Andrew Holt, Ph.D.

History, religion, and academia.

argumentative essay about is religion the cause of war

The Myth of Religion as the Cause of Most Wars

The following essay, by Andrew Holt, is republished from John D. Hosler ‘s edited volume, Seven Myths of Military History (Hackett, 2022). It is provided here with both the permission of Professor Hosler and Hackett Publishing . Thoughtful feedback and comments are welcome and can be emailed directly to the author at [email protected].


Chapter 1. War and the Divine: Is Religion the Cause of Most Wars?

Andrew Holt

“It is somewhat trite, but nevertheless sadly true, to say that more wars have been waged, more people killed, and these days more evil perpetrated in the name of religion than by any other institutional force in human history.”

—Richard Kimball [1]

To uproarious laughter, the late comedian and social critic George Carlin once condemned God as the cause of the “bloodiest and most brutal wars” ever fought, which were “all based on religious hatred.” He stated that millions have died simply because “God told” Hindus, Muslims, Jews, and Christians it would be a “good idea” for them to kill each other. Carlin’s comedy routine, entitled “Kill for God!” has received rave reviews by its viewers for being “brilliant” and “spot on,” with one anonymous fan confirming that religion is “by far the single biggest cause of human deaths.” [2]

To be clear, it is not modern military historians who claim religion is the cause of most wars, but rather many prominent intellectuals, scientists, academics, and politicians, often with far greater influence over popular cultural assumptions than professional historians, who have popularized such claims. In a 2006 interview, the neuroscientist and cultural commentator Sam Harris stated, “If I could wave a magic wand and get rid of either rape or religion, I would not hesitate to get rid of religion. I think more people are dying as a result of our religious myths than as a result of any other ideology.” [3] The Oxford University evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins claimed in 2003 that religion is the “principal label, and the most dangerous one,” by which human divisions occur, contributing to “wars, murders and terrorist attacks.” [4]

Prominent American politicians have commented similarly. Richard Nixon argued in 1983 that the “bloodiest wars in history have been religious wars.” [5] Perhaps unknowingly, Nixon was following his predecessor George Washington, who remarked in a 1792 letter that “religious controversies are always productive of more acrimony and irreconcilable hatreds than those which spring from any other cause.” [6] That Washington held such views in the late eighteenth century is not surprising, given the rationalist spirit of his social class and times. Some of his contemporaries equally expressed their concern over the propensity for violence among traditional religious believers. Thomas Paine is perhaps most notable in this regard. In The Age of Reason he argued that “the most detestable wickedness, the most horrid cruelties, and the greatest miseries, that have afflicted the human race have had their origin in this thing called revelation, or revealed religion. It has been . . . the most destructive to . . . the peace and happiness of man.” [7]

Paine’s views reflect a particular strain of thought that emerged in a slightly earlier period of the European eighteenth century, which many persons then and now have referred to as the “Enlightenment.” While intellectuals of the period tended to emphasize religious toleration, many also wrote harshly about the negative social effects of traditional religion. Such concerns undoubtedly reflected the fact that they were writing in the wake of the so-called age of religious wars, during which Catholics and Protestants engaged in lengthy and destructive conflicts including, most notably, the French Wars of Religion (1562–98), the Thirty Years’ War (1618–48), and the English Civil War (1642–51). [8]

None can challenge the claim that religion has often inspired or motivated violence, but has it truly been, as Harris claims, the “most prolific” source? Are, or were, religious wars, as Nixon wrote, the “bloodiest” sort of wars? Is it true that “more wars have been waged” and “more people killed” because of religion than any other institutional force, as Richard Kimball claims in the quotation that begins this essay?

Interestingly, these claims—often confidently asserted—that “more” wars have been waged and “more” people killed as a result of religion, can only be substantiated by an accounting of all major wars of which we have historical knowledge and both a means of separating the “religious” wars from other types of wars and counting the bodies. Such a list is destined to be incomplete and open to debate for many reasons, not least of which is the ambiguity surrounding many human conflicts. Was, for example, the English Civil War primarily a struggle over parliamentary rights vis-à-vis royal absolutism, or was it driven by a deep religious divide? Or was it both? Regardless of these pitfalls and uncertainties, such an accounting, no matter its imperfections, that seeks to understand the causes of particular wars and the degree of their lethality is possible. It is only with such an accounting that one can determine if religion is, indeed, the cause of most wars.

To most historians, this may seem an impossible task, with insurmountable methodological problems. Nevertheless, the critics cited here—neither specialists on warfare in any era nor trained historians—assume an ability to do this. Indeed, there is no other basis for making their claims without these assumptions.

The critics cited thus far do not provide such an accounting. Kimball and Harris imply that their claims are transparently obvious. For Kimball, religious ideologies and commitments are “indisputably central factors” in the “escalation of violence and evil around the world.” [9] He states that this “evidence is readily available,” after which he cites not data but the headlines of seven newspaper stories about contemporary religious violence. [10]

Yet this is anecdotal evidence. Moreover, alternative causality is dispensed with, as when Harris rejects out of hand the notion that the Hindu-Muslim conflict has political or economic roots. [11] Furthermore, neither author endeavors to sift through history’s wars in order to make even a rough estimate of how many were primarily motivated by religious considerations, much less offering a method for how one distinguishes “religious” wars from all other types of wars. And neither acknowledges a basic proposition that all historians would accept: that most, if not all, wars are driven by multiple factors. At what point does a preponderance of religious factors, however they might be defined, outweigh secular motives or goals allowing for a war to be categorized as a “religious” war? The critics cited here appear to consider such questions and modes of inquiry irrelevant.

Of course, one could reasonably argue that firmly distinguishing between religious and nonreligious wars is so impossible that any effort to count and categorize all known wars in this manner is doomed to failure. Indeed, as I prepared this essay, I spoke with multiple historians who all inquired how one could possibly accomplish such a task, with some intonating it is not possible due to the complexity of warfare, which is almost always based on multiple causes and motivations. If this is true—that it is essentially impossible to distinguish “religious” wars from other types of war, much less provide accurate casualty figures for all wars ancient to modern—then the debate is over: there can be no basis to the argument that the former is the most frequent cause of war and/or the bloodiest type of human conflict. In sum, Harris, Kimball, and others would have zero basis for their claims. Likewise, those who seek to refute their charges would be unable to offer anything even approaching quantifiable evidence to support their objections. Game over.

But let us not fall prey to defeatism. Complexity and ambiguity pervade historical research and are elements in every conclusion reached by every historian. With that in mind, let us dare to hazard a definition of religious warfare.

Defining “Religious Warfare”

In attempting to define religious warfare, it first seems worthwhile to consider the origin of the term “religion.” In its earliest Ciceronian sense, the Latin word religio meant to have respect or regard for the gods, as demonstrated by the performance of obligatory rites in veneration of them. [12] Although a critic of Roman religion, Augustine of Hippo (d. 430) adapted the term in such a way that it could be uniquely applied to a Christian understanding of and relationship to the sacred. For Augustine, religio meant worship, the actions by which one renders praise to God, but he also sought to separate what he understood to be true worship from false worship. [13]

Yet while many in the West think of religion as worship centered around a god or gods, accompanied by adherence to theological doctrines and rituals, such a definition fails to embrace the totality of the worldwide religious experience, both past and present. Definitions evolve and change, and modern scholars of religion have come to accept a broader definition of religion, one that phenomenologists who specialize in comparative religion now generally embrace, which sees “religion” as any spiritual or pragmatic connection with a transcendental Other. This Other could include gods (or God), sacred forces, a supreme cosmic spirit, or even a universal law, like Buddhist Dharma. [14] Consequently, if “religion” represents belief in the Divine and reverence for the Other—and these beliefs influence the thoughts, morality, and deeds of believers—then it follows that “religious wars” are those conflicts in which religious belief or devotion plays a key role in the motivation of most of their originators and/or participants.

The oft-cited Prussian military theorist Carl von Clausewitz famously argued that all wars are political. [15] Yet when religious motivations influence political goals, it becomes trickier to determine to what degree religion is the inspiration for a conflict. Must both sides in a conflict have religious motivations for it to be considered a “religious” war, or is one side sufficient? At what point do economic concerns, for example, outweigh religious concerns so that one would no longer consider a war “religious”? What if a war begins as religious but ends as an overtly political conflict, as was the case with the Thirty Years’ War? Those who make the claim that religion is the most prominent cause of violence or warfare never seem to bother with such details, yet they, nevertheless, obviously define “religious wars” broadly enough to support them.

To be clear, few would object to the proposition that religion or religious motivation often inspire violence. Many examples of religiously inspired warfare are to be found in the histories of the ancient Near East, Greco-Roman antiquity, Europe, the Far East, India, the Americas, and sub-Saharan Africa by members of various religions. Spanning the ancient to modern worlds, Mesopotamians, Chinese, Indians, Europeans, Arabs, Persians, Turks, Aztecs, and many others have embraced religious beliefs that at times led to, justified, or encouraged violence or warfare, sometimes resulting in a massive loss of human life. Yet the aforementioned critics of religious violence do not claim that religion sometimes inspires violence or warfare. If this were the case, then their claims would be noncontroversial. Instead, they claim that, more than any other factor, religious faith has led to more war throughout history and across all cultures.

If one is willing to hazard a definition of religious warfare, as I have just done, that allows for the distinct categorization of religious and nonreligious wars, then some data can be developed that might help us to evaluate these charges in a manner that is more systematic and logical than simply saying, “Your criticism of religion as the cause of most wars and bloodshed is without foundation.” As demonstrated in the remainder of this chapter, some have been willing to provide such a twofold analysis, namely to categorize wars as “religious” or otherwise and to provide death estimates for various wars. Such data are not supportive of the claims of Kimball et al. To the contrary, the only data currently available on these topics suggest that the popular claim that religion is the cause of “more” wars than anything else . . . is a myth.

Religious War by the Numbers

Charles Phillips and Alan Axelrod’s three-volume Encyclopedia of Wars includes an analysis of 1,763 wars covering the worldwide span of human history. It has become an influential reference in the popular sphere, often cited by persons seeking to define specific wars as religious or otherwise. [16] In their lengthy index entry on “religious wars, Phillips and Axelrod do not explain their classification methodology. They only provide clues in their limited commentary on the concept of religious wars in their introduction, where they seem to suggest that religion was often used as a sort of cover for premodern wars that resulted from more mundane causes, including territorial, ethnic, and economic concerns. [17] Yet each war they list in the index under the category “religious wars” contains clear references to its religious nature or features, providing an apparent justification for its classification as such. [18]

What, then, did Phillips and Axelrod find? Interestingly, of 1,763 wars they list only 121 entries fall under the heading “religious wars.” In one case, two wars are considered in a single entry (“Sixth and Seventh Wars of Religion”), bringing their total to 122. [19] Thus, only 6.9 percent of the wars they considered are classified as religious wars. [20] One presumes they see the remaining 93.1 percent as primarily wars that took shape due to other factors, such as geopolitics, economic rivalry, and ethnic divisions. One may certainly quibble over the omission of some wars from Phillips and Axelrod’s list, but it would take a lot of quibbling to get to the point where religious wars represent the majority (882 out of 1,763) of the wars they count and consider. They also list other categories of warfare that have higher totals than religion. Under the heading of “colonial wars,” they list 161 wars. [21] After cross-referencing both lists, one finds that Phillips and Axelrod only list two wars in both the “colonial” and “religious” categories, suggesting that they have made every effort to categorize these wars based on their primary causes, as they interpret them, rather than secondary ones. [22] Consequently, based on the total numbers presented by Phillips and Axelrod in each category, one could argue that imperialist ideologies, regardless of the latent religiosity that occasionally colors such endeavors, have historically and collectively been the primary inspiration of more wars than explicitly religious ideologies.

Again, historians could certainly look at Phillips and Axelrod’s list of religious wars and criticize the omission of many and the inclusion of some. Indeed, in my rough accounting of the 1,763 wars they list in their encyclopedia, I would likely come up with a figure of religious wars that, perhaps, doubled theirs. Other historians may arrive at still different figures, both lesser and greater, based on how they choose to categorize “religious wars.” Yet it seems highly unlikely that any historian would look at the 1,763 wars considered in the Encyclopedia of Wars and determine that a majority of them were primarily religious. If someone were to attempt to provide such a systematic accounting, their efforts would, indeed, be interesting to consider here, but nobody besides Phillips and Axelrod seems to have been bothered.

