Christopher W. Hale
Historically, the Catholic Church in Latin America has supported conservative interests. It legitimized Spanish colonial rule and sided with traditionalist elites following Latin American independence. However, beginning in the mid-20th century, some within the Church engaged with social causes, and a new progressive theology inspired many priests and bishops to advocate politically on behalf of the poor. The resultant movement helped topple dictatorships, facilitated transitions to democracy, and developed as a result of three factors. First, liberation theology emboldened clergy to support the political causes of the poor and created an ideological frame encouraging Catholic laity to organize for social change. Furthermore, competition from new Protestant religions provided Catholic leadership with an incentive to support secular political movements and created an opportunity for political engagement through the Catholic Church. Finally, decentralization within the Church encouraged Catholic adherents to engage and develop organizational capacities at the grass-roots. Taken together, scholarly explanations emphasizing framing, opportunity, and resource mobilization create a compelling account of the development of progressive Catholic activism.
Less sustained theoretical attention has been given to assessing the dynamics of conservative Latin American Catholic advocacy. The Church consistently opposes abortion, divorce, the use of contraceptives, and gay marriage. Moreover, although the Catholic Church has enabled many women’s political movements, it suppresses efforts at liberalizing reproductive rights. Future research on Catholic advocacy in Latin America should identify additional pathways through which framing, opportunity, and resource mobilization influence conservative Catholic advocacy in the region. Additionally, the Church’s relationship with environmental issues is understudied. Finally, Latin America offers untapped potential to examine the complicated relationship between ethnicity, religion, and collective action.
Yahia H. Zoubir
The Islamist movement in Algeria and Islamist ideas (politicized/revivalist, Islamic reformism) date back to the colonial period. While Radical Islamist Groups (RIGs) and Salafi Jihadist Groups (SJGs) have demonstrated a high level of violence more noticeably in the 1990s, following the return of the so-called Afghans, who had trained and fought Soviet troops in Afghanistan, radical Islamism has emerged at different periods in Algeria’s history. In the 1960s, RIGs sought to intimidate Westernized youth and women. In the 1970s and 1980s, SJGs almost destroyed the state through a ferocious armed insurgency. The major SJGs in Algeria, al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and Jund-el-Khalifa, are part of the transnational extremist organizations such as al-Qaeda and, since 2014, the so-called Islamic State (IS), respectively.
Political Islam in Algeria took different forms, from quietist groups to peaceful Muslim Brothers to sanguinary armed groups, such as the Armed Islamic Groups (GIAs) of the 1990s or the al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, which succeed the Salafi Group for Preaching and CombatSGPC. Whatever form the movement has taken more recently, one cannot understand Islamism without scrutinizing Algeria’s colonial history and the enduring crisis of identity it has engendered among Algerian Muslims. Soon after the colonial invasion, resistance to France was often expressed in Islamic terms, such as jihad, or holy war, against infidels. During the war of national liberation [1954–1962], the nationalist movement referred to the fighters as mujahideen (holy warriors). Algerian identity itself is often expressed in relation to Islam, which dominates social and cultural personality. Islam and Islamism have served as means of opposition to the successive incumbent regimes since independence. Indeed, opposition to the socialism of the 1960s and 1970s emanated from religious figures. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, the Islamic Salvation Front ak.a., FIS), a mass party, sought to seize power to establish a state in which Shari’a Law could be implemented. The cancellation of the electoral process resulted in bloody civil strife that pitted the security forces against SJGs of different denominations. The civil strife claimed the lives of perhaps 100,000 people, mostly civilians. However, Algerian Islamism also has elected representatives, with legal Islamist parties represented in the government. Islamism, or Islamist ideas, present during the anticolonial struggle are interwoven with the radical jihadi groups that exist in the region and country today. Algeria went through an almost decade-long, atrocious period of civil strife that abated by the end of the 1990s. The ensuing 2005 National Charter on Peace and Reconciliations provided a political framework for stability in the country.
Emil Aslan Souleimanov
Reflecting on the recent rise of Salafi groups and their impact on civil war, the academic literature on Salafi radicalization, mobilization, and recruitment has burgeoned in the recent decade and a half. Yet little consensus exists as to the relative power of three major causes: grievances, ideology, and radical milieu and support structures as causes of violent radicalization. Even less is known about how jihadist foreign fighters affect civil wars in terms of conflict intensity and resolution. In both fields, key debates are identified in the recent scholarship, explain the major shortcomings and gaps, and suggest avenues of future research. For instance, it is important—and hardly avoidable—that epistemological and ontological obstacles lay in the way of establishing the causes of (violent) radicalization, because the processes relating to the change of human perception and behavior are extremely difficult to trace. Another point is the frequent—deliberate or unintended—distortion of the testimonies of former combatants, not least Salafi-jihadists, which makes the task of establishing the causes of (violent) radicalization and recruitment harder. Identifying avenues of further research, there is a lack of quality first-hand data in the current research on Salafi-inspired radicalization, mobilization, and recruitment. More methodological plurality—particularly in-depth ethnographic studies and quantitative work—is needed, as well as more research on virtual social networks and non-verbal contents.
