O level Notes : FRS - Religion And Conflict Management - Levels of Conflict

This topic looks at causes of religious conflict at national level and discuss the impact of conflict at national level. Finally it will discuss the role of religion in conflict management.


Conflict refers to some form of friction, or misunderstanding arising within a group when the beliefs or actions of one or more members of the group are either resisted or unacceptable to one or more members of another group. The term might be used to refer to a struggle or clash between opposing forces or a controversy. Management is a term used to refer to the act of getting people together to accomplish desired goals and objectives using available resources efficiently. Hence, conflict management refers to techniques and ideas designed to reduce the negative effects of conflict and enhance positive outcomes for all parties involved.

There are different types of conflict. Conflicts are at family, societal and national level. At family level, a husband, wife and kids can engage in disagreements which will eventually lead to a conflict. They may disagree on how the father is running the house or how kids are behaving. At societal level, people can disagree on boundary issues or that someone's cattle destroyed the neighbour's garden. At national level, conflicts arise due to differences in how the country is run. Causes of conflict can be economic, social, political and religious. In the following discussion, focus will be upon the causes and impact of religious violence and the role played by religion in conflict management.

In most cases, religion has been considered a trigger factor in many of the conflicts throughout the world. Religious violence may be directed against people, religious institutions, and cultural symbols, leaders of the faith or authority figures. It may be caused by overzealous individuals who are entirely motivated by their own psychological problems or collectively by groups of people as part of their social, cultural, national or communal expression and dominance. In a diverse society where people from different backgrounds practice multiple faiths, differences about social, economic and racial issues are inevitable and may also lead to religious violence.

It is also true that violence is inherent to human nature, and human beings are easily swayed by emotions and irrational behaviour. Many factors incite them into violent behaviour, and religious attachment or loyalty happens to be one. Political and ideological differences may also lead to religious conflict. Therefore, the problem of religious violence is a complex issue and should not be oversimplified.

Causes of religious violence

Religions are meant to promote peace and harmony. They are supposed to elevate human character and consciousness to the level of God and bring out the best of humanity. Yet, many times they end up doing the opposite. Instead of alleviating the suffering of people and providing them with solace, they often cause violence and bloodshed. Many religious wars were fought in the past. Even today, religions are major sources of disturbances and conflicts in various parts of the world. We have to then wonder why religions are so destructive and why they divide people, and cause them such harm. The following factors seem to be directly or indirectly responsible for religious violence.

  1. Scriptures

Religious scriptures may incite violence or violent behaviour if they seem to condone certain forms of aggression and behaviour as virtuous or if they contain explicit or implicit information, which encourages such behaviour with the promise of heavenly rewards or an eternal life. Because of these scriptures, some people may feel motivated to be part of God's war against evil. The Jihad in Islam is a very good example.


  1. Beliefs

Certain rational and irrational beliefs which are reinforced or justified by the scriptures, tradition or precedence, may strengthen or promote aggressive behaviour. For example, the belief that a person who dies in the battlefield or for a religious cause goes straight to heaven encourages many to participate in religious wars or extreme forms of religious violence. Because of such beliefs, some people feel encouraged to indulge in violence against nonbelievers, or those who lead unconventional lifestyles such as homosexuals.

  1. Politics

In democratic societies and secular nations the politics of a divide and rule often incite communal passions and lead to violent clashes. In theocracy, religious violence is used by rulers to enforce obedience, loyalty and discipline. Certain political ideologies also tend to discriminate religious people for their beliefs and values and create resentment and hostility.

  1. Community interests

Religious violence may result if the interests of one community are threatened or undermined by another community, an inimical ideology or political leadership, especially when the community seem to be disproportionately enjoying higher status, power or privileges. When community interests are threatened, aggressive elements within the community may rise in protest to protect them. In turn, it may create a counter reaction in other communities and provoke the extreme elements within them to register their feelings and concerns.

  1. Exploitation

Religions and their emotional appeal have often been used by vested interests to exploit others by appealing to their sentiments and religiosity. For example, in almost every country weaker sections of society have been traditionally exploited by privileged classes in the name of religion. When such exploitation becomes intolerable, people may rise in unison against the established authority to express their anger.

  1. Ideology

Secular ideologies, which seem to oppose or undermine religious groups or conventional beliefs, traditions and practices, may create deep divisions within society and lead to social and political or civil unrest. Ideological conflicts, coupled with propaganda and misinformation by secular institutions against conventional beliefs and practices, are a major source of conflict and unrest in many democratic and socialist countries.

From the above it is apparent that while religions are responsible for the violence they cause, the problem also partly rests with the people who practice them or oppose them as they misuse their religious affiliation or beliefs to indulge in violence or aggression. In many instances, such evil behaviour is due to their ignorance or extreme loyalty and attachment. Instead of practising their religions to improve themselves or spread peace and happiness, they rally people against others and draw them into conflict for domination and suppression.