Religion, conflict and violence

Please note: This page refers to a course that has already taken place.

26 - 30 Oct 2015

PRIO, Hausmanns gate 3, Oslo

Ragnhild Nordås, PRIO

The course equals 5 or 10 ECTS according to the standards of the Univeristy of Oslo upon fulfillment of the requirements specified under 'course details'.

Covadonga Morales Bertrand:

​Please see the course schedule.

​Religion plays a role in some of the most repeated conflict zones of the world, and religious conflicts constitute increasing share of violent conflicts today. For many individuals and groups, religious beliefs seem to give the moral ammunition to justify and carry out violence. At the same time, state leaders often have to contend juggling the right of religious freedom, their own religious beliefs and preferences, and their fear of radical elements, instability, and concerns for public safety. Religious repression can and does occur under the auspices of fighting terror or protecting the country from destabilizing and potentially dangerous elements. What are the consequences of different state strategies to deal with religion? What role does religion play in modern conflicts? How can religious conflicts be prevented or solved?

Course Description:

This course will focus on the relationships between religion and conflict; how this link can be understood theoretically and studied empirically, and the empirical patterns we see. The course will look at both how religion affects and is used by potential state challengers (e.g. minorities, rebel groups, terrorists) on the one hand and state policies towards potential or real challenger on the other (e.g. religious freedom/repression). Focus areas that will be running across the course sessions include

  • Theories of religion and conflict/violence
  • The Clash of Civilization hypothesis
  • Religion, mobilization, and collective violence
  • Religion-state relationships and conflict potential
  • Religion and peacebuilding  

The readings, lectures and discussions will focus on global trends as well as particular cases. The course features several guest lecturers.



9-12: Introduction:

  • Introductions and information about the course/practicalities
  • Secularization and/or religious resurgence
    • Readings
      • Berger (1999)
      • Fox (2015) ch. 2
      • Hurd (2008) ch. 8
      • Norris & Inglehart (2004) ch. 1, 10
      • Philpott (2009)
      • Toft et al. (2011) ch. 1, 3
      • Wald et al. (2005)

12-13: Lunch break

13-17: Religion and armed conflict:

  • Global and regional trends since WW2
    • Readings
      • Hegghammer (2011)
      • Reynal-Querol (2002)
      • Svensson (2012) ch. 1-2
      • Toft (2007)

Tuesday 27 October: RELIGION AND STATE

9-12: Religion meets state:

  • Religious rhetoric and nationalism
    • Readings
      • Friedman (2001)
      • Omer et al. (2015), ch. 3
      • Toft et al. (2011) ch. 2
  • Guest lecture: Religion, ethnicity and nationalism in Southeast Asia (Marte Nilsen, PRIO)
    • Readings
      • Juergensmeyer (1994), Introduction and Part 1 (ch. 1-2).

12-13: Lunch break

13-17: Religion, freedoms and repression:

  • Global and regional trends since WW2
    • Readings
      • De Soysa & Nordås (2007)
      • Fox (2015) ch. 6
      • Grim & Finke (2011) ch. 1-3
      • Hafez (2003) ch. 1-2
      • Zukhov & Toft (2015)


9-12: Religion and conflict: Identity, Ideology, and Mobilization

  • Identity and opportunity
  • Recruitment and retention
  • Outbidding, time horizons and other ways religion matter?
  • Jihad, just war, or just another war? 
    • Readings:
      • Gates & Nordås (2015)
      • Hasenclever & Rittberger (2000)
      • Hassner (2003)
      • Hegghammer (2013)
      • Iannacone & Berman (2006)
      • Juergensmeyer (1994) ch. 6
      • Juergensmeyer (2000) ch. 8-9
      • Satana et al. (2013)
      • Seul (1999)
      • Smith (1996), Introduction
      • Svensson (2012) ch. 2
      • Toft (2006)
      • Toft (2007)
      • Toft et al. (2011) ch.

12-13: Lunch break

13-17: Religion and conflict: Identity, Ideology, and Mobilization cont.

  • Discussion groups:
    • What makes a religious conflict/ conflict religious? How can this be studied and measured?



9-12: Clash of civilizations? Islam vs. the rest?

  • Guest lecture: A Clash of Civilizations? Tanja Ellingsen (NTNU)
    • Readings
      • Breznau et al. (2011)
      • Charron (2010)
      • Ellingsen (2005)
      • Henne (2012)
      • Huntington (1993)
      • Neumayer & Plumper (2009)
      • Potrafke (2012)
      • Tusicisny (2004)

12-13: Lunch break

13-17: Religion and peacebuilding: Trends and cases

  • Guest lecture: Peace process in Sri Lanka and beyond (Iselin Frydenlund, PRIO)
    • Readings
      • Frydenlund (2013a)
      • Frydenlund (2013b)
      • Frydenlund (2013c)
  • Overview and trends in religion and peacebuilding
    • Readings
      • Appleby (2000) ch. 6
      • Harpviken & Røislien (2005)
      • Johnstone & Svensson (2013)
      • Svensson (2012) ch.  2-5
      • Toft et al. (2011) ch. 7
  • Discussion groups: What can the role of religion be for peacebuilding? What makes a religious conflict end? How can this be studied and measured?

Information about the course essay

  • Student presentations/discussion – ideas for course assignments



9-12: Student presentations/discussion of paper ideas

Research on religion, conflict, and violence – ways forward?

  • Discussion groups:
    • What are the most pressing research questions on religion, conflict, and violence? What should be the priorities for pushing the research frontier on religion and conflict?
    • How can we better study the relationships between religion, conflict and violence?

Summary of course

  • Clarifications; Q&A


Application deadline: 15 September 2015

Submission deadline essay (A): 15 December 2015

Submission deadline research proposal (B):  15 January 2016

Please send your essays and proposals to:, with subject line [Religion, conflict and violence essay/proposal].


​The course equals an optional 5 or 10 ECTS upon fulfillment of the requirements specified below.

(A) Candidates for a 5 credit course should submit an essay of about 4000-6000 words, including references. The essay should formulate and answer a clear and relevant research question using the course literature and related material.

(B) Candidates for a 10 credit course should in addition to the above essay (A) produce a written research project proposal (max. 4000 words including references). The candidates are expected to do a short presentation of their idea for a research proposal for discussion in the class at the last day of the course. The full proposal should include:

  1. Justification of project relevance
  2. Identification of a knowledge gap
  3. Research question(s)
  4. Outline of theoretical framework/approach and hypotheses/expectations
  5. Proposed method(s) and/or empirical strategy
  6. Expected impact and relevance of the project for policy, practice and/or research
  7. Discussion of feasibility

Both submissions will be judged on a pass/fail basis.

Please send your essays and proposals to:, with subject line [Religion, violence and conflict essay/proposal].

All course participants are expected to read up on the mandatory course literature in advance of the course sessions. Not all readings have to be read with the same care, but an overview of the literature is required.

It is possible to follow the course without writing an essay or project prosal. Participants may then request a confirmation of participation, and it is up to their universities whether a more limited number of ECTS is awarded for the course.

In the registration form, applicants are asked to indicate whether they will be writing an essay. If answering yes, please specify in the comments field whether you will be opting for the 5 or 10 ECTS versions.


The deadline for applications is 15 September 2015. Please fill in the application form. Applicants should specify the topic of their research under 'Research interests' and elaborate under 'Other comments'. PhD candidates receive priority but other graduate students and post-docs from relevant disciplines may also apply. Current members of the Research School on Peace and Conflict only need to register. 

There is no participation fee but participants are expected to cover their own travel and accommodation cost. Five stipends for basic accommodation at the near-by Anker Hotel are available for PhD students who do not have access to funding for such course participation through their universities. 

Applicants will be notified about the outcome of their application within a week after the deadline. PhD candidates who apply prior to the deadline may request an early evaluation of their application in an e-mail to  if necessary in order to make travel arrangements.

Course Literature:

Cource readings

Appleby, R. Scott, 2000. The Ambivalence of the Sacred: Religion, Violence, and Reconciliation. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.  Chapter 6: Religion and conflict transformation.

Berger, Peter, 1999. The Desecularization of the World: Resurgent Religion and World Politics. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans. Chapter 1.

Breznau, Nate; Lykes, Valerie A.; Kelley, Jonathan  Evans, 2011. "A Clash of Civilizations? Preferences for Religious Political Leaders in 86 Nations", Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 50(4): 671 – 691

Charron Nicholas, (2010). "Déjà Vu All Over Again: A post-Cold War empirical analysis of Samuel Huntington's 'Clash of Civilizations' Theory" Cooperation and Conflict 45 (1): 107-127

de Soysa, Indra & Ragnhild Nordås, 2007. Islam's Bloody Innards? Religion and Political Terror, 1980–2000. International Studies Quarterly 51(4): 927–943.

Ellingsen, Tanja (2005)."Toward a Revival of Religion and Religious Clashes?", Terrorism and Political Violence 17(3): 305-332.

Fox, Jonathan, 2015. Political secularism, religion, and the state. Cambridge University Press. Chapter 2.

Friedland, Roger, 2001. Religious Nationalism and the Problem of Collective Representation. Annual Review of Sociology 27: 125–152. 

Frydenlund, Iselin (2013a): "Religion, civility and conflict – towards a concept of critical civility'", Studies in interreligious dialogue (23:1).

Frydenlund, Iselin (2013b) "Canonical ambiguity and differential practices: Buddhism and militarism in contemporary Sri Lanka", in Violent Buddhism: Buddhism and Militarism in Asia in the Twentieth Century, eds Torkel Brekke and Vladimir Thikonov. New York: Routledge.

Frydenlund, Iselin (2013c). The protection of Dharma and Dharma as protection: Buddhism and security across Asia. Routledge Handbook of Religion and security. Ch. 10

Gates, Scott & Ragnhild Nordås, 2015. Recruitment, Retention, and Religion in Rebel Groups. Working paper. [Will be distributed in class]

Grim, Brian & Roger Finke (2011). The Price of freedom denied: Religious persecution and conflict in the 21th century. Chapters 1-3.

Hafez, Mohammed M., 2003. Why Muslims Rebel: Repression and Resistance in the Islamic World. London: Lynne Rienner. Chapters 1-2.

Harpviken, Kristian Berg and Hanne Eggen Røislien, 2005. Mapping the Terrain: The Role of Religion in Peacemaking. Oslo: Peace Research Institute of Oslo (PRIO).

Hasenclever, Andreas & Volker Rittberger, 2000. Does Religion Make a Difference? Theoretical Approaches to the Impact of Faith on Political Conflict. Millennium: Journal of International Studies 29(3): 641–674.

Hassner, Ron E., 2003. 'To Halve and To Hold': Conflicts over Sacred Space and the Problem of Indivisibility. Security Studies 12(4): 1–33.

Hegghammer, Thomas, and Aaron Zelin. "How Syria's Civil War Became a Holy Crusade." Foreign Affairs (2013).

Hegghammer, Thomas, 2013.  "The recruiter's dilemma. Signalling and rebel recruitment tactics." Journal of Peace Research 50.1 (2013): 3-16.

Henne, Peter S. "The Ancient fire: Religion and Suicide Terrorism." Terrorism and Political Violence 24(1): 38-60.

Huntington, Samuel P., 1993. The Clash of Civilizations? Foreign Affairs 72(3): 22–49.

Iannaccone, Laurence R., and Eli Berman. (2006)"Religious extremism: The good, the bad, and the deadly." Public Choice 128.1-2: 109-129.

Johnstone, Naomi, and Isak Svensson. (2013) "Belligerents and Believers: Exploring Faith-based Mediation in Internal Armed Conflicts." Politics, Religion & Ideology 14.4: 557-579.

Juergensmeyer, Mark, 1994. The new cold War? Religious nationalism confronts the secular state. University of California press. Chapters 1, 2 and 6.

Neumayer, Eric and Plümper, Thomas (2009) "International Terrorism and the Clash of Civilizations". British Journal of Political Science 39 (4):  711-734.

Nordås, Ragnhild, 2014. Religious demography and conflict: Lessons from Côte d'Ivoire and Ghana. International Area Studies Review 17(2): 146-166. Link to article

Norris, Pippa & Ronald Inglehart, 2004. Sacred and Secular: Religion and Politics Worldwide. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Chapter 1.

Omer, Atalia; R. Scott Appleby, David Little, 2015. The Oxford Handbook of Religion, Conflict, and Peacebuilding. Oxford University Press. Chapter 1-3

Philpott, Daniel, 2009. Has the Study of Global Politics Found Religion?. Annual Review of Political Science, Vol. 12, 2009. Available at SSRN:

Potrafke, Niklas (2012). "Islam and democracy." Public Choice 151(1-2): 185-192.

Reynal-Querol, Marta, 2002. Ethnicity, Political Systems, and Civil Wars. Journal of Conflict Resolution 46(1): 29–54.

Satana, Nil S., Molly Inman, and Jóhanna Kristín Birnir. (2013) "Religion, Government Coalitions, and Terrorism." Terrorism and Political Violence 25.1: 29-52.

Seul, Jeffrey R., 1999. 'Ours is the Way of God': Religion, Identity, and Intergroup Conflict. Journal of Peace Research 36(5): 553–569.

Smith, Christian, 1996. Disruptive Religion: The Force of Faith in Social-Movement Activism. New York: Routledge. Chapter 1.

Svensson, Isak, 2007. Fighting with Faith: Religion and Conflict Resolution in Civil Wars. Journal of Conflict Resolution 51(6): 930–949.

Svensson, Isak. 2012. Ending Holy Wars: Religion and Conflict Resolution in Civil Wars. University of Queensland Press. Chapters 1-5.

Toft, Monica Duffy, 2006. Issue Indivisibility and Time Horizons as Rationalist Explanations for War. Security Studies 15(1): 34–69.

Toft, Monica Duffy (2007) Getting Religion?: The Puzzling Case of Islam and Civil War . International Security Vol. 31, No. 4 (Spring, 2007), pp. 97-131.

Toft, Monica D.; D. Philpott & T.S. Shah, 2011. God's century. Resurgent religion and global politics. Norton. Chapters 1-3.

Tusicisny, Andrej, 2004. Civilizational Conflicts: More Frequent, Longer, and Bloodier? Journal of Peace Research 41(4): 485–498.

Wald, Kenneth D.; Adam L. Silverman & Kevin S. Fridy, 2005. Making Sense of Religion in Political Life. Annual Review of Political Science 8: 221–243.   

Zhukov, Yuri M, and Monica Duffy Toft. "Islamists and Nationalists: Rebel Motivation and Counterinsurgency in Russia's North Caucasus." American Political Science Review . Copy at


Recommended additional readings

Appleby, R. Scott, 2000. The Ambivalence of the Sacred: Religion, Violence, and Reconciliation. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.  Additional chapters.

Bakke, Kristin M. "Help wanted? The mixed record of foreign fighters in domestic insurgencies." International Security 38.4 (2014): 150-187.

Barnes, L. Philip, 2005. Was the Northern Ireland Conflict Religious? Journal of Contemporary Religion 20(1): 55–69.

Basedau, Matthias; Strüver, Georg; Vüllers, Johannes; & Tim Wegenast (2011). "Do Religious Factors impact Armed Conflict? Empirical evidence from Sub-Saharan Africa. Terrorism and Political Violence, 23(5): 752-779.

Berman, Eli, 2011. Radical, religious, and violent: the new economics of terrorism. MIT press.

Cline, Lawrence E., 2003. Spirits and the Cross: Religiously Based Violent Movements in Uganda. Small Wars and Insurgencies 14(2): 113–130.

Esposito, John L., Tamara Sonn, and John O. Voll (2015). Islam and Democracy After the Arab Spring. Oxford University Press.

Fox, Jonathan. "Clash of Civilizations or Clash of Religions Which is a More Important Determinant of Ethnic Conflict?." Ethnicities 1(3): 295-320.

Fox, Jonathan, 2015. Political secularism, religion, and the state. Cambridge University Press. Additional chapters.

Gartzke, Erik, and Kristian Skrede Gleditsch (2006). "Identity and conflict: Ties that bind and differences that divide." European Journal of International Relations 12.1 (2006): 53-87.

Gutkowski, Stacey (2013). Religion and security in international relations theories. Routledge Handbook of Religion and security. Ch. 12

Hafez, Mohammed M., 2003. Why Muslims Rebel: Repression and Resistance in the Islamic World. London: Lynne Rienner. Chapters 3-4.

Harrison, Lawrence E., and Samuel P. Huntington (2005). Culture matters: How values shape human progress. Basic books.

Hegghammer, Thomas. Jihad in Saudi Arabia. Violence and Pan-Islamism since 1979. Cambridge University press. Additional chapters. 

Hegghammer, Thomas. "Should I Stay or Should I Go? Explaining Variation in Western Jihadists' Choice between Domestic and Foreign Fighting." American Political Science Review 107.01 (2013): 1-15.

Hegghammer, Thomas. (2011)."The Rise of Muslim Foreign Fighters: Islam and the Globalization of Jihad." International Security 35(3): 53-94.

Huntington, Samuel P. (1997). The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order. Penguin Books India.

Huntington, Samuel P. "Try again: A Reply to Russett, Oneal & Cox." Journal of Peace Research 37(5): 609-610.

Hurd, Elizabeth Shakman (2008). The politics of secularism in International Relations. Princeton University press.

Juergensmeyer, Mark. 2003. Terror in the Mind of God: The Global Rise of Religious Violence, 3rd Ed. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.

Norris, Pippa, and Ronald Inglehart (2011). Sacred and Secular: Religion and Politics Worldwide. Cambridge University Press.

Omer, Atalia; R. Scott Appleby, David Little, 2015. The Oxford Handbook of Religion, Conflict, and Peacebuilding. Oxford University Press. Additional chapters.             

Philpott, Daniel (2007). Explaining the Political Ambivalence of Religion. American Political Science Review / Volume / Issue 03 / August 2007, pp 505-525.

Roeder, Philip C. (2003) "Clash of Civilizations and Escalation of Domestic Ethnopolitical Conflicts", Comparative Political Studies 36 (2): 509-540

Russett, Bruce M., John R. Oneal, and Michaelene Cox. "Clash of Civilizations, or Realism and Liberalism Déjà vu? Some Evidence." Journal of Peace Research 37(5): 583-608.

Seiple, Chris; Dennis R. Hoover, & Pauletta Otis (2015) The Routledge handbook of Religion and Security. Routledge.

Shah, Timothy; Alfred Stephan & Monica Duffy Toft, eds, 2012. Rethinking religion and world affairs. Oxford University Press.

Smith, Christian, 1996. Disruptive Religion: The Force of Faith in Social-Movement Activism. New York: Routledge. Additional chapters.  

Svensson, Isak. 2012. Ending Holy Wars: Religion and Conflict Resolution in Civil Wars. University of Queensland Press. Additional chapters.  

Svensson, Isak & Emily Harding (2011): How Holy Wars End: Exploring the Termination Patterns of Conflicts With Religious Dimensions in Asia. Terrorism and Political Violence. Vol. 23, Iss. 2, 2011

Toft, Monica D.; D. Philpott & T.S. Shah, 2011. God's century. Resurgent religion and global politics. Norton. Additional chapters.