Out of the 111 armed conflicts that took place worldwide between 1989 and 2000, only seven were interstate conflicts. The others were intrastate in nature. As a result, the last decade and a half witnessed a boom in the publication of works on civil wars. While the percentage of civil wars involving religion increased from 21% to 43% between the 1960s and 1990s, scholars have been rather slow to integrate the study of religion into the overall framework of conflict in general, and of civil wars in particular. Operating under the impact of the secularization thesis and treating religion as an aspect of ethnicity, the literature on civil wars has long embraced ethnonationalism as its subject matter. Yet, since the early 2000s there has been a rapid increase in the number of works focusing on religion and civil wars. While one branch treats religion as a trigger for and an exacerbating factor in conflict, another focuses on religion as a conflict resolution tool.
Turkey is an apt case to ponder the latter as several governments have deployed religion (namely, Sunni Islam) as a tool to suppress ethnic divisions for years. During the Justice and Development Party (AKP) rule, religion has gained even more visibility as a conflict resolution tool in the 33-year-long armed ethnic conflict between the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK). Yet, the role of religion in Turkey’s Kurdish conflict still remains understudied. Increased attention to this topic could deliver important insights not only for those who conduct research on the Kurdish conflict in Turkey specifically, but also for those who explore the role of religion in civil wars more generally.
Lyn S. Graybill
The civil war was a turning point in the life of the faith community in Sierra Leone, which previously had been politically complacent. With the establishment of the Inter-Religious Council (IRC), Christian and Muslim religious leaders joined together with a unified voice based on shared values to first, mediate the conflict and second, promote reconciliation through the establishment of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC).
The efficacy of faith-based initiatives is attributed to many factors: the vast numbers of religious adherents, a far-reaching infrastructure of churches and mosques, close partnerships with international organizations, untainted reputation of clerics, and sacred texts that promote peace. Reconciliation is a dominant theme in both Christianity and Islam, giving religious leaders a powerful tool in bringing warring sides who share these faith commitments to the peace table, and, also, postconflict in encouraging restorative mechanisms, such as truth commissions that aim at reconciliation among enemies, over more retributive ones, such as courts.
Like the earlier South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission (SATRC), which was headed by Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the Sierra Leone TRC was headed by a religious leader, Bishop Joseph Humper, then president of the Inter-Religious Council. Like the SATRC, it turned to religious notions of confession and redemption that resonated in a very religious society, where 60% of the population are Muslims and 30% are Christians. It was only partially successful, however, because of the existence of the Special Court for Sierra Leone operating contemporaneously, which was based on a punitive model of justice. Because of confusion about the two institutions’ different mandates, and fear of being prosecuted by the Court, even low-level perpetrators hesitated to testify at the TRC, limiting its ability to reconcile enemies. Unfortunately, the international community prioritizes justice over reconciliation, and is less supportive of restorative approaches that may resonate more deeply with religious people in postconflict societies.
The crackdown on Falun Gong by the Chinese Communist Party demonstrates the unintended consequences of the deep penetration of politics into religious affairs in an authoritarian regime. Falun Gong emerged in China in the early 1990s as a state-sanctioned health practice, or qigong. Initially it focused on treating physical diseases and promoting general health, and therefore received recognition from the state, which has granted legal status to only the five institutional religions while relentlessly suppressing secret religious societies. Qigong, however, has contained spiritual elements since its inception. In the mid-1990s, Falun Gong began to reveal and highlight its spiritual teachings. While this differentiation strategy brought it a huge following, it sent alarming signals to the ruling Communist Party. As the state sought to curb its influences, Falun Gong responded with open defiance. In particular, its tenets of truthfulness, compassion, and forbearance encouraged the practitioners to launch a “truth clarification” campaign, targeting local political authorities and media outlets. The campaign achieved moderate initial success, but Falun Gong’s persistent and coordinated efforts to demonstrate its “apolitical” nature convinced the state that it was indeed a politically subversive force. Falun Gong’s political defiance culminated in a large, 13-hour sit-in protest near the central government compound in Beijing. Three months later, the state officially banned Falun Gong and mobilized its entire security and propaganda apparatus to eliminate Falun Gong in China.
The definition of the term “religious discrimination” is contested, but for the purposes of this discussion religious discrimination is defined as restrictions on the religious practices or institutions of minority religions that are not placed on the majority religion. Religious discrimination can include restrictions on (a) religious practices, (b) religious institutions and clergy, (c) conversion and proselytizing, and (d) other types of discrimination. Globally, 88.5% of countries discriminate against at least one religious minority, and religious discrimination is becoming more common over time. Religious discrimination is the norm worldwide regardless of world region, government type, and majority religion.
Motivations to discriminate are multiple and complex. They include (a) differences in religious ideologies and beliefs—many religions are ideologically intolerant of other religions; (b) religious organizations seeking an institutional monopoly in a country; (c) religious beliefs and practices running counter to liberal and secular values, including human rights; (d) countries seeking to protect their national culture from outside influences, including nonindigenous religions; (e) countries having anti-cult policies; (f) countries restricting minority religious practices that are considered objectionable to the national ideology or culture; (g) a historical conflict between minority groups and the majority; (h) the perception of minorities as a security threat; (i) the perception of minorities as a political threat ; (j) long-lasting historical tensions between the majority and minority; (k) national politicians mobilizing supporters along religious lines; (l) societal prejudices against minorities leading to government-based discrimination; (m) religious identity; (n) general discrimination that is also applicable to religious minorities. Although these are among the most common motivations for discrimination, in many cases the motivations are unique to the specific situation.
Countries can regulate both the majority religion and minority religions. Although most countries do both, the motivations and dynamics of these two types of regulation are distinct. The regulation, restriction, or control by a government of all religion in a country, including the majority religion, can take multiple forms. These include regulating (1) religion’s role in politics, (2) religious institutions and clergy, (3) religious practices, and (4) other aspects of religion. At least one form of religious regulation is engaged in by 95.5% of governments, and religious regulation is becoming more common over time. Regulating, restricting, and controlling religion is the norm worldwide regardless of world region, government type, and majority religion.
Multiple motivations exist for regulating, restricting, and controlling majority religions. (1) Some countries have secular or anti-religious national ideologies. (2) Some countries support religion, but countries that support a religion often also want to influence and control that religion. In fact, control is a nearly inevitable consequence of support. (3) Politicians often fear religion’s potential political power and seek to keep it in check. (4) Autocratic governments often seek to restrict any aspect of civil culture they cannot control, and this includes religion. On the other hand, regulation is costly. It requires resources that can be used elsewhere, so regulating religion represents a decision to use resources despite these costs.
The terrorist attacks of 9/11—in which al-Qaeda operatives flew airplanes into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon and attempted to crash an additional plane into the Capitol Building in Washington, DC—highlighted for many the role religion could play in terrorism. Al-Qaeda, an Islamist terrorist network striving to undermine U.S. influence in Muslim countries, combined a global religious ideology with brutal violence in a way that caught the attention of policymakers and scholars. Since then, academics have been attempting to analyze and understand how religion and terrorism intersect.
Scholars have debated whether religion is a distinctive aspect of contemporary terrorism or is secondary in importance to other factors, such as nationalism and rational calculations. Some scholars take a critical approach to the topic, pointing to normative concerns with the study of religion and terrorism, and disparate other scholars have analyzed how religion and terrorism relate to a vast array of topics from public opinion to political repression.
After surveying the literature, it is difficult to question the distinctiveness of religious terrorism. Yet it also appears that terrorism does not arise inevitably from religious beliefs, nor is it unique to Islam. Moreover, religion seems to be connected to the transnational nature of contemporary terrorism. One particularly useful approach moving forward may be to draw on the relational approach to contentious politics that scholars such as Charles Tilly have formulated.
This article’s approaches religious terrorism as violence or the threat of violence motivated by religion that intends to effect political change. This article will thus focus on how acts of violence that fall within the above definition relate to “religious imperatives,” and what the effects of these connections are. Charles Tilly’s approach to political violence, which conceptualizes terrorism as one manifestation of the range of political violence types, extends from brawls and riots to full-scale civil war. As a result, insights into how religion affects related forms of political violence can inform our understanding of religion and terrorism. Terrorism can also be understood as a nonstate phenomenon. Although states can commit terroristic acts, terrorism as a distinct tactic involves nonstate actors. State behavior—particularly religious repression—can have significant impact on the incidence and severity of religious terrorism in a country, however.
Despite operating as a regional terrorist organization in Nigeria, Boko Haram has gained international attention since kidnapping 276 schoolgirls in 2014. Scholarly research on the organization has since surged, but the literature is still in its formative stages in that it remains fractured and in need of greater synthesis. This assessment of the scholarly literature focuses on two of the most pressing questions concerning religion and Boko Haram and concludes by raising a third question concerning foreign influences that deserves greater scholarly attention.
First, what are the causal implications of religion for explaining Boko Haram’s genesis, evolution, and particularly its violent tactics, as opposed to alternative explanations—economic inequality and depravation, political corruption, anti-imperialism, educational disparities, etc.? Second, to what degree is Boko Haram the latest iteration of Islamist violence in Northern Nigeria versus an organization with distinctive origins requiring fresh analysis?
Neither question has been definitively answered. While religion is a clear motivation for Boko Haram, questions remain concerning whether it is a root motivation or a symptom of secular causes. Additionally, Boko Haram’s synthetic character—as a Nigerian Islamist group that is simultaneously networked with multiple transnational terrorist organizations—makes it difficult to categorize. Finally, questions concerning foreign influences over Boko Haram—both ideological and financial—have been raised but few empirically validated answers have been produced, offering fertile ground for future research.