Religious violence

Religious violence is a term that covers phenomena where religion is either the subject or the object of violent behavior.[1] All the religions of the world contain narratives, symbols, and metaphors of violence and war.[2] Religious violence is violence that is motivated by, or in reaction to, religious precepts, texts, or the doctrines of a target or an attacker. It includes violence against religious institutions, people, objects, or events. Religious violence does not exclusively include acts which are committed by religious groups, instead, it includes acts which are committed against religious groups.

The Crusades were a series of military campaigns fought mainly between Roman Catholic Europe and Muslims. Shown here is a battle scene from the First Crusade.

"Violence" is a very broad concept which is difficult to define because it is used against both human and non-human objects.[3] Furthermore, the term can denote a wide variety of experiences such as blood shedding, physical harm, forcing against personal freedom, passionate conduct or language, or emotions such as fury and passion.[4][5]

"Religion" is a complex and problematic modern western concept.[6][7] Though there is no scholarly consensus over what a religion is,[8][6][7][5] Today, religion is generally considered an abstraction which entails beliefs, doctrines, and sacred places. The link between religious belief and behavior is problematic. Decades of anthropological, sociological, and psychological research have proven the falsehood of the assumption that behaviors directly follow from religious beliefs and values because people's religious ideas are fragmented, loosely connected, and context-dependent just like all other domains of culture and life.[9] In general, religions, ethical systems, and societies rarely promote violence as an end in itself since violence is universally undesirable.[3] At the same time, there is a universal tension between the general desire to avoid violence and the acceptance of justifiable uses of violence to prevent a "greater evil" that permeates all cultures.[3]

Religious violence, like all forms of violence, is a cultural process which is context-dependent and very complex.[10] Oversimplifications of "religion" and "violence" often lead to misguided understandings of causes for why some people commit acts of violence and why most people never commit such acts in the first place.[10] Violence is perpetrated for a wide variety of ideological reasons and religion is generally only one of many contributing social and political factors that can lead to unrest. Studies of supposed cases of religious violence often conclude that violence is strongly driven by ethnic animosities rather than by religious worldviews.[11] Due to the complex nature of both religion and violence, it is normally unclear if religion is a significant cause of violence.[5]