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The Religious Foundations of Political Violence

The Religious Foundations of Political Violence
30th August 2018 ICSR Team
In Features, Publications

The full text can be downloaded here.

Building on a longstanding academic partnership, TRENDS Research & Advisory and the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation (ICSR), based in the Department of War Studies at King’s College London, have launched a major new project to examine the religious foundations of political violence. This short paper is one of the project’s outcomes.

Although it is on the battlefields of Syria and Iraq that the destructive capacity of political violence driven by religious dogma is most apparent, the impact of soteriological narratives have become apparent across the world. The contours of power continue to be recast across the Arab world, which has convulsed under a febrile climate ever since the uprisings of 2011. Libya remains deeply fractured, whilst lingering resentments persist in Bahrain, and war envelopes Yemen. But it is not just the Middle East where religious narratives are driving conflict.

This phenomenon has experienced an upwards trend over the last decade. Empirical research produced by the Pew Research Centre found that “the share of countries with a high or very high level of social hostilities involving religion reached a six-year peak in 2012.”1 That assessment is based across a number of metrics including the use, or threat, of violence to create a climate of coercive religious adherence. “Religion-related terrorist violence occurred in about a fifth of countries in 2012 (20%),” the report found, “roughly the same share as in 2011 (19%) but up markedly from 2007 (9%).” Of course, terrorist violence is just one metric which has – along with others such as sectarian and ethnic violence – revealed an increasing worrying trajectory.

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