In a similar way, Matthew White, a self-described “atrocitologist,” is sometimes cited by those comparing religious wars to nonreligious wars. His 2012 book purports to list the one hundred greatest atrocities in human history, based on total deaths. [23] Although a popular-history writer, White’s work was favorably reviewed in the New York Times and has won academic acclaim in some quarters, with Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker dubbing it, in a complimentary foreword, “the most comprehensive, disinterested and statistically nuanced estimates available.” [24] Historians, as well, have praised White’s efforts. Harvard University professor of history Charles S. Maier, in the same New York Times review, praised White for trying to arrive at “the best figures” and not being, like most historians when it comes to this type of research, “afraid to get his hands dirty.” [25]

White is clear and upfront about both his methodology and the controversial nature of his statistics. He notes, for example, on the first page of his introduction, “Let’s get something out of the way right now. Everything you are about to read is disputed. . . . There is no atrocity in history that every person in the world agrees on.” [26] His methodology, as described in the Times review, is simple and transparent. He gathers all of the death estimates he can find for an event, with all data on his website available for public review, throws out the highest and lowest numbers, and then calculates the median, “arriving at what he acknowledges is often just an informed guess.” [27] Yet, White’s “informed guesses” appear to be the best ones currently available.

Like Phillips and Axelrod, White also categorizes and provides a list under the heading “Religious Conflict.” [28] He notes that it is “impossible” to find a “common cause” in the various atrocities he considers, and that they can often fall under multiple headings. For example, White lists “Cromwell’s Invasion of Ireland” under the categories of both “Religious Conflict” and “Ethnic Cleansing.” [29] Yet even allowing for this, White lists only eleven atrocities that fall under the heading of “Religious Conflict.” He provides insights into how he arrived at his list in a section of his work subtitled “Religious Killing,” while pointing out that “no war is 100 percent religious (or 100 percent anything) in motivation, but we can’t duck the fact that some conflicts involve more religion than others.” [30]

In an attempt to solve a problem we have already noted here, White then asks how we can decide if “religion is the real cause of a conflict and not just a convenient cover story?” [31] In response, he lists three primary principles that cumulatively address this question. The first is when “the only difference between the two sides is religion,” for which he cites examples of people who look alike, speak the same languages, and live in the same communities yet engage in conflict over what can only be ascribed to religious differences. This would include Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland. The second is an ability to describe a conflict without reference to religion or religious trappings. For this, he gives the example of the US Civil War, which he notes certainly had religious elements, but can also be described in a detailed history without ever referencing those elements. White argues this would be impossible, for example, in writing a history of the crusades. Finally, the third is when the parties themselves declare religious motives. Here White notes that “we should at least consider the possibility that they are telling the truth,” especially if there are not other significant potential reasons. [32]

With these rules in mind, White lists eleven atrocities from the one hundred that he classifies as “Religious Conflicts”: Taiping Rebellion, Thirty Years’ War, Mahdi’s Revolt, Crusades, [33] French Wars of Religion War in the Sudan Albigensian Crusade, Panthay Rebellion, Hui Rebellion, Partition of India, and Cromwell’s Invasion of Ireland. [34] Thus, according to White’s study, only 11 percent of the one hundred worst atrocities in history can be attributed, in some major part, to religion, with 89 percent primarily attributable to some other cause. Yet there are other atrocities in White’s book that seem to deserve to be grouped under a more general heading of religiously inspired atrocities, even if they do not meet his definition of “conflict.” These include the Roman gladiatorial games and Aztec human sacrifice, both of which White categorized separately under “Human Sacrifice.” [35] If we add these two atrocities to the eleven listed under religious conflict, this would bring the total of the one hundred greatest atrocities, based on White’s death estimates, attributed primarily to religious motivations (a broader category than just “conflicts”) up to thirteen, or only 13 percent.

A final breakdown, depending on how one evaluates White’s work, is therefore as follows: 11/100 (or 11 percent) of the worst atrocities in history can be ascribed to “Religious Conflict,” and 13/100 (or 13 percent) of the worst atrocities in history can be ascribed to “Religious Conflict” or “Human Sacrifice.” Although these percentages are higher than Phillips and Axelrod’s more comprehensive findings (6.9 percent), none supports the claim that religion has been and remains the cause of most wars. Indeed, “Hegemonial War,” a category that White defines as similar countries fighting “over who’s number 1,” and “Failed State” conflicts, involving the collapse of a central government and the division of lands among warlords that results from the civil war that follows, individually account for more of the “worst atrocities” on his list than “Religious Conflict.” [36]

Again, one may quibble about White’s categories, arguing that he omitted some significant wars and instances of mass violence or incorrectly included others, but it seems highly unlikely that any historian reviewing White’s list of the one hundred greatest atrocities in history would see a majority of them as primarily religious. An alternative accounting would be welcome for consideration here, but nobody else has offered one, certainly none of the prominent voices proclaiming religion as the cause of the “bloodiest” wars.

Steven Pinker has provided his own rankings, based largely on White’s research, of the twenty-one worst wars or atrocities based on death tolls in his widely reviewed 2011 book, Better Angels . [37] His list includes the following: Second World War, reign of Mao Zedong, Mongol conquests, An Lushan Revolt, fall of the Ming dynasty, Taiping Rebellion, annihilation of the American Indians, rule of Joseph Stalin, Mideast slave trade, Atlantic slave trade, rule of Tamerlane, British rule of India, World War I, Russian Civil War, fall of Rome, Congo Free State, Thirty Years’ War, Russia’s Time of Troubles, Napoleonic Wars, Chinese Civil War, and the French Wars of Religion. Pinker then provides a unique perspective by factoring in population differences at the times such events occurred. While Pinker lists 55,000,000 deaths resulting from World War II in the mid-twentieth century and only 36,000,000 for the An Lushan Revolt in mid-eighth-century China, he then uses population estimates to adjust the rankings per capita between the different periods. [38] Using this “mid-twentieth-century equivalent,” he finds that the An Lushan Revolt would move from fourth place to first place on his list with a mid-twentieth-century equivalent of 429,000,000 deaths, far surpassing World War II. [39]

While Pinker singles out religious conflicts/events in neither his ranking based on total deaths nor his population-adjusted rankings, it is interesting to note that religious conflicts appear to play a minor role in both. Only three of the conflicts would clearly seem to qualify as primarily religious conflicts or religiously inspired events: the Taiping Rebellion, the Thirty-Years’ War, and the French Wars of Religion, resulting in only 14.2 percent of the twenty-one worst atrocities in history as referenced by Pinker. It is worth pointing out that at least four of the twenty-one atrocities listed by Pinker could be attributed not to religion but rather Marxist efforts to establish or develop communist states, including the reign of Mao Zedong, the reign of Stalin, the Russian Civil War, and the Chinese Civil War, equaling 19 percent of the total. Consequently, one could argue that Marxism is a greater cause of violence and atrocities in Pinker’s study than religion!

The numbers, therefore, as provided by our three major studies to enumerate history’s most violent wars and conflicts, break down as follows: 6.9 percent of Phillips and Axelrod’s 1,763 historical wars were religious conflicts; 13 percent of White’s 100 worst atrocities in history can be ascribed to “Religious Conflict” or “Human Sacrifice”; and 14.2 percent of Pinker’s 21 worst atrocities in history were religiously inspired. Thus, our only existing quantitative analyses suggest that religious motivations inspire only a relatively small percentage of all conflicts. Moreover, there seem to be other causes or motivations that have inspired more wars or atrocities than religion.

Distinguishing Religious Wars from Secular Wars

One can disagree with such an approach in considering to what degree religion was the cause of a particular conflict. Such disagreements among historians are not surprising. War is messy, after all, and conflicts usually emerge from a complex mix of factors that might incorporate economic, political, ethnic, and religious concerns on one or both sides.

William T. Cavanaugh, a theologian and professor of Catholic studies at DePaul University, has considered the issue of defining and distinguishing religious warfare from other types of conflict in a highly influential 2009 book. Cavanaugh argues that various scholars have made “indefensible assumptions about what does and does not count as religion.” [40] He considers the claims of nine scholars who have suggested that “religion is particularly prone to violence” based on arguments that religion is, among other things, absolutist, divisive, and/or irrational. [41] He rejects their respective arguments, noting that “they all suffer from the same defect: the inability to find a convincing way to separate religious violence from secular violence.” [42] Indeed, as Cavanaugh argues, secular violence is often motivated by similar degrees of absolutism, division, and irrationality, but in nonreligious forms.

Among the scholars that Cavanaugh considers is Charles Kimball. He argues that Kimball’s book (which, incidentally, was chosen by Publishers Weekly as the top book on religion in 2002) “suffers” from its inability to “distinguish the religious from the secular.” [43] Kimball postulates that there are various “warning signs” that religion could turn evil. Among such warning signs, for example, are calls for blind obedience and the belief that the end justifies the means. Cavanaugh argues in rebuttal that all of the warning signs offered by Kimball could equally apply to nationalism or nationalist ideologies. Concerning Kimball’s claim about blind obedience as a marker of religious conflict, for example, Cavanaugh points out that “obedience is institutionalized” in the US military, as there is no allowance for “selective conscientious objection.” [44] Yet Cavanaugh appears most dismissive of the claim that the end justifies the means is uniquely associated with religious conflict, noting that the history of modern conflict is “full of evidence” that demonstrates how secular states have embraced such a view. Among such evidence, he references “the vaporization of innocent civilians in Hiroshima” and “the practice of torture by over a third of the world’s nation states, including many democracies.” [45]

To be clear, Cavanaugh is not rejecting the notion that religion can sometimes inspire violence. Instead, he is arguing that Kimball’s efforts to clearly distinguish religious violence as somehow worse than secular violence, and more prone to fanaticism, are unconvincing.

Similarly, Cavanaugh also challenges the claims of sociologist Mark Juergensmeyer, who argues that “religion seems to be connected with violence virtually everywhere,” perpetually and across all religious traditions. [46] Juergensmeyer, like Kimball, makes sharp distinctions between religious and secular violence, highlighting what he claims are significant differences. These include, for example, the notion that religious violence is “accompanied by strong claims of moral justification and enduring absolutism” as a result of the intense religious conviction of those carrying it out. [47] In response, Cavanaugh points out how secular warfare is often “couched in the strongest rhetoric of moral justification and historical duty,” citing, for example, Operation Infinite Justice, the US military’s initial name for the post-9/11 war in Afghanistan. [48] In another example, Juergensmeyer argues that secular conflicts are briefer, concluding within the lifetimes of the combatants, whereas religious conflicts can last for hundreds of years. [49] Cavanaugh objects by noting that, “Juergensmeyer himself says that US leaders have given every indication that the ‘war against terror’ will stretch indefinitely into the future” and that this war “seems so absolute and unyielding on both sides.” [50] To this one might also cite the examples of the so-called Hundred Years’ War, lasting from 1337 to 1453, as well as the Second Hundred Years’ War, lasting from 1689 to 1815, both of which have traditionally been interpreted, and rightly so, as secular conflicts rather than religious ones.

Cavanaugh does not confine himself to refuting only Kimball’s and Juergensmeyer’s arguments. He critiques the positions of several other scholars who have made similar claims about religion, emphasizing their presumed inability to define religious wars or violence in a way that cannot also be applied to secular institutions or ideologies. He further argues that modern distinctions between religious violence and other types of violence “are part of a broader Enlightenment narrative that has invented a dichotomy between the religious and the secular. . .” that frames religious violence as “irrational and dangerous” in comparison to various forms of secular violence. [51] He then rejects the notion, convincingly, I think, that religious ideologies are inherently “more inclined toward violence” than secular ideologies or institutions, arguing that distinctions between the two have not been properly established by the scholars who make such claims. [52]

Secular Ideologies as a Type of Religion?

Another problem is that people often define religion and its essential qualities quite differently. Some scholars even debate whether or not nationalism, Marxism, liberalism, or intersectionality are essentially religious in nature as a result of varying demands for philosophical and political “orthodoxy” from adherents to the worldviews promoted by these ideologies. Yet the definition of religion provided earlier in this essay, based on the earliest meanings of the term, centered on belief in, respect for, and devotion to a transcendental Other, obviously excludes secular ideologies from qualifying as “religions.” Moreover, modern adherents of the major faiths, which include Islam, Christianity, Hinduism, among others, who embrace the Divine as a mover of historical events and the afterlife, in some form, as a reality, would see such secular ideologies, devoid of any emphasis on the sacred or the Divine, as something very different from how they define religion.

