The effects of religious discrimination on ethno-religious protest and rebellion

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For some time, the role of religion in conflict, including ethnic conflict, has been given considerable attention by the media, academics and policy makers.1 Ethno-religious conflicts, including the civil wars in Afghanistan, the former Yugoslavia and the Sudan as well as the peace processes in Israel and Northern Ireland, have often dominated the attention of these circles. Despite this there has been little large-number, cross-sectional research on religion and conflict in general, much less on the religious aspects of ethnic conflict, other than the larger study of which this work is part. For the purposes of this work ethno-religious conflict is distinguished from other types of ethnic conflict in that it involves ethnic groups which are of different religions.2 One explanation for this lack of empirical work on ethno-religious conflict is that there are two schools of thought which argue that the study of religion and conflict is "epiphenomenal," or irrelevant. The modernization/secularization school argues that the processes of economic and political modernization are causing the demise of primordial factors like ethnicity and religion.3 Those who argue against this body of theory argue that religion and ethnicity have never ceased to be important factors, citing numerous examples of current ethnic and religious conflicts as proof.4 They further argue that the process of modernization has actually increased the levels of ethnic and religious conflict5 and that the Cold War has removed systemic restraints on it.6 The functionalism school of thought posits that any perceived relationship between religion and conflict is illusory; religion itself is not a basic social force that affects society. Rather, religion acts as a front for other, more basic social forces.7 While those who argue against functionalism do not deny this, they argue that even after controlling for these other social forces, religion still has an independent influence.8 In one of the few examples of cross-sectional research on the subject, I established that while religious motivations do not play a major role in the majority of ethno-religious conflicts, they are important for a significant minority of such cases. However, my findings are limited to difference of means tests which establish that religious factors are salient in a large minority of ethno-religious conflicts and that such conflicts differ from other ethnic conflicts. These findings are significant but limited because any effect religion has on conflict is determined only by inference. No causality is established.9 Similarly, Rudolph Rummel links religious diversity in a state to ethnic conflict, but his religious diversity variable is too general to link, other than by inference, any religious motivations to this correlation.10 Accordingly, the purpose of this study is to assess empirically the causal effects of certain types of religious motivations for ethnic conflicts. The focus is on whether religious discrimination, and religious grievances based on such discrimination, affect the level of protest and/or rebellion in which ethno-religious minorities engage. Is religious discrimination one of the causes of ethno-religious protest and rebellion? This work shows that religious discrimination and grievances over that discrimination do contribute to rebellion and some types of protest but not in all cases and not always in the manner which one would intuitively expect.
Original languageAmerican English
JournalJournal of Conflict Studies
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2000


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