Religious violence

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.

Religious violence is a term that covers phenomena where religion is either the subject or the object of violent behavior.[1] Religious violence is violence that is motivated by, or in reaction to, religious precepts, texts, or doctrines of a target or attacker. It includes violence against religious institutions, people, objects, or events. Religious violence does not refer exclusively to acts committed by religious groups, but includes acts committed by secular groups against religious groups.

"Violence" is a very broad concept that is difficult to define since it is used on human and non-human objects.[2] 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.[3]

"Religion" is a complex and problematic modern western concept.[4][5] Though there is no scholarly consensus over what a religion is,[6] in general, religion is conceived today as 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 has shown that the assumption that behaviors follow directly from religious beliefs and values is false because people’s religious ideas are fragmented, loosely connected, and context-dependent just like in all other domains of culture and life.[7] In general, religions, ethical systems, and societies rarely promote violence as an end in itself since violence is universally undesirable.[2] 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.[2]

Religious violence, like all violence, is a cultural process that is context-dependent and very complex.[8] Oversimplifications of "religion" and "violence" often lead to misguided understandings of causes for why some people commit acts of violence and why people most do not commit such acts in the first place.[8] 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.[9] Recently, scholars have questioned the very concept of "religious violence" and the extent to which religious, political, economic, or ethnic aspects of a conflict are even meaningful.[10] Some observe that the very concept of "religion" is a modern invention and not something that is historical or universal across cultures, which makes "religious violence" a modern myth.[10][11] Since all cases of violence include social, political, and economic dimensions; there is no consensus on definitions of "religion", and no way to isolate "religion" from the rest of the more likely motivational dimensions, it is incorrect to label any violent event as "religious".[11][10] Numerous cases of supposed acts of religious violence such as the Thirty Years War, the French Wars of Religion, the Protestant-Catholic conflict in Ireland, the Sri Lankan Civil War, 9/11 and other terrorist attacks, the Bosnian War, and the Rwandan Civil War were all primarily motivated by social, political, and economic issues rather than religion.[11][12]

History of the concept of religion

Religion is a modern Western concept.[6] The compartmentalized concept of religion, where religious things were separated from worldly things, was not used before the 1500s.[4] Furthermore, parallel concepts are not found in many cultures and there is no equivalent term for "religion" in many languages.[4] Scholars have found it difficult to develop a consistent definition, with some giving up on the possibility of a definition[13][14] and others rejecting the term entirely.[citation needed] Others argue that regardless of its definition, it is not appropriate to apply it to non-Western cultures.[15][6]

The modern concept of "religion" as an abstraction which entails distinct sets of beliefs or doctrines is a recent invention in the English language since such usage began with texts from the 17th century due to the splitting of Christendom during the Protestant Reformation and more prevalent colonization or globalization in the age of exploration which involved contact with numerous foreign and indigenous cultures with non-European languages.[16][17]

Ancient sacred texts like the Bible and the Quran did not have a concept of religion in their original languages and neither did their authors or the cultures to which they belonged.[5][4] It was in the 19th century that the terms "Buddhism", "Hinduism", "Taoism", and "Confucianism" first emerged.[16][18]

There is no precise equivalent of "religion" in Hebrew, and Judaism does not draw clear distinctions between religious, national, racial, or ethnic identities.[19]