Online course

Religion and Conflict

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

Why join the course?

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 secondsOrganisations 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 secondsThis 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.

What topics will you cover?

  • Definitions and history of religion and conflict.
  • Links between religion and conflict.
  • Failure of nation states, the Cold War and globalisation.
  • Cases on religion and conflict.
  • Religion and peacebuilding.

When would you like to start?

  • Available now

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 developed the course?

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

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Find out what this course is like by previewing some of the course steps before you join: