To understand the relationship between religion and genocide in time of war, one needs to distinguish between sacred and secular political religions. Among the genocidal events inspired by political religions based on sacred texts are the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre, the Sack of Magdeburg, the British Civil War in Ireland, and Bosnia. I also examine several groups pursuing a genocidal agenda claiming religious justification: al-Qaeda and Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). Civil religions and secular political religions discussed are the French Revolution, Italian Fascism, Nazism, and Stalinist Communism. Lacking the restraints found in traditional religions, secular political religion is most dangerous. Large-scale genocides are best explained by diachronic processes entailing subordination followed by gain and then loss by the perpetrators. The presence of loss in various forms is found in virtually all cases. Emotions that typically do not influence routine politics—such as anger and fear—are engaged. All of the cases, even those of minimal loss, are influenced by international events. Without the presence of war, genocides like the Holocaust, and those of the Armenians and Tutsis, are inconceivable. Even as an exclusionary ideology, traditional religion is neither a necessary nor a sufficient condition for all forms of genocide in time of war. But religion can be an enabler that together with other antecedents can lead to genocide. Sacred religious sites can be sensitive locations whose violation inspires violence. Radicalization of religious leaders can occur when their religion appears to be under attack, especially during or following a period of widespread violence.
Manus I. Midlarsky
The boundary between the religious and the secular spheres of life is contested in many parts of the world. From the latter decades of the 20th century, controversies over issues such as the legalization of same-sex marriage, assisted dying, and freedom of speech, as well as clashes around reproductive rights and equality issues, have all featured highly on national political agendas. Set against a backdrop of the “return of religion” to public life, these debates and tensions have given rise to the notion that secularism might be in a state of crisis or moving toward some form of post-secular condition. The term “secularism” is itself also contested. The precise nature of the “secular” and the “religious” spheres of life is subject to interpretation, and secularism in practice can be manifest in a number of ways. This ranges from exclusivist forms of secularism in countries such as the United States and France to inclusive secularism in the case of India. Supporters of a role for religion in public life maintain that religion provides a range of valuable public goods and gives individuals a sense of meaning and identity. Secularists, on the other hand, claim that the separation of church and state provides the best framework for upholding the rights and freedoms of all citizens regardless of their religion or belief.
Jörg Stolz and Pascal Tanner
In the second half of the 20th century, theories on secularization and secularism have been dominated by three approaches: secularization theory, individualization theory, and market theory. In the new millennium, approaches that both built on and revised these neoclassical approaches emerged: deprivation and insecurity theory, the theory of secular transition and intergenerational decline, theories of religious–secular competition, and theories focusing on the tipping point of the 1960s. These four new approaches have deepened our understanding of secularization, secularity, and secularism; however, they each have their own theoretical and empirical problems that need to be addressed by future research. It has become customary in sociology and the political sciences to distinguish three large types of macro-theory on secularization, secularity, and secularism, namely secularization theory, individualization theory, and market theory. Each of these types includes a large number of approaches, ideas, and research endeavors. These neoclassical theories were formulated in the last millennium and have been described, discussed, and criticized many times since. A brief overview of the three neoclassical theories is provided, but then four theoretical approaches are focused on that have been developed in the new millennium: deprivation and insecurity theory, the theory of secular transition and intergenerational decline, theories of religious–secular competition, and theories focusing on the tipping point of the 1960s. These approaches are in the process of being discussed and tested thoroughly.
Asher Cohen and Menachem Lazar
Among Israel’s Jewish society, which constitutes about 85% of the county’s voter base (about 15% are Arab voters), voters’ level of religiousness is considered, in relevant fields of research, the strongest predictor of voting behavior as well as of a wide range of political attitudes. Most prominent is the very high correlation found between a high level of religiousness and hawkish right-wing political positions, and vice versa: a secular self-definition is a very good predictor of dovish left-wing approaches. A vast majority of voters defining themselves as religious support the Likud and right-wing parties belonging to the Likud’s bloc. Conversely, a large (if not decisive) majority of voters defining themselves as secular vote for central and left-wing parties. In the 21st Knesset elections that took place in April 2019 it became clear that the bloc consisting of the Likud, further right-wing parties, and religious parties, have a significant structural advantage over the central-leftist bloc. The rightist bloc won 65 mandates compared with 55 for the center-left bloc (the Knesset—the Israeli parliament, has 120 seats), despite the fact that the rightist bloc lost at least five potential seats due to religious voters who supported extreme rightist parties that failed to pass the electoral threshold.
John F. McCauley
Social science literature does not identify a direct effect of religion on the occurrence of intrastate conflict. Yet religion as a sociopolitical identity does have several fairly unique features that render religious differences particularly useful to political entrepreneurs in the course of conflict. First, religions often have codified guidelines, typically written, that convey normative behaviors—what one should do to attain salvation, for example. The presence of such guidelines can reinforce the organizational strength of particular groups and underscore the nonnegotiable status of their beliefs, both of which can be useful in the course of conflict. Second, the religious identity includes multiple levels of division that do not exist within other identity types—including interfaith differences, differences between sects within religious traditions, and divisions between secularists and strong religionists. Such divisions create opportunities for outbidding that exacerbate tensions and conflict. Third, religious group membership confers nonmaterial benefits, such as perceived access to salvation, that can motivate behavior in very tangible, this-worldly ways, for example by encouraging fighters to choose martyrdom over negotiated settlements. Finally, religious networks link adherents transnationally in a manner that no other identity type can, creating opportunities to mobilize resources and support from abroad for a conflict within borders. These features suggest that, whereas religion is no more likely than other types of identity divisions to cause conflict, it can be particularly powerful for political entrepreneurs to wield as a tool in conflict settings. In some cases, conflicts are viewed as religious because the religious labels of competing sides differ, even if the conflict itself has nothing to do with religion. In other cases, conflicts may be described as religious if the content over which adversary sides fight is itself religious in nature; violence over the imposition of Islamic sharia law in a religiously mixed country may be one such example. Even when intrastate conflicts are fought over religious content, however, from the perspective of political scientists the matter is still one of political choice. This underscores the critical role that political entrepreneurs play in the shaping of conflicts as religious. Understanding the power of codified behavioral guidelines, multiple layers of division, non-material payoffs, and transnational networks that religious identity provides, political entrepreneurs can use religion to exploit the (sometimes unrelated) grievances of their supporters and thus escalate conflict where doing so pays political dividends. In this way, scholars recognize that intrastate conflicts with various causal foundations frequently become fights in the name of God.