State Religiosity and Civil War

Led by Ragnhild Nordås

Jan 2003 – Dec 2004

State Religiosity and Civil War:Does Religious Heterogeneity and the Role of Religion in States Influence the Risk of Intrastate Armed Conflict?

MA Thesis in Political Science, Department of Sociology and Political Science, Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU)

Supervisors: Tanja Ellingsen, NTNU; Nils Petter Gleditsch, PRIO/NTNU.
Expected completion: spring 2004

The idea that the modern world is going through a process of secularization seems increasingly erroneous. Indeed, religious factors have clearly played a role in some of the most intractable civil conflicts – e.g., Algeria, Chechnya, East Timor, Kashmir, Nigeria, Northern Ireland, Israel-Palestine, Sudan and Sri Lanka, the Balkans and the wars in Afghanistan. Although one cannot claim that any of the abovementioned conflicts are exclusively, or even predominantly, over religion per se, they all serve as examples of conflict where the part played by religion needs further examination.
Religion has also made its way into the public debate and academic writings about war, and after the events of September 11 it is probably safe to say that religion has become one of the hottest issues of the 21st Century .

Captured by the ‘spirit of our time’, this thesis investigates the impact of religion on the incidence of intrastate armed conflict. More specifically, I focus on how religious composition of the population and the specific measures states take to control religious activity. It is my proposition that, in certain circumstances, state regulation and restrictions on religion for the sake of stability can have quite the opposite effect: increasing the risk of instability and thus violence within a country.

Whereas the bulk of the literature on civil war has focused on ethnicity, I investigate religion in particular. The main contribution of this thesis, however, is its focus on the interaction of religious heterogeneity and state religiosity. More than being a result of religious differences in and of themselves, conflicts arise, I argue, when religious differences are mobilized within the context of state religiosity. I test this assumption by including religious heterogeneity, state religiosity and the interaction of these factors in my empirical modelling.

The main finding of this thesis is that neither religious heterogeneity nor state religiosity by itself predicts a high incidence of intrastate conflict. However, when states that are religiously divided pursue policies of state religiosity, this heightens the risk of conflict. Such states have a greater conflict risk than both countries that are homogenous with regard to religion and countries that have a religious cleavage but do not impose state religiosity. It is thus the combination of these two factors that best predicts intrastate conflict – or what is commonly viewed as religious civil war.

The thesis was completed in the spring of 2004.

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