of analysis concerns an investigation into the process through which these circumstances have come to be interpreted in religious terms by at least one of the parties involved. Like all people, when interpreting a conflict situation religious groups have several practical paradigms at their disposal to select from. The task of scholars of religion is ask how a conflict situation came to be interrupted as an unavoidable religious conflict. And what other available options have been discarded or integrated into a religious framing of the conflict situation.

Skip to 2 minutes and 59 secondsWhat contextual factors have contributed to the framing of a particular situation as a religious conflict? This question itself has several dimensions. How has a situation come to be defined as a conflict between different religious groups? Which religious interests are perceived to be at stake in the conflict? Which selection of symbols, rituals, and stories is made from a wider religious repertoire to serve as interpretive tools to attribute religious meanings to the conflict? What is the interplay between these interpretive tools and the ones based on other practical paradigms? How does the specific selection of symbols, rituals, and stories from a religious repertoire function as tools to prompt specific actions?

Skip to 3 minutes and 56 secondsAlthough the answers to these questions will be different for different instances of religious conflict, several factors can be identified that offer some general explanations for the worldwide trends of religious radicalisation and a significant increase of religious conflicts. My colleague Erin Wilson will discuss some of these factors in the next few lectures.

The framing of conflict in religious terms

Explanations for the link between religion and conflict are specific to each specific instance of religious conflict. In this video the influence of interpretation and context on the role of religion in conflict is discussed.


Up for debate

Some questions you might want to consider:

  • Why do you think that context may be overlooked in conflicts?
  • Why do you think there is a tendency to blame religion as the sole cause of conflict? You may want to reflect on the definitions from the previous week.
  • Why might symbols be important in mobilising and responding to conflict?

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Religion and Conflict

University of Groningen

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