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GIGA Institute of Asian Studies Research Projects


Religion and Conflict: On the Ambivalence of Religious Factors in Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Middle East

The main research questions of this project are:

  • Ambivalence: Under what conditions do religious factors lead to violence or peace?
  • Multidimensionality of religion: What particular religious factors (group identities, religious ideas, religious organisations) lead to violence or peace?
  • Non-religious context: What non-religious factors impact violence and peace independently from or in conjunction with religion?

Contribution to International Research

The project on religion and conflict seeks to fill a gap in peace and conflict studies. While many theoretical arguments can be made regarding the link between religion and conflict or peace (e.g. Appleby, Toft), comprehensive empirical studies are scarce and quantitative analyses are generally based only on demographic data. Many case studies exist, but these are hardly comparable given the different research questions and theoretical and methodological approaches. Among the few comprehensive studies to date is a research project on religion and conflict in Africa which was conducted at GIGA (and funded by the German Foundation of Peace Research) and upon which this project can build.

Research Design and Methods

The project uses a variety of methodologies and thus entails a pronounced multi-method approach:

  • A qualitative small N-comparison of several country cases in Africa, Asia, the Middle East and Latin America (Algeria, Niger, Nigeria, South Sudan, El Salvador, Philippines, Indonesia)
  • Local studies of so-called "hot spots" within the country cases, that are designed to shed light on the micro-level
  • A large-N comparison of almost all countries in the four regions that builds on a comprehensive database of 130 developing countries (an extension of an Africa database).
  • A large-N comparison of (almost) all religious groups in the four regions that feeds into a database on religious minorities and conflict, which will be jointly compiled with an Israeli partner.

Preliminary Results

The project has already yielded many results, which can be summarised as follows: Preliminary analysis of the database on developing countries confirms the assumption that religious factors beyond religious demographics impact the risk of armed conflict. These factors include the overlap of religious with ethnic and regional identities as well as horizontal economic inequalities between religious groups. Discourse also plays a role as, for instance, incitement to violence and grievances over perceived discrimination increase the conflict risk in some circumstances.

Another important finding is that results differ according to the type of conflict and the role of religion therein. If warring factions have different religious affiliations, the aforementioned overlaps become more important. When an incompatibility over religious ideas is part of the conflict, discourse becomes more important. Interestingly, the research has found little evidence of a proactive impact of religious factors on peace. While the database (as well as the preliminary findings from the country case studies) reveals many instances of peace activism and interreligious dialogue on the part of religious actors, regression results do not indicate that these efforts have substantially reduced conflict risk. Apparently, other forms of religious institutionalisation count.



2008 to 2018