Similarly, Marxist governments, as well, have generally embraced atheism and typically rejected any associations of their beliefs with religion. Karl Marx himself disparaged “religion” as the “opium of the people,” serving only as a palliative that those in power offered to mask the suffering of the proletariat and, thereby, harmfully preventing the oppressed from perceiving the oppression that was the cause of their pain. [53] Marx did not see his conclusions, which he based on his study of history, economics, and government, as a faith or “religion.” To his mind, his insight was scientific truth, not empty belief, and he understood it to be a rational and true alternative to the irrational illusion of religion.

Consequently, while some may classify certain secular ideologies as essentially religious, when claiming that religion is the cause of more wars than anything else critics like Harris or Dawkins certainly do not. They are not, after all, referring to secular atheists or agnostics (like themselves), progressives, or Marxists, as the cause of most wars or violence, but rather those who are inspired to acts of war because of their belief in the Divine.

Secular Ideologies and Violence

As noted at the beginning of this essay, Kimball argues that “more people” have been killed in the name of religion “than by any other institutional force in human history.” [54] Yet other ideologies appear to have proven far deadlier (and in a shorter amount of time) than religiously inspired conflict. Consider the comments of Sam Harris, who devotes a portion of his introductory chapter in The End of Faith to the collective horrors and atrocities that have resulted from historic Hindu-Muslim animosity and highlights political efforts to accommodate Hindu-Muslim religious divisions through the establishment of the modern nations of Pakistan and India. Harris then asks, “When will we realize that the concessions we have made to faith in our political discourse have prevented us from even speaking about, much less uprooting, the most prolific source of violence in our history?” [55]

Concerning Harris’s suggestion that “concessions” in our “political discourse” to religious faith have been the main obstacle to reducing violence from its “most prolific” source (religious faith), it is worth noting that there has, indeed, been a political discourse that not only refused to make concessions to religious faith, particularly Christianity, but also outright attacked it—communism. [56] Indeed, the communist government of the Soviet Union initially attacked Christianity as a source of all evils, destroying churches and persecuting clergy during the 1920s, as it sought to uproot , to borrow Harris’s term, Christianity from Soviet society. Yet this did not stop violence in the Soviet Union or hinder the extensive Soviet promotion of revolutionary conflicts around the world. To the contrary, the twentieth century is grimly notable for the deaths of, so it has been estimated, nearly one hundred million people by communist governments. [57] Some estimates run even higher. R. J. Rummel, for example, studied governments responsible for mass killings of their own citizens, a phenomenon he called “democide.” [58] He attributed far higher numbers of deaths to the reigns of Mao or Stalin than did Pinker or White: seventy-three million to Mao (vs. forty), and thirty-eight million to Stalin (vs. twenty). [59] Similarly, in White’s statistical breakdown, by cause, of the deaths attributed to the one hundred greatest historic atrocities, multiple categories rank higher than religion. Of White’s estimated 455 million collective victims of these atrocities, he calculates that about 47 million were due to religion, or only around 10 percent of the total. [60] In contrast, White estimates that communist ideology is responsible for 67 million deaths, or nearly 15 percent of the total. [61]

As I have tried to make clear throughout this essay, none of what I have written here is meant to imply that religions are always, or even typically, peaceful, or that members of various religious faiths cannot exhibit the same degree of violence as those otherwise motivated. Religious peoples are often willing to engage in warfare. To the contrary, my argument is that claims that religious wars are more violent and greater in number than other types have no empirical evidence to support them. Such arguments are wholly anecdotal, which almost certainly explains why professional historians have not embraced them. Available quantitative analyses of history’s wars in this regard, as flawed as they are, point in a different direction: that religious conflicts are but a relatively modest percentage of the total and that other causes or ideological motivations have inspired as much or more conflict than religion. Thus, until new data are collected that demonstrate otherwise, the claim that religion is the greatest cause of war is an unsubstantiated myth.

[1] Richard Kimball, When Religion Becomes Evil: Five Warning Signs (New York: Harper, 2002), 1.

[2] George Carlin, “Kill for God,” YouTube, accessed January 16, 2019, .

[3] Bethany Saltman, “The Temple of Reason: Sam Harris on How Religion Puts the World at Risk,” The Sun , September 2006.

[4] Richard Dawkins, A Devil’s Chaplain: Reflections on Hopes, Lies, Science, and Love (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2003), 158.

[5] Richard M. Nixon, Real Peace: A Strategy for the West (Boston: Little, Brown, 1983), 14.

[6] George Washington to Edward Newenham, June 22, 1792,” National Archives Founders Online, accessed January 16, 2019, .

[7] Thomas Paine, The Age of Reason, Part the Second: Being an Investigation of True and Fabulous Theology (London: R. Carlisle, 1818), 82.

[8] See Richard S. Dunn, The Age of Religious Wars: 1559–1689 (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1970), ix; and Philippe Buc, Holy War, Martyrdom, and Terror: Christianity, Violence, and the West (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2015), 29–36.

[9] Kimball, When Religion Becomes Evil , 4.

[10] Kimball, When Religion Becomes Evil , 4.

[11] Sam Harris, The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason (New York: W. W. Norton, 2005), 27.

[12] Cicero, De Natura Deorum Academia , trans. H. Rackham (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1979), XLII.112–13. On religio , see Clifford Ando, The Matter of the Gods: Religion and the Roman Empire (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2008), 1–6; William T. Cavanaugh, The Myth of Religious Violence: Secular Ideology and the Roots of Modern Conflict (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009), 60–69.

[13] Cavanaugh, Myth of Religious Violence ,63; Ando, Matter of the Gods ,4–5.

[14] Alfred J. Andrea and Andrew Holt, Sanctified Violence: Holy War in World History (Indianapolis: Hackett, 2021), 1.

[15] Carl von Clausewitz, On War , ed. and trans. M. Howard and P. Paret (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1989), I.1.24–27: “War is merely the continuation of policy by other means”; “a true political instrument, a continuation of political intercourse, carried on with other means”; and, consequently, “all wars can be considered acts of policy.”

[16] Encyclopedia of Wars ,ed. C. Phillips and A. Axelrod, 3 vols.(New York: Facts on File, 2005), III:1484–85. Commentators citing the Encyclopedia of Wars in this manner include the Huffington Post , Christian apologetics groups, such as the Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry (CARM), and the libertarian political/social commentator Theodore Beale, more commonly known as Vox Day. See Vox Day, The Irrational Atheist: Dissecting the Unholy Trinity of Dawkins, Harris, and Hitchens (Dallas: Benbella, 2008), 103–6; Robin Schumacher, “The Myth That Religion Is the 1# Cause of War,” CARM: Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry, accessed March 13, 2019, ; and Alan Lurie, “Is Religion the Cause of Most Wars?” Huffington Post , April 10, 2012.

[17] Encyclopedia of Wars ,I:xxii–xxiii.

[18] In their entry titled “Charlemagne’s War against the Saxons,” e.g., Phillips and Axelrod refer to the effort to convert the Saxons to Christianity as one of Charlemagne’s “major” objectives and describe his success. See Encyclopedia of Wars , I:307–8.

[19] The common figure ascribed by various sources to the Encyclopedia of Wars is slightly different, usually listing 123 religious wars. See, e.g., Bruce Sheiman, An Atheist Defends Religion: Why Humanity Is Better Off with Religion Than without It (New York: Alpha, 2009), 117.

[20] Phillips and Axelrod’s list, reordered chronologically here, includes the following: First, Second, Third, and Fourth Sacred Wars (spanning 595 to 336 BCE); Roman-Persian Wars (421–22 and 441); Visigothic-Frankish War; Mecca-Medina War; Byzantine-Muslim Wars (633–42, 645–56, 668–79, 698–718, 739, 741–52, 778–83, 797–98, 803–9, 830–41, 851–63, 871–85, 960–76, and 995–99); Arab conquest of Carthage; revolt in Ravenna; First and Second Iconoclastic Wars, Charlemagne’s invasion of Northern Spain; revolt of Muqanna; Charlemagne’s War against the Saxons; Khurramites’ revolt; Paulician War; Spanish Christian-Muslim Wars (912–28, 977–97, 1001–31, 1172–1212, 1230–48, and 1481–92); German Civil War (1077–1106); Castilian conquest of Toledo; Almohad conquest of Muslim Spain; Spanish conquests in North Africa (1090–91); First, Second, Third, Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, Seventh, Eighth, and Ninth Crusades (spanning 1095–1272); Crusader-Turkish Wars (spanning 1100–1146 and 1272–91); Aragonese-Castilian War; Wars of the Lombard League; Saladin’s Holy War; Aragonese-French War (1209–13); Albigensian Crusade; Danish-Estonian War; Luccan-Florentine War; Crusade of Nicopolis; Portuguese-Moroccan Wars (1458–71 and 1578); War of the Monks; Bohemian Civil War (1465–71); Bohemian-Hungarian War (1468–78); Siege of Granada; Persian Civil War (1500–1503); Vijayanagar Wars; Anglo-Scottish War; Turko-Persian Wars (1514–17 and 1743–47); Counts’ War; Schmalkaldic War; Scottish uprising against Mary of Guise; First, Second, Third, Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, Seventh, Eighth, and Ninth Wars of Religion (spanning 1562 to 1598); Javanese invasion of Malacca; Bohemian-Palatine War; Thirty Years’ War; First, Second, and Third Bernese Revolts (spanning 1621 to 1629); Swedish War; Shimabara Revolt (1637–38); First and Second Bishops Wars; Maryland’s Religious War; Transylvania-Hapsburg War; Portuguese-Omani Wars in East Africa; First Villmergen War; Covenanters’ Rebellions (1666, 1679, and 1685); Rajput Rebellion against Aurangzeb; Camisard Rebellion; Second Villmergen War; Brabant Revolution; Vellore Mutiny; Great Java War; Padri War; Irish Tithe War; War of the Sonderbund; Crimean War; Tukulor-French Wars; Mountain Meadows Massacre; Serbo-Turkish War; Russo-Turkish War (1877–78); Ugandan Religious Wars; Ghost Dance War; Holy Wars of the “Mad Mullah”; raids of the Black Hundreds; Mexican insurrections; Indian Civil War; Bosnian War; and US War on Terrorism.

[21] Encyclopedia of Wars , III.1447–48.

[22] The two wars listed in both the “colonial wars” and “religious wars” categories by Phillips and Axelrod are the Tukulor-French Wars and the Vellore Mutiny, nineteenth-century conflicts involving a complex mix of potential religious and colonial/territorial causes that may have proven too difficult for the authors to categorize under one primary cause. See Encyclopedia of Wars , III.1158–59 and 1243.

[23] Matthew White, The Great Big Book of Horrible Things: The Definitive Chronicle of History’s 100 Worst Atrocities (New York: W. W. Norton, 2012).

[24] Jennifer Schuessler, “Ranking History’s Atrocities by Counting the Corpses,” New York Times , November 8, 2011.

[25] Schuessler, “Ranking History’s Atrocities.”

[26] White, Great Big Book of Horrible Things , xiii.

[27] Schuessler, “Ranking History’s Atrocities.” For White’s figures, see “Death Tolls across History,” Necrometrics, accessed March 15, 2019, .

[28] White, Great Big Book of Horrible Things , 544.

[29] White, Great Big Book of Horrible Things , 544–45.

[30] White, Great Big Book of Horrible Things , 544 and 107–8.

[31] White, Great Big Book of Horrible Things , 107.

[32] White, Great Big Book of Horrible Things , 107–8.

[33] Presumably, only the crusades that took place in the East.

[34] White, Great Big Book of Horrible Things , 544.

[35] White, Great Big Book of Horrible Things , 548. One could argue that Mesoamerican human sacrifice is more correct, as even societies like the Maya appear to have performed it, even if apparently on a lesser scale. The scale of Aztec human sacrifice—from only 150 sacrificial victims to 250,000 per year—is a debate; see Matthew Restall’s book When Montezuma Met Cortés: The True Story of the Meeting that Changed History (New York: Ecco, 2018), 85–95.

[36] White, Great Big Book of Horrible Things , 543–44.

[37] Steven Pinker, The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined (New York: Penguin, 2011), 195. His categorizations are often problematic, as reflected in his consideration of the “Fall of Rome” as an “atrocity.”

[38] Pinker draws his figure of 36,000,000 for the An Lushan Rebellion from White, Great Big Book of Horrible Things , 93. White notes, “The census taken in China in the year 754 recorded a population of 52,880,488. After ten years of civil war, the census of 764 found only 16,900,000 people in China. What happened to 36 million people? Is a loss of two-thirds in one decade even possible? Perhaps. Peasants often lived at the very edge of starvation, so the slightest disruption could cause a massive die off, particularly if they depended on large irrigation systems. . . . [Moreover] many authorities quote these numbers with a minimum of doubt.”

[39] Pinker, Better Angels , 195.

[40] Cavanaugh, The Myth of Religious Violence , 4.

[41] Cavanaugh, The Myth of Religious Violence , 15–56. In addition to Kimball, he considers the academic arguments of John Hick, Richard Wentz, Martin Marty, Mark Juergensmeyer, David C. Rapoport, Bhikhu Parekh, R. Scott Appleby, and Charles Selengut.

[42] Cavanaugh, The Myth of Religious Violence , 8.

[43] Cavanaugh, The Myth of Religious Violence , 21–24.

[44] Cavanaugh, The Myth of Religious Violence , 23.

[45] Cavanaugh, The Myth of Religious Violence , 24.

[46] Mark Juergensmeyer, Terror in the Mind of God: The Global Rise of Religious Violence , 3rd ed. (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003), xi.

[47] Juergensmeyer, Terror in the Mind of God , 220.

[48] Cavanaugh, Myth of Religious Violence ,32.

[49] Juergensmeyer, Terror in the Mind of God , 158.

[50] Cavanaugh, Myth of Religious Violence ,32.

[51] Cavanaugh, Myth of Religious Violence , 4.

[52] Cavanaugh, Myth of Religious Violence , 5.

[53] Karl Marx, A Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s “Philosophy of Right , ” trans. A. Jolin and J. O’Malley (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1972), 131.

[54] Kimball, When Religion Becomes Evil ,1.

[55] Harris, The End of Faith , 26–27.

[56] Special thanks to Professor Florin Curta of the University of Florida for drawing my attention to this point in a private conversation.

[57] Stéphane Courtois et al., The Black Book of Communism: Crimes, Terror, Repression , trans. J. Murphy and M. Kramer (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1999), 4.

[58] R. J. Rummel, Death by Government (New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction, 1994), 36–38.

[59] Rummel revised his figures in 2005; see Andrew Holt, “The 20th Century’s Bloodiest ‘Megamurderers’ According to Prof. R. J. Rummel,”, accessed January 16, 2019, .

[60] White, Great Big Book of Horrible Things , 554; in a footnote, he offers, “A friend once wondered aloud how much suffering in history has been caused by religious fanaticism, and I was able to confidently tell her 10 percent, based on this number.”

[61] White, Great Big Book of Horrible Things , 554.

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Religion as the Cause of Wars Essay (Critical Writing)


The Great War that took place between 1914 and 1918 was not a chronological event, which can easily be identified with religion. The followers from each side claimed that all were engaged in a justifiable war to defend themselves against aggression. In fact, all argued that the Supreme Being was on their side and each religion prayed for success. As a result, it did not matter whether or not other believers were destroyed given that they were simply considered as enemies. Religious wars are common since the creation of human being although they do not have many fatalities similar to other types of wars. The wars are always regarded as a struggle between different religions namely Jews, Christians and Muslims. This demonstrates that despite the civilization humankind has undergone over years, religion continues to cause war.

Religious beliefs are powerful motivations since aggressive individuals fight about them. They continue to cause conflicts even in small families. In fact, it is common for husbands and wives to fight on the religion that the family should adopt. The fight escalates especially when the wife refuses to follow the religion of his husband. As a result, it is common for divorce to arise from the religious differences between married couples. Such a relationship arises owing to the initial attraction between these companions. Each of these individuals has the hope that everyone will eventually see the righteousness in the other partner’s religion and accept to be converted. Conversely, some individuals coerce others to convert given that they strongly believe that they should belong to the same religion in order to have a lasting relationship. When the effort becomes futile, chances of domestic violence become high. Consequently, when they consider that the differences between them cannot be resolved even after involving other parties they end up in divorce (Erbele, 2012).

Religion causes tension even between close friends. For instance, it is common for Islamic families to have relationships with Christians. However, Muslims do not consume pork since it is not allowed by their religion. Although the relationship may be cordial, there is always suspicion from Muslim believers about the king of food they consume in Christian families particularly when the meal involves any kind of meat. Muslims are suspicious even when the meal does not include meat given that the meal may have been prepared using pork fat. Muslims ensure that they stay away from anything that involves pork. In one situation, a Muslim woman warned her husband to ensure that any Christian family they were visiting did not give her daughter any pork. This caused tension between them as the Muslim husband thought that the wife did not trust him to keep a close watch over their daughter (Woodlock et al., 2013).

The wife later admitted that she trusted the husband but did not trust the Christian family on issues regarding what they consume. Apparently, the woman does not even trust her in-law family since they are not Muslims. The tension between families is evident as in-law’s family openly consumes pork products. When visiting the in-law family, the wife ensures that she accompanies her husband and their daughter to ensure that the mother in-law who is usually craving for sausages does not give her daughter any pork product. She admits that it takes a few days for her blood pressure to resume its usual level after visiting the mother in-law who talks about the good taste of pork products (Woodlock et al., 2013).

There are other sources of war between humans such as soccer matches. However, religious differences are common excuses used by states to cause harm on those believed to have diverse religious views. For example, during the 20 th century, cruel administrations of Pol Pot, Mao Zedong, and Stalin ruthlessly murdered millions of those with different religious views. In Russia, atheists murdered thousands of Christians. The atheists sought to eliminate any kind of religion from the region. It is therefore evident that religion has been a contributive attribute to most historical wars.

In the contemporary world, acts of terrorisms are believed to be caused by religious differences. Recently, there was an attack on Kenya’s Westgate Mall. The perpetrators of the heinous act were evidently Muslims considering the CCTV footages that captured them praying while facing Mecca. When the attackers first entered the mall, they held over three hundred shoppers hostage. According to reports by those who survived the attack, the attackers would ask each person different Islamic questions. Those who did not know were shot dead immediately. However, the attackers allegedly told Muslims to leave unharmed. All others who subscribed to different religions were executed.

In Iraq, religious war continues to escalate between different arms of Muslims. Terrorism in the country particularly the capital city of Bagdad continues to kill and maim tens of people daily. Muslims extremists strongly believe that any human that does not subscribe to Islam does not deserve to live. It is this conviction that lead to war between Shiite and Kurds in Iraq despite both being Muslims. The Quran is often observed as one that incites religious wars. It acknowledges the humankind tendency of disagreement and consequently allows defensive warfare. In addition to the individual’s permission for self-defense, it permits religious war in the name of Jihad against non-Muslims.

In Gulf region, the unrelenting war is mainly caused by religious differences. The war between Israel and Palestine is contributed by the fact that Israel is mainly a Jewish state while Palestine is an Islam state. The tension between these countries is further increased by the urge to dominate a large portion of land to settle those who subscribe to the Jewish religion. In the Africa’s most populated state of Nigeria, tension between Christians and Muslims in the 20 th century consequently led to the current state of war perpetrated by the Muslim arm called Boko Haram. The extremists execute Christians at any opportunity. The Al-Qaeda-supported group has taken advantage of the hostility between the two religions to claim and secede from the main Nigeria and create a Muslim state (Abah, 2013).

On the other hand, it has been argued that religion has developed additional importance in the current world given that globalization has changed almost everything. It becomes essential when political and national groupings are broken apart. For example, in Yugoslavia during the beginning of the fiscal 1990s, Serbians, Croatians, and Bosnians took positions as Muslims, Orthodox, or Christians (Woodlock et al., 2013). From this, Muslim academics have over centuries managed to develop a ‘just war’ theory. The theory seeks to justify that Muslims can kill others when protecting their religious beliefs. Thus, for greedy and cruel leaders to advance their territorial desires, they have taken advantage of the inclusion of ‘just-war’ in the name of Jihad in the Quran.

In the Bible, it is evident that wars were mainly based on religion. God would use a certain population to punish those who did not follow His ways. The Israelites were commonly used as the vessel for God to punish others who turned against Him. Many people who try to justify terrorism tend to distort the approach in the contemporary world to cause fear in those perceived to be of different religion. Besides, for cruel people to oppress others, they often exploit religion based on the claim for defenseless. In other situations, it is positively utilized by others to defend against such oppression. Those who are perceived to be weak in the society gang up on religious grounds to ensure that the strong and cruel hardly unleash harm on them.

Thus, religious corruption is often criticized in almost all religions. For example, both the Bible and Quran criticize religious hypocrisy. The verse that criticizes religious in the Quran (Q2:204-205) may appropriately be applied to Saddam Hussein situation in the 1990s and early 2000. The president ensured that the world saw him reciting prayers on television. However, he continued to gas and bomb Kurds. He was evidently a cruel dictator who disguised himself as a devoted Muslim. It is this fact that one may conclude that indeed religion offers an essential cover and strong motivation for those who seek to do evil.

Another aspect of religion can be seen from the perspective of Atheism. When people declare that they are atheists, believers of such a religion frown upon them. It is common for such individuals to be excommunicated from the mainstream society. Such individuals are described in hurting terms. Savage comments such as being labeled stupid or fascists are common especially among age mates as well as those who are grown-up than the atheists. Such scenarios are common in the internet. When people declare that they are atheists, there is always an overwhelming reaction from all places on earth. In fact, atheists believe that all religions are unhelpful making believers to be agitated and angered. Conversely, atheists observe those who believe in religion as foolish (Houlihan, 2012).

In the recent years, tension between atheists and believers has been rising considering the swelling number of atheists who are convinced of the need to scorn believers. After the 9/11 attack on American landmarks, some popular people who practice atheism including Ayaan Ali backed nations to be violent against any Islamic country. In a conversation between Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens, atheist’s hatred of Muslims was evident. He asked his friend if he is ever worried that after atheists win the war and wipe out Christianity, Muslims would replace the vacuum. This demonstrates the violent hatred of Islamic religion by emerging atheists.

On the other hand, it is indicative of the frightening idealized nightmare that atheists possess. One may wonder why atheists seek to eliminate Christianity. The atheists’ objective to eliminate Christianity may be driven by the fact that Catholics have allegedly committed multiple contravening crimes such as protecting their leaders who commit sex with minors while they are supposed to live in celibacy. The opposition of abortion by Christians and other religions is also a driving force that renders atheists to violently attack them resulting in actual war. Although religious institutions may be dysfunctional, it does not justify their elimination. The view echoes strong hatred that continues to increase anxiety in the society.

From the beginning of human existence, religion has been linked to many types of quarrels and brutalities. The hands of believers are tainted with blood. Thus, it is reasonable to claim that religion when placed in the hands of wrong individuals may result in devastating harm. In the early days, religious wars were less than what is experienced in the current world. The perception that religion is the primary cause of main wars in the history of humankind is only engrained in mind and community. Out of more than 1,800 main armed conflicts, only less than 130 can be categorized as having originated from religious differences. This means that about ten percent can be associated with religion. It indicates that few people were killed in these conflicts. In the ancient world, wars that were fought due to religion appeared to be less bloody compared to those fought based on other reasons.

In many societies, religion is a positive tool that facilitates the cohesion of a community. It offers a platform for relating and associating with others. Unfortunately, it is openly different when placed in the possession of power-hungry individuals. Such individuals use religious convictions to trounce their rivals. During political campaigns, it is common for aspirants to consolidate votes by associating themselves with certain religions. It is common for such power-hungry aspirants to convert to religions that they consider as a boost to their political endeavors. When religious authority is in the hands of such individuals, it demonstrates the state of human psychology as opposed to the religion itself. This is mainly the basis why most wars experienced in the past involved and will probably continue to entail religion.

Abah, H. (2013). Boko haram has no religious coloration – Bideh. Web.

Erbele, C. (2012). God and War: An exploration. Journal of Law & Religion, 28(1), 1-46.

Houlihan, P. (2012). Local Catholicism as transnational war experience: Everyday religious practice in occupied northern France, 1914–1918. Central European History, 45(1), 233-267.

Woodlock, R., Loewenstein, A., Caro, J. & Smart, S. (2013). Doesn’t religion cause most of the conflict in the world? Web.

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The cause of violence is a lack of respect for other persons’ individual rights. Religion is just another of the myriad excuses used to justify bad behavior.

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Article contents

Culture, religion, war, and peace.

  • Yehonatan Abramson Yehonatan Abramson Department of Political Science, Johns Hopkins University
  • Published in print: 14 December 2013
  • Published online: 30 November 2017

Religion and culture have historically been neglected in international relations (IR) theories and in political science more generally. It was only recently that IR began to consider the role of culture and religion in war and peace. Several main scholarly trends in the study of culture, religion, conflict, and peace can be identified, starting with the definitional problems that IR scholars had to deal with as they tried to incorporate culture and religion. The first major attempt in the IR field to understand war almost exclusively through the religious prism was that of Samuel Huntington, who in his Clash of Civilization (1993, 1996) identifies two main reasons why religion can cause war: first, religion can be considered as a primordial and immutable identity; and second, religion is a form of ideology rather than identity. The scholarly literature has also addressed themes such as religious fundamentalism and violence, the role of religious actors in international conflict, the practical use of religion and culture to promote peace via diplomacy, and engagement of religion and culture in existing peace theories such as democratic peace theory. Avenues for future research may include the relational and constantly changing aspects of religion; what, when, and how various religious interpretations receive political prominence in promoting conflict or peace; how religion can be used as an independent variable across cases; and the hidden set of assumptions that are embedded in the cultural and religion labels.

  • international relations
  • Samuel Huntington
  • religious fundamentalism
  • democratic peace theory


Historically, international relations (IR) theories neglected ideational factors such as identity, religion, and culture. Although culture was a part of political science since Almond and Verba's seminal book in 1963 , IR's dominant schools of thought (Realism and Liberalism) overemphasized material, structural, and “objective” factors in explaining states’ behavior. Religion was ignored altogether not only in IR, but also in political science in general (Wald and Wilcox 2006 ; Bellin 2008 ). In recent years, IR began to consider the role of culture and religion. Culture as a variable appeared during the end of the Cold War together with the “constructivist turn” (Lapid and Kratochwil 1996 ; Checkel 1998 ; Finnemore and Sikkink 2001 ). Religion entered the field a decade later alongside a scholarly focus on ethnic and religious conflicts and religious-inspired terrorism (Fox 2001 :53; Philpott 2009 :184; Snyder 2011 :1).

This essay reviews the main scholarly trends in the study of culture and religion as sources for conflict and resources for peace. After a brief survey of the early works of political theorists regarding religion and war, this essay turns to review how the topic has been understood within IR. As the essay demonstrates, the attempt to deal with religion and culture as part of identity is a source of much confusion. In order to avoid confusion and reiteration of other comprehensive review essays on culture and IR (such as the essays titled “Culture and Foreign Policy Analysis” and “Nonrealist Variables: Identity and Norms in the Study of International Relations” in this work), this essay gives special focus to the topic of religion in studies of conflict and peace. In IR, religion is usually an independent variable that causes war or peace, or an intervening variable that shapes the probability of a conflict and its violent potential (Hasenclever and Rittberger 2000 :644–8). Some scholars focus on what religion says, while others research what religion does; some scholars deal with religion in the individual level, while others emphasize the societal and organizational aspects of religion (Haynes 1998 ). The next section reviews the ways IR scholars define culture and religion and suggests that religion should be viewed as a part of culture. The following sections discuss the clash of civilizations debate; the relationship between fundamentalism and violence; religion as a cause of war; religion and the intensity of war; culture, religion and diplomacy with some references to cross-cultural negotiation; and culture and the democratic peace with some references to the debate regarding religion and democracy. The essay concludes with suggestions for future directions for research.

Conceptualizing Culture and Religion in IR Scholarship

Despite some exceptions, such as Adda Bozeman ( 1960 ), Jack Snyder ( 1977 ), and to some extent Robert Jervis ( 1976 ), IR scholars did not realize the importance of culture and religion to the understanding of peace and conflict until the post-Cold War era and the introduction of constructivism. The first task facing IR scholars trying to incorporate culture and religion is the task of definition. The understanding that these concepts can be rather distinct, but at the same time intrinsically connected has been a source for much confusion and contention. As this section suggests, different IR scholars treat culture and religion in different ways and sometimes use these concepts interchangeably with other concepts, such as norms, identity, and ethnicity.

The first example for such confusion exists in the writings of IR scholars from the English School, who understand religion as the main component in a society's culture. To Bozeman ( 1960 , 1971 ), for example, culture means civilization, and what dictates the mode of thinking and the normative order in a civilization is religion. Similarly, as Buzan ( 1993 :333) and Thomas ( 2005 :153–4) describe, Martin Wight argues that international societies can be formed on the basis of shared culture, but underlines the role of religion in not only promoting such peaceful unity but also holy wars. This view of religion as the core component of civilization is also shared by non-English School scholars such as Huntington ( 1996 ) and some of the authors in the volume edited by Katzenstein ( 2010 ).

While English School theorists understand culture as part of religion, the constructivist theoretical framework does the opposite. In constructivist studies, culture includes religion as well as other concepts such as identity, norms, or ideas (Lapid and Kratochwil 1996 ; Katzenstein 1996 ; Checkel 1998 ; Desch 1998 ). Cohen ( 1997 :11–12), for example, defines culture as “an acquired unique complex of attributes of a society that is subsuming every area of social life,” and we can find a similar approach in Mary Adams Trujillo et al. ( 2008 ). For others, such as Avruch ( 1998 :17) and Abu-Nimer ( 2001 :687) who draw on Theodore Schwartz's definition, culture is a less homogeneous and static concept and it “consists of the derivatives of experience, more or less organized, learned or created by the individuals of a population, including those images or encodement and their interpretations (meanings) transmitted from past generations, from contemporaries, or formed by individuals themselves.”

Subsuming religion under culture kept the concept under-theorized. It is notable that a canonical constructivist text, Alexander Wendt's Social Theory of International Politics ( 1999 ), does not include “religion” in the index (Snyder 2011 :2). An exception is Kubálková ( 2000 ), who brings religion into the study of IR through rule-oriented constructivism. However, the increasing interest in communal conflicts, such as ethno-national wars, and especially the September 11th attacks, have led to a resurgence of religion in the study of world politics (Fox 2001 :53; Philpott 2009 :184; Snyder 2011 :1).

Religion presents further definitional problems. The definition must encompass numerous but exclude from other phenomena such as ideologies or cults (Philpott 2003 ). Some of the early studies that deal with religion and international conflict, such as Ryan ( 1988 ), Azar ( 1990 ), Gurr ( 1994 ), and Gagnon ( 1994 ), consider religion to be part of a larger concept of ethnicity, or communality. Seul ( 1999 :553) tries to explain “the frequent appearance of religion as the primary cultural marker distinguishing groups in conflict,” and concludes that religion often exists “at the core of individual and group identity” (Seul 1999 :558). For Rothschild ( 1981 :86–7), however, religion is subsumed under the concept of ethnic identity. Correlation of War (COW) data uses both religion and ethnicity in measuring culture (see Henderson 1997 :661). Finally, Anthony Smith traces modern nationalism to religious origins (Smith 1999 ; see also Brubaker 2012 ).

Haynes ( 1998 ) provides a brief discussion about the definition dilemma and draws on Aquaviva while offering two sociological definitions. One sees religion as “a system of beliefs and practices related to an ultimate being, beings of the supernatural,” and the other considers religion to be what is “sacred in a society, that is, ultimate beliefs and practices which are inviolate” (Haynes 1998 : 4). The latter kind of definition is sometime referred to as ‘civil religion’ (Liebman and Don-Yiḥya 1983 ).

Toft ( 2007 :99) lists the common elements in most definitions: “a belief in a supernatural being (or beings); prayers and communication with that being; transcendent realities that might include some form of heaven, paradise, or hell; a distinction between the sacred and the profane and between ritual acts and sacred objects; a view that explains both the world as a whole and a person's proper role in it; a code of conduct in line with that world view; and a community bound by its adherence to these elements.”

On one hand, this discussion provides us some indicators to distinguish between religion and culture: the first belongs to the realm of the sacred and involves a relatively stable doctrine that connects the individual with the transcendental, while the latter belongs to the realm of the profane and involves a malleable combination of practices, customs, and expectations in relation to the society. On the other hand, religion and culture are intrinsically connected by myths, practices, and moral judgments that make religion a part of culture.

War and Peace in the Works of Religious Scholars and Political Theorists

Almost all religious texts have references to war and peace – the Hebrew Bible, the New Testament, the Quran, the Iliad and Odyssey, the Rig Veda, Mahabharata and Ramayana, Arthasastra, and so on. These references offer different treatments of war and peace. Some describe human nature as aggressive or as pursuing peace, some explain war and peace as a result of divine intervention and will, and some define the conditions in which war and peace can be achieved. Some references in sacred texts condition peace on the society's moral behavior. Other texts determine with whom, when, and how a war can be held and a peace treaty can be signed. Most of the sacred texts also have detailed historical narratives of war and peace, from which we can draw conclusions how the religion conceives war and peace. Religious figures and leaders are still creating new interpretations and commentary about peace and war, and this rich genre receives a lot of attention from scholars. In the Western world, books on Judaism and Christianity were written focusing on analyzing peace and war in the Hebrew Bible, in the New Testament, and in sermons, letters, and other external texts and exegeses (Arias 1533 ; Belli 1563 ; Benezet 1776 ; Heaton 1816 ; Dymond 1834 ). In the Muslim world, a similar attempt was made (Shaybani 1335 ; Ibn Khaldun 1377 ; Baladhuri 1866 ). This trend is still relevant in contemporary research today in Christianity (Faunce 1918 ; Barrett 1987 ; Swartley 2006 ), in Buddhism (Kraft 1992 ; Jerryson and Juergensmeyer 2010 ), in Islam (Khadduri 1940 ; Khadduri 1955 ; Kelsay and Johnson 1991 ; Abu-Nimer 2003 ; Mirbagheri 2012 ), in Judaism (Homolka and Friedlander 1994 ; Eisen 2011 ), in Hinduism (Banerjee 1988 ), and in some of them together (Jack 1968 ; Ferguson 1978 ; Smock 1992 ; Gort et al. 2002 ; Nelson-Pallmeyer 2003 ; Nan, Mampilly, and Bartoli 2012 ).

Political philosophy also includes religion in its scholarship. Religion, God, and faith exist in the writings of Hobbes, Machiavelli, Grotius, Rousseau, Locke, Kant, and other early Western political thinkers. All of them considered religion to be an inherent part of life and society that had to be accounted for in political analysis. Some perceived religion as a moral and ethical guideline for individuals and society, and some debated whether religion is an obstacle for government and society or an integral part of it. The relationship between religion and political life remains a vibrant subject of debate to this day (Eisenach 1981 ; Beiner 1993 ; Martinich 2003 ; De Vries 2003 ). Despite the richness of the contributions of religious scholars and of philosophers, these works have not yet offered a scientific theory regarding the role that religion plays in war and peace.

Religion and Conflict: The Clash of Civilization Debate

The first major attempt in the IR field to understand war almost exclusively through the religious prism was that of Samuel Huntington in his well-known article and book Clash of Civilization ( 1993 , 1996 ). Huntington, rejecting Francis Fukuyama's notion of the “End of History,” divides the world into seven or eight major civilizations that are fundamentally different from each other “by history, language, culture, tradition and, most important, religion” (Huntington 1993 :25). Instead of the traditional territorial nation-states, Huntington recognizes a world comprised of various identities that are not necessarily delineated by national boundaries. He argues that the end of the Cold War and the ideological battle between the West and the East will be replaced by a battle of civilizations, which is the broadest category of identification for individuals and is mainly determined by religious beliefs. More specifically, Huntington predicts that the main civilizational conflict will be between the Islamic civilization and the Judeo-Christian Western civilization, due to conflictual history from both sides, a large gap in values, the rise of Islamic extremists and fundamentalism, and a clash of identities as a result of Muslim immigration.

In sum, Huntington's view clarifies two main reasons why religion can cause war. First, religion can be considered as a primordial and immutable identity. The Manichean perception of ‘us’ versus ‘them’ that religion provides is a main source of conflict (Dark 2000 :4–5, 11). Second, globalization, which folds within it rapid economic development and an increase in interactions between individual groups, creates a clash between traditional customs and Western modernity (Fox 1997 :3; Thomas 2000 :5). The desire of other civilizations to maintain their core values and traditions, and to prevent the domination of Western culture lead Huntington to claim that civilizational differences will be the main source of future wars (Huntington 1993 :29–31, 40).

Huntington's thesis received a lot of interest in scholarly and political discourse, and his thesis was tested and criticized from many angles. Ajami ( 1993 ), Bartley ( 1993 ), and Weeks ( 1993 ), for example, argue that states are still the main actors in the international system and that the English-Western secular modern force is more powerful than Huntington thinks. Kirkpatrick ( 1993 ) claims that intra-civilizational conflicts are more common than inter-civilizational conflicts. Others, such as Tipson ( 1997 ), Pfaff ( 1997 ), and Said ( 2001 ), criticize Huntington's facts and methodology (for more comprehensive reviews of the clash of civilization debate see O'Hagan 1995 ; Fox and Sandler 2004 ; Fox 2005 ). Katzenstein ( 2010 ) rejects Huntington's conception of civilizations as homogeneous in favor of a pluralistic view recognizing internal diversity. Katzenstein ( 2010 ) further questions the Huntingtonian “clash” with the evident capacity for inter-and trans-civilizational encounters.

Scholars have also made quantitative attempts to test Huntington's theory. Russett, Oneal, and Cox ( 2000 ) examine inter-state wars between 1950 and 1992 and conclude that realist and liberal variables provide better explanations of these conflicts than civilizational factors. Henderson and Tucker ( 2001 ) examine international wars between 1816 and 1992 and find no connection between civilization membership and international wars. In addition, Henderson and Tucker find that conflicts within civilizations are more likely than conflicts between civilizations. More recent attempts also do not find support for the clash of civilization thesis (Chiozza 2002 ; Ben-Yehuda 2003 ; Bolks and Stoll 2003 ; Fox 2004 ; Henderson 2005 ). However, Henderson's ( 1997 :663) findings suggest that “the greater the religious dissimilarity between states, the greater the likelihood of war.” Similarly, Roeder ( 2003 ) examines ethnopolitical conflicts and finds support for Huntington's thesis. Fox, James, and Li ( 2009 ) bring a different angle to the clash of civilizations debate in examining international interventions on behalf of the same ethno-religious group in another state. Although they focus only on conflicts in the Middle East and North Africa, their findings show that Muslim states are more likely to intervene on behalf of other Muslim minorities. Moreover, ethnic conflicts with a religious dimension seem more likely to attract intervention than other ethnic conflicts.

Another view of religion as a cause of war sees religion as a form of ideology rather than identity. In this kind of approach, the emphasis is not on how clashing religious identities create conflict, but rather how religious ideas shape worldviews that justify or are consistent with conflict (see also Desch 1998 ). According to Beker ( 2008 ), for example, the Jewish notion of the “chosen people” has fueled many ideological conflicts between Jews and non-Jews. He further demonstrates how the battle over “chosenness” is evident in modern anti-Semitic discourse. Khadduri ( 1955 ) makes an analogous point with the concepts of dar al-harb (territory of war) and dar al-Islam (territory of Islam) in Islamic laws of war. Similarly, in examining Chinese thought and culture and their influence on Ming strategy towards the Mongols, Johnston ( 1995 :xi) finds that the non-militant ideas usually associated with Confucianism may be “inaccurate, misleading, or plainly wrong.” Juergensmeyer ( 2003 ) focuses on ideas that affect “cultures of violence.” Catholics, Protestants, Jews, Muslims, Sikhs, and others, Juergensmeyer claims, share a worldview of cosmic war between darkness and light (Juergensmeyer 2003 :13, 35). Because religious ideology is a defined non-negotiable set of rules, resolving a religious dispute peacefully is harder than with other disputes (Dark 2000 :1–2).

Religious Fundamentalism and Violence

The relationship between religious worldviews and war leads us to religious fundamentalism and violence. Of special note is the five-volume work by Marty and Appleby ( 1991 –5) that encompasses different approaches and case studies related to fundamentalism. Marty and Appleby ( 1992 :34) define fundamentalism as “a distinctive tendency – a habit of mind and a pattern of behavior – found within modern religious communities and embodied in certain representative individuals and movements … a religious way of being that manifests itself as a strategy by which beleaguered believers attempt to preserve their distinctive identity as a people or group.” They recount the ideological extremism in social, political, and structural conditions, such as social deprivation, repressive regimes, reaction to secularization, and economic crises. Marty and Appleby argue that religious ideas are not the goal for the fundamentalists, but rather they use religion as a means to achieve political ends. Fundamentalists use “old doctrines, subtly lift them from their original context … and employ them as ideological weapons against a hostile world” (Marty and Appleby 1991 :826). Fundamentalism, in this view, is a religious backlash against secular rule (see also Tibi 1999 ). Juergensmeyer ( 1993 ) shares this view but opposes labeling this religious fervor as fundamentalism due to the accusatory and ambiguous meanings of the term.

Eisenstadt ( 1999 ) agrees with Marty and Appleby that “contemporary” fundamentalist movements are thoroughly modern movements, but disagrees with the link they draw between religious force and fundamentalism. For Eisenstadt, contemporary fundamentalist movements rest on the same universal, utopian, totalistic, and secular claims of modernity that the Jacobins and the communist revolutions were based upon but “promulgate anti-modern or anti-Enlightenment ideologies” (Eisenstadt 1999 :1). The direction which a fundamentalist movement takes depends on its civilization, the political and social circumstances surrounding the movement, and the international setting (Eisenstadt 1999 ). Reviews of religious fundamentalism and violence include Gill ( 2001 ) and Ozzano ( 2009 ).

Religious Actors and International Conflict

Scholarship has gone beyond the clash of civilizations debate and the study of fundamentalism to explore further questions about how and under what conditions religion leads to war. One approach has been to consider individual values and mindsets in the lists of factors that affect decision making by leaders, including decisions about war. Brecher ( 1972 ), Jervis ( 1976 ), and Fisher ( 1997 ) focus on culture, while Fox ( 2001 ), Sandal and James ( 2010 ), and Warner and Walker ( 2011 ) focus specifically on religion. On the collective level, society's core values, conceptions, and assumptions about the world and the enemy can influence foreign policy outcomes (Booth 1979 ; Hudson and Vore 1995 ; Reeves 2004 ). Religious beliefs should not be dismissed as irrational or marginal, but should be included in the strategic calculations of leaders and states (Toft 2007 :129).

Religious affinities on the collective level are not confined to traditional territorial state boundaries. Transnational religious actors are another good example of the role of religion in conflict. Religious terrorist groups that have cells in different countries can initiate a conflict between states, and global riots can result from injury to religious sentiment, as in the Danish caricature case (Dark 2000 :5–10; Fox 2001 :67–9; Haynes 2001 ). These kinds of conflicts can be international, when religious diaspora is engaged in the conflict, or remain domestic (civil wars). Fox and Sandler show how local wars can capture the interest of members of transnational religious groups due to the possible involvement of holy sites (Fox and Sandler 2004 :63–82). Even without direct participation in violence, religious transnational movements and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) participate in global conflict by lobbying or protesting in order to encourage a state to intervene in a distant war between ethno-religious minorities (Fox, James and Li 2009 ).

Religion may also have an indirect effect on war since it can be used as a tool to mobilize people and to enhance legitimacy (Fox 2001 :65–7; Haynes 2004 :456; Snyder 2011 :11). This does not necessarily mean that political leaders actually hold religious beliefs but that such beliefs serve them in accomplishing their political interests. This view holds that the recent global resurgence of religion in various societies occurs as a result of instrumental use of religion by political elites (Fox 1997 :4; Hasenclever and Rittberger 2000 :643–6).

The question of whether religion is the cause of a conflict, or just a tool or a dimension of it was addressed in several quantitative studies. Gurr ( 1993 ) uses the Minorities at Risk data to examine mobilization and collective action in “communal conflicts.” His findings indicate that an essential basis for mobilization is a sense of group identity. Gurr measures group identity by using six indicators including religion, ethnicity, and social customs. Fox ( 1997 , 2002 ) tries to isolate conflicts between groups from different religions. Using the same data as Gurr, Fox concludes that in such cases “religious issues play, at most, a marginal role” (Fox 1997 :16). Henderson, however, using Correlates of War data, concludes that “cultural difference, especially in the case of religion, is positively associated with war” (Henderson 1997 :666). Durward and Marsden ( 2009 ) offer a more nuanced and developed understanding of how religious beliefs, discourses, and practices are politicized and used to trigger conflicts, justify military interventions, and facilitate resolutions.

Religion and the Intensity of War

Another trend in the study of religion and war asks whether religious conflicts are more violent than other conflicts and if some religions are more prone to use more violence than others. Fox and Sandler ( 2004 ), using Minorities at Risk data, conclude that “religious conflicts … are consistently more violent than nonreligious conflicts.” A study by Pearce ( 2005 ) using a different data set supports this conclusion.

As for the relationship between a specific religion and violence, Pearce's ( 2005 :349) results show that Judaism and Hinduism are more violence prone, but this may be due to a small number of cases. Fox and Sandler's ( 2004 :132) results demonstrate “conflicts involving Islamic groups are more violent than conflicts not involving Islamic groups,” and conflicts within the Islamic civilization “are slightly more violent” than conflicts between civilizations. Due to the fact that there are many Muslim states, but only one Jewish state and one Hindu state that are each experiencing protracted conflict, it is still unclear whether specific religions are more violent than others, or whether it is a false image created by the uneven numbers of religious groups. The finding that Islamists were involved in 81 percent of the religious civil wars between 1940 and 2000 led Toft ( 2007 ) to eventually conclude that “overlapping historical, geographical, and, in particular, structural factors account for Islam's higher representation in religious civil wars.” More importantly, her theory suggests that religious aspects are an instrument by political elites for gaining more legitimacy in order to survive, or to achieve another objective (Toft 2007 :97–8, 128).

The degree of religious violence does not have to be related to a specific religion, but rather to the type of regime or degree of state power. Thomas ( 2000 :14–15) suggests that the appeal for religious ideas grows larger especially in weak states. Fox ( 1997 ) shows an increase in religious discrimination and grievance in autocratic states compared with democratic regimes. When a transition to democracy happens, the chances of such communal violence rise due to the diminishing power of the regime and an ease of autocratic repression (Gurr 1994 ).

Culture, Religion, and Diplomacy

Scholars have also been interested in the practical use of religion and culture to promote peace. Discussing culture specifically, Kevin Avruch ( 1998 ) suggests that culture is a significant variable in conflict resolution as each negotiator comes with his or her own subculture (class, region, ethnicity, and more). In contrast, Zartman ( 1993 :17) gives culture little substantive significance and argues that it is as relevant as the breakfast the negotiators ate. Fisher ( 1980 ) and Cohen ( 1997 ) occupy the middle ground suggesting that culture matters together with other variables. For a good introductory review regarding these approaches, see Ramsbotham, Miall, and Woodhouse ( 2011 ).

Cultural gaps may involve language barriers, create problems of interpretation, and disrupt the transfer of information (Gulliver 1979 ; Fisher 1980 ; Faure and Rubin 1993 ; Cohen 1997 ; Berton et al. 1999 ). The dichotomy, made by Hall ( 1976 ) between high-context cultures and low-context cultures, is useful in explaining these cultural obstacles in international negotiation. High-context cultures are generally associated with collective societies in which communication is less verbal and more indirect, emphasizing the context in which things are said and done. High-context cultures require communicators to pay attention to nuances and body language. Consequently, those from such cultures are more sensitive socially, they try to please their audience, and they see great importance in small talk and group consensus. Low-context cultures, on the other hand, are individualistic in character, and communication is direct and with a clear message. Accuracy in the written or spoken word is very important in low-context culture, and less attention is paid to context, body language, and facial expressions (Cohen 1997 ; Rubinstein 2003 ). When two societies from the two different types of culture meet around the negotiation table, potential pitfalls are evident. This line of research has specific practical implications. The US Institute of Peace published a series of works analyzing different negotiating styles and behaviors to equip negotiators with a better understanding of cultural differences. Examples include Wittes ( 2005 ), Solomon and Quinney ( 2010 ), and Schaffer and Schaffer ( 2011 ).

As for structure and the process of negotiation, culture can play an important role in the degree of trust between the sides, which can define negotiation strategy and whether there is a need for mediation. These factors can also influence the size of the delegations, the different roles within the delegation, the degree of unity within the delegation, negotiating procedures, seating arrangements, and public announcements (Berton et al. 1999 :3–5).

This vast literature regarding culture and diplomacy has little to say about religion. As former United States Secretary of State and international relations scholar Madeleine Albright confesses, diplomacy, conflict resolution, negotiation, and peace were all conceptualized in secular terms with no room for religion and faith prior to the terror attacks of September 11th (Albright 2006 :8–9). Indeed, most of the IR studies on culture and diplomatic practices to promote peace were written during the 1980s and 1990s. Only after September 11th did religion and faith become a primary topic.

Many scholars agree that the same power that religion has in inciting conflicts can also be used to promote peace (Gopin 1997 ; Appleby 2000 ; Broadhead and Keown 2007 ). Some works continue the trajectory of previous studies on cross-cultural negotiation and focus on a specific religion. In the case of Islam, Alon ( 2000 ), Alon and Brett ( 2007 ), and Pely ( 2010 ) focus on Muslim perceptions of conflict resolution, values of honor, and the institutional mechanism of sulha (reconciliation). Other studies consider how peace can be achieved with an emphasis on shared religious values, such as empathy, forgiveness, mercy, compassion and the Golden Rule to “do unto others as you would have them do unto you” (Gopin 1997 ; Gopin 2001 ; Cilliers 2002 ; Carter and Smith 2004 ). Similarly, Albright ( 2006 :73) mentions the religious notion that “we are all created in the image of God” as a common ground. Shore ( 2009 :2) shows how “Christianity played a central role in South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission,” and how values of forgiveness and justice were important in South Africa's peaceful transition to democracy. Similarly, Gopin ( 2002 ) argues that in the Israeli-Palestinian case, the marginalization of religious aspects was crucial in the failure of the Oslo agreement. He adds that by putting religion in the middle of the reconciliation process, and with dialogues between key religious figures from both sides, peace in the Middle East can be achieved.

While traditional realpolitik diplomacy has had difficulties coping with religion-inspired conflicts, non-state actors, such as religious leaders and members of religious NGOs, had more success in promoting peace in different forms – whether peacemaking, peacebuilding, peace enforcing, or peace keeping (Little 2006 :102). Cynthia Sampson ( 1997 ) overviews the various roles and methodologies used by religious-motivated institutional actors in the process of peacebuilding. She provides manifold examples of conflict intervention by religious institutional actors that advocate (such as during the Rhodesian war of independence), intermediate (such as in the 1972 Sudanese peace process), observe (such as during the 1991 Zambian elections), and educate (such as in Northern Ireland). Appleby ( 2000 ) offers a similar approach focusing on religious actors and their roles.

The vast examples of religious involvement in peacebuilding have led Johnston and Sampson ( 1997 ) and Johnston ( 2003 ) to conceptualize this type of diplomacy as “faith-based diplomacy,” which takes place through track II channels (the informal and unofficial negotiations). In general, the Catholic Church receives more scholarly attention than other religious institutions in mediating disputes. Examples include the 1968–89 internal dispute in Bolivia (Klaiber 1993 ) and the Beagle Channel dispute between Argentina and Chile (Garrett 1985 ; Lindsley 1987 ; Laudy 2000 ). Bartoli's analyses of the reconciliation process in Mozambique specify how religion plays a role in conflict resolution. He demonstrates that religion does not replace or transform the political process of negotiation, but rather provides motivation, organizational capacities, legitimacy, and flexibility (Bartoli 2001 , 2005 ; see also Toft, Philpott, and Shah 2011 ).

The volume edited by David Little ( 2007 ) offers a different perspective that focuses on individual religious figures, rather than institutions, as peacemakers. Examples from El Salvador, Israel/Palestine, Kosovo, Northern Ireland, and Sudan highlight the grassroots efforts by religious individuals to promote peace. Using religious texts, rituals, and networks these individuals increase global attention, help find common ground, provide moral justification, and facilitate face-to-face communication between the warring sides (see also Smock 2008 ; for more on the topic of diplomacy and religion see “Diplomacy and Religion”).

Recently, there is a growing interest in challenging the secularist assumptions of United States foreign policy. Hurd ( 2008 ), for example, demonstrates that the perceived separation between religious and secular political authorities is a result of a political process and is socially constructed. By identifying two trajectories of secularism – a laicist one and a Judeo-Christian one – she shows how religion and secularism were never apart. Thus, instead of characterizing religion as a threat, diplomats and decision makers should realize that there are various political representations and interpretations of religion and should make more room for non-Western forms of politics (Hurd 2007 ). From a different perspective, Farr ( 2008 ) calls for rejecting the American narrow version of religious freedom that focuses on humanitarian violations in favor of a more tolerant and broader version that builds and encourages different versions of religious freedom in different regimes. Philpott ( 2013 :31) supports Farr's conclusions by highlighting how religious freedom is a “critical enabler of peace.”

Culture, Religion, and the Democratic Peace

Another research theme in IR tries to engage religion and culture in existing peace theories. The main example is democratic peace theory, by which liberal democracies tend not to fight each other. One of the explanations for democratic peace argues that shared cultures, values, and norms favoring compromise and peaceful solutions lead liberal democracies to solve disputes peacefully (Maoz and Russett 1993 ). But the traditional cultural explanation for democratic peace focuses on political culture and not on other elements such as ethnicity, language, and religion. Henderson ( 1998 ) tests the theory with those elements included and concludes that religious similarities within democratic dyads decrease the likelihood of war, while ethnic and lingual similarities increase this likelihood.

The connection between peaceful behavior and regime type led scholars to examine the connection between specific religions and democracy as a way to better understand the conditions for democracy and presumably for peace. After Huntington's theory and the events of September 11th, Western scholars tested Bernard Lewis’ hypothesis that Islamic religion conflicts with democracy (Midlarsky 1998 :486). This topic was researched from different angles. Some argue that Muslim resistance to modernity is an obstacle to democracy (Sivan 1990 ); some argue that lack of sufficient economic development holds back democracy; others claim that the possession of oil and the concept of the ‘rentier state’ hinder democracy (Ross 2001 ; Fish 2002 ); and some claim that the ideas grounded in Islamic thought and religion are incompatible with democracy (Huntington 1984 ; Lewis 1996 ). On the other hand, Esposito and Piscatori ( 1991 ) and Esposito and Voll ( 1996 ) argue that Islam is not necessarily hostile to democracy, and urge us to remember that Islam, like democracy, has a variety of interpretations, meanings, and political practices. Midlarsky ( 1998 ) tries to test the relationship between Islam and democracy using a political rights index (measuring procedural democracy) and an index of liberal democracy (measuring liberal freedoms). He finds that Islam, measured by the percentage of population that is Muslim, has a negative correlation with liberal freedoms but does not necessarily rule out democratic procedure. Recently, Hunter and Malik ( 2005 ) offer an antithesis to this view and demonstrate how military, colonial, international economic, and domestic economic factors prevented the creation of a civil society that is crucial for democracy. Sonn and McDaniel's chapter in the same book demonstrates how modern Islamic thought is quite similar to Western values, including rationality and tolerance.

Future Research

In the study of war and peace, religion long played a marginal role. Both sacred texts and Western canonical philosophical works contain religious references to war and peace, but none of the main theoretical works in IR address religion. Since the end of the Cold War and the growing attention to ethnic conflicts, new interests in culture and religion emerged. Scholars first explored the interplay of culture, war, and peace focusing on decision making, negotiation, national character, and the cultural construction of friends and foes. Then, as a result of the growing attention to ethnic conflict and terrorism, there was a resurgence of interest in religion in IR scholarship. Treated both as a central component of social identity and as an overarching ideology, religious international violence is understood by some scholars as a reaction to global population flows, modernization processes, and secularization.

Religion, as a social phenomenon, is also able to help us understand the growing power of actors outside the traditional boundaries of the state. Transnational actors that share religious beliefs with each other can pursue different, and sometimes contradictory, goals from those of the nation-state. Such actors can ignite conflicts, but can also help in mediating negotiations and promoting peace. Diplomats have learned to use key religious figures in their reconciliation attempts and they try to emphasize common values and diminish differences between religions.

The rediscovery of religion in IR scholarship has produced many studies that try to theorize the role of religion in conflict and peace. Thus far, these studies treat religion either as a political tool used by agents for their own interests or as an essentialist ideological scheme that informs actors’ behavior. Future research may focus on the relational and constantly changing aspects of religion and show what, when, and how various religious interpretations receive political prominence in promoting conflict or peace. Moreover, IR scholarship could use more theorization of how religion can be used as an independent variable across cases. How can one compare the religious passions animating the Crusades, with the religious passions during the Thirty Years War, or with modern fundamentalist terrorism? The definitional problems, mentioned earlier, provide difficulties in that regard.

A new way to look in more depth at religious and cultural elements of international politics is to use them as interpretive tools. Culture can be conceptualized as the “practices of meaning-making,” and thus open an opportunity to investigate the ways in which meanings are created within a society (Wedeen 2002 ). For example, examining political rhetoric can help us understand how meanings become inscribed within a society and how changes in rhetoric can lead to changes in foreign policy (Krebs and Jackson 2007 ; Krebs and Lobasz 2007 ). Another beneficial way to engage the elusive concepts of culture and religion is to trace the hidden set of assumptions that are embedded in the cultural and religion labels. What does “democracy” or “freedom” mean to different cultural or religious groups? What types of behavior are expected from a negotiator who is labeled Muslim or Buddhist and how does it affect the negotiation process? Moreover, how does popular representation of different religions shape these hidden assumptions?

IR literature will probably continue to engage culture and religion in its research, but in order to develop the field and avoid academic stagnation, it is important to enable scientific pluralism that will force us to reconsider how we treat religion and culture. A deeper understanding of different religions and cultures will open our understanding of the different “worlds” within “our world” and will identify the values that drive these worlds.


I wish to thank Renée Marlin-Bennett for her valuable guidance and comments, and Andrew Mark Bennett for his meticulous assistance.

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Links to Digital Materials

Berkley Center for Religion, Peace & World Affairs. At , accessed August 21, 2013 . The Berkley Center for Religion, Peace & World Affairs, based at Georgetown University, is an educational and a research center for the study of religion in relation to various international phenomena, such as globalization, human rights, ethnics of war, negotiation, and more. The website also includes data regarding international religious freedom.

The Institute for Cultural Diplomacy (ICD). At , accessed August 21, 2013 . The ICD is an international NGO whose main goal is to enhance the intercultural relations between peoples and areas in the world. The ICD offers reports and publications researching various aspects of cultural diplomacy – definitions, efforts, implementation, and future directions. The institute combines academic development of the field with practical programs and educational resources.

Minorities at Risk (MAR). At , accessed August 21, 2013 . The MAR project, located at University of Maryland, collects data regarding active conflict between communal groups. Among other variables, the MAR data measures religious characteristics of the conflicting groups.

Religions and Ethics in the Making of War and Peace Project. At , accessed August 21, 2013 . The project on Religion and Ethnics in the Making of War and Peace, based at the University of Edinburgh, is an academic and practical forum to discuss the relationship between military and religious ethics. The publication section includes several articles on that topic.

Religions for Peace. At , accessed August 21, 2013 . Religion for Peace was founded in 1970 as a coalition of representatives from the world's major religions dedicated to promote peace. The website offers guides and resources aimed to help religious leaders decrease violence and encourage development and peace.

United States Institute of Peace. At , accessed August 21, 2013 . Beside various books dealing with negotiation styles of different cultures, the United States Institute of Peace offers panels, initiatives, reports, and other publications dealing both with culture and religion in diplomacy and in war.

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Character limit 500 /500 – Collections of Essay for Students of all Class in English

Is Religion the Cause of War Essay

Is Religion the Cause of War

Human beings are the most unique creation of God on this earth. We all are born equally by the grace of the supreme power of God. Further, we are differentiated into different religions according to the family where we are born. We are classified into different religions on the basis of different beliefs and practices. The history reveals about several destruction and bloodshed have taken place because of the religious wars in the past.

Short and Long Essay on Is Religion the Cause of War in English

Can we say that religion is the factor responsible for the destruction and war in the past and present? It is an important topic for exam aspirants. I will be providing a long and short essay on this topic that might be helpful for the students of schools, colleges, and universities.

10 Lines Essay on Advantages (100 – 120 Words)

1) Today people are separated from each other by following different religions.

2) People follow different gods and their teachings.

3) Religious war occurs when people start hating other religions.

4) Religious conflicts had a great history in our world.

5) Some religion promotes peace as the solution to every problem.

6) It is only people who fight in the name of religion.

7) When religious sentiments are harmed, people attack those with other religions.

8) No religion teaches war and conflict among each other.

9) Many dirty political motives promote war by targeting religion.

10) Crusades, Bosnian war, 9/11 attack, etc are some religious conflicts taken place in the past.

Short Essay 1 (300 Words) – Every Religion is the Messenger of Love, Peace, Unity, Not War


The culture and traditions in different nations of the world differ from each other. It is because of the presence of people practicing different religions. Every religion has its unique culture and tradition. There are some countries in the world with people belonging to only one religion while some countries have people of different religions. India is a unique nation in the world where the highest cultural and religious diversity can be observed.

