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Religion as a cause of IntraState War

Essay Topic:

Disputes and disagreements over religious beliefs have been and continue to be one of the main sources of conflict, civil war, terrorism and even genocide in the modern world.As the noted theologian Hans Küng has said: “There will be no peace among the peoples of the world without peace among the world religions.” (Shaefer,2004)

Religious practices and beliefs have often been at the center of conflicts throughout history.  Religious conflict can involve two or more completely different religions or can rip apart one religion from within.  Religious beliefs are so deeply engrained into cultures that conflicts arise with change or when religions come into contact.  Even if the differences are minor, followers of all religions can become fervent when threatened.  In short, religion is something worth fighting for, according to history.  However, possibly one of the greatest ironies is that religious conflict usually goes against the teachings of the religions involved.  Imagine the strength of religion when war and violence are justifiable only when defending the faith, a faith that promotes good-will, peace, and the acceptance of others.

“The fact that religion appears in such colorful variety – that there is not one single religion but a plurality – has always been a source of irritation for people,” writes Dr.Schaefer, laying out the problem.

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“Religions are in many ways similar, and yet they are so different; there is much which unites them, but also much which divides them. This is indeed irritating. All the world religions teach that there is only one ultimate reality, which we call God. If that is so, there can logically only be one truth: But if there is only one truth, why are there so many religions?”

(Shaefer, 2004)

“Once started religious strife has a tendency to go on and on, to become permanent feuds. Today we see such intractable inter-religious wars in Northern Ireland, between Jews and Muslims and Christians in Palestine, Hindus and Muslims in South Asia and in many other places. Attempts to bring about peace have failed again and again. Always the extremist elements invoking past injustices, imagined or real, will succeed in torpedoing the peace efforts and bringing about another bout of hostility.” Datuk Seri Dr Mahathir Mohamad, Prime Minister of Malaysia, addressing the World Evangelical Fellowship on 2001-MAY-4

In the Philippines, the migration of Christians settlers  to Mindanao and the transmigration program favoring the Christians causes intrastate conflict.  Furthermore, the under-representation of the Muslim in most categories of public service also brings conflict to Christians and Muslims in the Philippines.

States have tended to approach religious opposition tactically rather than strategically. Countries such as Saudi Arabia and Pakistan have focused on short-term political gains using the most expedient tools available to counter religious opposition – from concessions on social issues to crackdowns on political opposition. The history of changing and shortsighted state policies toward religious opposition suggests these approaches are not sustainable in the long term. Nor have states shown much success in managing the spiritual/ideological dimension of conflict once it has begun – even if they started to stir religious passions in the first place. Increasingly, religion is both an identifiable source of violence around the world and simultaneously so deeply interwoven into other sources of violence — including economic, ideological, territorial, and ethnic sources — that it is difficult to isolate.(Treverton, Gregg, Giblan & Yost, 2005)

1. Mayanamar/Burma 1948 Buddhists vs. Christians
2. Israel/Palestinian 1968 Jews vs. Arabs )Muslims-Christians)
3. Northern Ireland 1969 Catholic vs. Protestants
4. Philippines (Mindanao) 1970 Muslims vs. Christians (Catholics)
5. Bangladesh 1973 Buddhists vs. Christians
6. Lebanon 1975 Shiites supported by Syria (Amal) vs. Shiites supported by Iran (Hezbollah)
7. Ethiopia (Oromo) 1976 Muslims vs. Central government
8. India (Punjab) 1982 Sikhs vs. Central government
9. SudanWITH 1983 Muslims vs. Native religions
10. Mali-Tuareg Nomads 1990 Muslims vs. Central government
11. Azerbejdan 1990 Muslims vs. Christian Armenians
12. India (Kasjmir) 1990 Muslims vs. Central government (Hindu)
13. Indonesia (Aceh) 1990 Muslims vs. Central government (Muslim)
14. Iraq 1991 Sunnites vs. Shiites
15. Yugoslavia (Croatia) 1991 Serbian orthodox Christians vs. Roman Catholic Christians
16. Yugoslavia (Bosnia) 1991 Orthodox Christians vs. Catholics vs. Muslims
17. Afghanistan 1992 Fundamentalist Muslims vs. Moderate Muslims
18. Tadzhikistan 1992 Muslims vs. Orthodox Christians
19. Egypt 1977 Muslims vs. Central government (Muslim) Muslims vs. Coptic Christians
20. Tunesia 1978 Muslims vs. Central government (Muslim)
21. Algeria 1988 Muslims vs. Central government
22. Uzbekisgtan 1989 Sunite Uzbeks vs. Shiite Meschetes
23. India (Uthar- Pradesh) 1992 Hindus vs. Muslims
24. Sri Lanka 1983 Hindus vs. Muslims

