'Ours is the Way of God': Religion, Identity, and Intergroup Conflict

Journal article

Seul, Jeffrey R. (1999) 'Ours is the Way of God': Religion, Identity, and Intergroup Conflict, Journal of Peace Research 36 (5): 553–569.

According to social identity theory, identity competition plays a central role in the inception and escalation of intergroup conflict, even when economic and political factors also are at play. Individual and group identity competition is considered a byproduct of individuals' efforts to satisfy basic human needs, including various psychological needs. Religions often serve these psychological needs more comprehensively and potently than other repositories of cultural meaning that contribute to the construction and maintenance of individual and group identities. Religions frequently supply cosmologies, moral frameworks, institutions, rituals, traditions, and other identity-supporting content that answers to individuals' needs for psychological stability in the form of a predictable world, a sense of belonging, self-esteem, and even self-actualization. The peculiar ability of religion to serve the human identity impulse thus may partially explain why intergroup conflict so frequently occurs along religious fault lines.

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