Hunttington (1993) xpects more conflicts along the cultural-religious fault lines because (1) those differences have always generated the most prolonged and the most violent conflicts; (2) because the world is becoming a smaller place, and the increasing interactions will intensify the civilization- consciousness of the people which in turn invigorates differences and animosities stretching or thought to stretch back deep in history; (3) because of the weakening of the nation-state as a source of identity and the desecularisation of the world with the revival of religion as basis of identity and commitment that transcends national boundaries and unites civilizations; (4) because of the dual role of the West. On the one hand, the West is at the peak of its power. At the same time, it is confronted with an increasing desire by elites in other parts of the world to shape the world in non-Western ways; (5) because cultural characteristics and differences are less mutable and hence less easily compromised and resolved than political and economic ones; (6) finally, because increasing economic regionalism will reinforce civilization-consciousness.

It is clear that the causes of religious wars and other religion related violence have not disappeared from the face of the earth. Some expect an increase of it. Efforts to make the world safe from religious conflicts should then also be high on the agenda. Religious actors should abstain from any cultural and structural violence within their respective organizations and handle inter-religious or denominational conflict in a non-violent and constructive way. This would imply several practical steps, such as a verifiable agreement not to use or threaten with violence to settle religious disputes. It must be possible to evaluate religious organizations objectively with respect to their use of physical, structural or cultural violence. A yearly overall report could be published. Another step would be furthering the ‘depolitisation’ of religion. Power also corrupts religious organizations. In addition, depolitisation of religion is a major precondition for the political integration of communities with different religions.

Religious organizations can also influence the conflict dynamics by abstaining from intervention. As most conflicts are ‘asymmetrical’, this attitude is partial in its consequences. It is implicitly reinforcing the ‘might is right’ principle. During the Second World War, the Vatican adopted a neutral stand. It didn’t publicly disapprove of the German atrocities in Poland or in the concentration camps. To secure its diplomatic interests, Rome opted for this prudence and not for an evangelical disapproval. The role of bystanders, those members of the society who are neither perpetrators nor victims, is very important. Their support, opposition, or indifference based on moral or other grounds, shapes the course of events.

An expression of sympathy or antipathy of the head of the Citta del Vaticano, Pius XII, representing approximately 500 million Catholics, could have prevented a great deal of the violence. The mobilization of the internal and external bystanders, in the face of the mistreatment of individuals or communities, is a major challenge to religious organizations. To realize this, children and adults, in the long run, must develop certain personal characteristics such as a pro-social value orientation and empathy. Religious organizations have a major responsibility in creating a worldview in which individual needs would not be met at the expense of others and genuine conflicts would not be resolved through aggression (Fein, 1992).


Fein, Helen, ed. 1992. Genocide watch. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Gantzel, Klaus, JürgenTorsten Schwinghammer, Jens Siegelberg. 1993. Kriege der Welt. Ein systematischer Register kriegerischen Konflikte 1985 bis 1992. Bonn: Stiftung Entwicklung und frieden.

Huntington, Samuel. 1993. The clash of Civilizations? New York: Foreign Affairs.

Shaefer, Udo 2004 Beyond the Clash of Religions:The Emergence of a New Paradigm.  Zero Palm Press. Prague.
Treverton, G. et al.  2005.  Exploring Religious Conflicts.  Rand Coporation: CA,
Varennes, F. Recurrent Challenges to the Implementation of Intrastate Peace Agreements: The Resistance of State Authorities.  New Balkan Politics Issue 7/8.
“Prime minister of Malaysia calls for end to inter-religious strife,” 2001-MAY-5, at:

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