Every Religion is the Messenger of Love, Peace, and Unity

Religion is a way to be closer and worship the supreme power god. There are many religions in this world with their different culture and tradition. There is a sacred book in every religion that gives important teaching to the people. There is no religion in the world that states war and violence to be the solution to any problem. Every religion spreads the message of love, peace, and humanity among the people of the world.

The Cause of War in the Name of Religion!

It is not the religion that is the cause of religious wars in the past as well as the present. The reason for these wars and clashes is the difference in the views of people and the selfish motives of some political people. The people fight when their religious sentiments are hurt. There are some political people who have made religion cause of war and God as a business. They get benefitted when there are wars in the name of religion. We need to understand the political motives behind any type of religious war and take action accordingly. Also, we need to have respect for the values and beliefs of other religions.

It is a most common habit of people to blame the entire family or background of the person if he or she is wrong. In the same way, it will be wrong to state that religion is the cause behind the religious wars in the world except for political motives.

Long Essay 2 (1000 Words) – Is Religion Responsible for the Religious Conflicts in the World

Every nation and society in this world consists of people of different religions. Hinduism, Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Jainism, Parsi are some of the major religions. Religion is about worshipping the supreme power by our faith and beliefs. It can be said as the structure of the society where the people follow similar rituals, traditions, and possess a common faith.

What is Religion?

It is very complex to understand what basically religion is as it has various definitions in different contexts. It has been explained by several people in different ways. In easier words, Religion is a path that connects human beings with the divine power of God. It is about the beliefs and practices performed by human beings to worship god. There is only one supreme power in the universe and is worshipped in various forms by different religions. Different ways of having faith in god differentiate us into different religions and each religion is distinguished by a group of people with the same beliefs and practices. There are almost 10,000 religions in this world. Religion itself is an institution that inculcates moral values, unity, ethical values, Laws, rules and regulations, in us.

Conflicts due to Religion

The wars fought by the people of one religion against another religion are called religious conflicts. The religious wars fought in history are only 6.86% of the total wars fought. Wars are destructing as it causes massive loss of life, bloodshed, and terror. Religious wars form a major part of our history. These wars are said to depict religion to be the main cause for the happening of such violence and destruction. Some of the major religious conflicts are Crusades, The Inquisition, Middle East war, Bosnian war, French wars of religion, Northern Island war, etc. At present, the terrorist attacks and 9/11 attacks due to religious conflicts have taken place. The wars took place in the past, happening in the present, and will also be continued in the future. These wars are the result of the hatred that occurred between the people of different religions.

Why Religious Conflicts Occur?

The differences between the ideologies of the people of different religions have been a major issue for religious violence in the past and present. It is the belief that makes people become the follower of a particular religion. People become aggressive if something is said against their religion or faith. It simply hurts their belief. This increases the chances of revolts between people of different religions. Moreover, discrimination on the basis of caste and religion are amongst the major cause of conflicts at present in India and world.

The concept of secularism states that people of the nation are free to practice any religion according to their beliefs. This makes the people following different religions live together. The conflict is sure to arise where people of different religions live together. The reason for these conflicts is the hatred in the people of one religion for the other religion. It arises because people want others to live the same as they do. They try to impose their own rules on others and control people’s thinking. This is impossible as every one of us has the freedom to live life according to our choice. These differences will surely result in conflicts.

Religion is Always the Promoter of Love and Peace

People in the world are followers of different religions. Every religion has some sacred books. These sacred books like Gita, Quran, Bible or Guru Granth Sahib, etc contain the important teachings given by the religion. Every religion teaches us the same thing but the way they impart is different. All religions teach us to live in unity, love, and peace. No religion is a promoter of violence. Every religion gives us a lesson to end up the differences with a peaceful solution.

Religions being the promoter of peace harmony and love can never be a cause of violence. It can be stated with an example- The parents never teach us any wrong moral and habit. But somehow due to wrong influence if any one of us turns into a spoilt child. Will it be good to blame the family background or parents for the wrong deeds of the son/daughter? In the same way, we cannot blame the entire religion to be a cause of religious violence.

Is Religion Responsible for the Religious Conflicts in the World?

Religion is something that is beyond any type of conflict. It is not the religion but the belief of people who are said to be the followers of the religion. Most of the religious wars either in past or present are the results of misconceptions or any other factor like social, political, or economic factors given the face of religion. We cannot blame religion for the wrong deeds of some people. If we observe the terrorist activities it is also concerned with a particular religion but we cannot blame the whole religion because of the wrong deeds of few people of the religion.

Terrorists do not belong to any religion as no religion teaches violence and destruction. Lord Jesus also said that try to win the enemies not by war or killing but by peacemaking. The religious wars fought in the past were more to satisfy the self aggressiveness and motive than religion being a primary cause of war. Winning by war is the thought of the people, not religion. Thus, it will be more appropriate to state that ideologies of people and selfish motives are responsible for the conflicts, not religion.

Religion is used as a tool for arising conflicts among the people of different religions. This is because of some people who are just interested in getting success in their selfish motives. Truly Religious people will never find war as a solution for any kind of enmity. Religion teaches us love, peace and harmony and thus same can be applied to get rid of the differences created between the religions.

FAQs: Frequently Asked Questions

Ans . Religious wars constitute to 6.98% of the total wars in history.

Ans . The ideology change was the major cause of dispute among the people of different religions.

Ans . Hinduism that has evolved more than 4000 years back is said to be the oldest religion on earth.

Ans . Christianity is a highly followed religion in the world.

Ans . Shintoism is followed in Japan.

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Religion as the Cause of War, Essay Example

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War and religion are two entities that have existed since the beginning of time. War is an organized and prolonged conflict between two or more opposing sides. Often, one or more of those sides are driven by religious thoughts and beliefs. The questioning of the cause of war, as well as the questioning of others’ religious beliefs has gone on just as long as war and religion themselves. Many believe that the two are intertwined and that religion is usually the cause of most major wars. In places like Palestine, Iran and throughout the Middle East, religion has been fueling wars and conflicts for centuries. There are even wars that are started within one specific religion over various beliefs or territorial rights- like the fighting between the Islamic sects in the Middle East. Because of the wide and prominent occurrence of wars in the name of “god”, many people tend to believe that religion can be a leading cause of war all over the globe.

Even when deconstructed, wars that may not seem to be religiously oriented tend to come down to religion in the end. Countless wars fought throughout history were shown to be the result of territorial disputes, ethnic and racial differences or other various non-religious factors. When examined closely however, it was the poverty of the people that often caused them to revolt- poverty that was caused by religion. “Unlike many infectious diseases, the plague of war is not caused by some virus or bacterium or parasite, but rather by a pathogen that is even more potentially lethal: the beliefs created by the human mind” (Tosteson, 2003).

That statement by Tosteson is a powerful and heavy allegation- that human beliefs are more threatening and lethal to people than diseases. Can the human mind really be so powerful that it can manifest a war solely based on religious beliefs? History says yes. A religious war is a war caused by, or justified by, religious differences. Religious wars can be traced back as far as the beginning of organized religions and have continued and still occur today.

Between the 11th and 13th century, the Crusades occurred in Europe. The Crusades were a war between Christians and Muslims which centered around the city of Jerusalem and the Holy places of Palestine- a religiously motivated war that lasted a total of 702 years. The conflict between Palestine and Israel is both an ethnic conflict and a religious war that has been ongoing since the the 1950s and has caused a massive number of casualties over who owns the religious rights to Jerusalem. In 1966, South Vietnam saw a period of civil unrest where the discrimination against the Buddhist population in the country created the growth of Buddhist institutions as they sought to participate in national politics and gain better treatment- as the Buddhist population continued to be ignored, a “Struggle Movement” formed in South Vietnam and civil unrest took over the northern part of the country. In Ireland, religious rivalries between the Protestants and the Catholics have caused civil unrest and violence for decades.

“Much of the conflict in Northern Ireland can be explained by the unstable balance of power between the two groups and the vulnerability this causes. Northern Ireland has a population of 1,577,836 (The Northern Ireland Census, 1991). Of these, 605,639 are Catholic 788,136 are other religions, mostly Protestant, and 174,061 are none or did not state” (Malignani Institute of Technology Staff).

And even in today’s society, examples like the September 11th terrorist attacks, the Boston Marathon bombings, the continued conflict in Israel and Palestine and the deepening clashes between Islamic sects- particularly the Sunnis and the Shiites- continue to reinforce the notion that religion does in fact lead to war.

The previous examples show that no religion is excluded from any involvement in religious oriented wars. Catholics, Christians, Protestants, Muslims, Jewish, Buddhist, and Hindu followers have all been tied to religious wars throughout history in one way or another. This reinforces Tosteson’s theory that human beliefs are the most lethal pathogen in society- in one way, shape or form, a majority of major wars and violent attacks against innocent civilians have been in the name of religion.

Because of the violent nature of war, it begs for justification- however justifying what drives a man to want to kill is not a simple feat. Since the beginning of time, philosophers, historians, theologians and more have tried to pinpoint the cause of war- trying to find a meaning behind all of the violence and hatred. The facts show that many of the times, the driving forces of these violent acts are motivated by religious beliefs, even if those beliefs are misconstrued. Many times people will act out in the name of a certain religion, even when the majority of that particular religion disagrees with the actions of the group or person. Other times, an entire religion will be in cahoots and wage war against another religion. This can be over land and territory, contradicting religious beliefs, or superficial issues like money and class separation, which at their base have ultimately been caused by specific religious ideations.

Deconstructing religious wars belief by belief, it becomes obvious that the human mind can be a powerful motivating force in the cause of war. Looking at the history of the Catholic church, the Crusades were a brutal and violent time for the church that lasted over 700 years.

“The Crusades were expeditions undertaken- in fulfilment of a solemn vow- to deliver

the Holy Places from Mohammedan tyranny…The idea of the crusade corresponds to a political conception which was realized in Christendom from the eleventh to the fifteenth century. After pronouncing a solemn vow, each warrior received a cross from the hands of the pope or his legates, and was thenceforth considered a soldier of the Church. Crusaders were granted indulgences and temporal privileges, such as exemption from civil jurisdiction, inviolability of persons or lands” (Brehier, 1908).

The Crusades were a long and trying time for Europe, where Catholic ideologies dominated the area- causing wars, violence, and mass devastation.

In Palestine and Israel, a heated conflict has been ongoing since the beginning of the 20th century. The conflict between Israel and Palestine has its roots as far back as the late 19th and early 20th centuries- sourcing from the birth of major nationalist movements among the Jews, as well as the Arabs, both geared towards attaining sovereignty for their people. In 1947 the United Nations had to intervene on behalf of the Palestinian and Israeli people in hopes to decrease the conflict between the two sides. The United Nations partitioned the land into Arab and Jewish states- but once again, the two sides could not agree on the United Nation’s solution to the ongoing conflict, and war broke out. The conflict between Palestine and Israel continues today and the violence and crime associated with the conflict is rooted in religion.

Religious based terrorist attacks are also a form of religious war, if one defines war as an organized conflict between two sides. These attacks are drastic in nature and often rooted in deep founded religious beliefs. If religion causes war, and terrorism is a form of war, then it can be assumed that religion be a leading cause of terrorism. “The world’s great religions all have both peaceful and violent messages from which believers can choose. Religious terrorists and violent extremists share the decision to interpret religion to justify violence, whether they are Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Jewish, Muslim, or Sikh” (Zalman, 2008). Examples of significant terrorist attacks rooted in religion include the assassination of Egyptian president Anwar Sadat, and suicide bombings in Israel in the name of Islam, the attacks by Zionist militants on the British in the 1940s which were rooted in Jewish beliefs and the attacks by reconstructive Christian’s in the name of God aimed at homosexuals and women committing abortion.

History is a great indicator that religion may not be the only cause of war, but in many cases, if it is not the driving force of the conflict, in some way, shape or form, religious ideologies play a role in most large conflicts worldwide. The fact that every single religion has a history of war caused by specific beliefs echoes the statement that the human mind is the most dangerous and lethal weapon facing the globe. It is these strongly held beliefs that motivate people to cause such vicious and cruel acts. There is no question that when people have contrasting beliefs, conflict will arise. Religious wars have existed for centuries- and for centuries presidents, kings, politicians, historians and more have tried to find a way to end the constant conflicts and disagreements between the opposing sides. The fact is, there my be no solution. Even if it can be 100% proven that religion is the cause of war, that does nothing to end the conflict and violence that has been going on for centuries. In an ideal world, everyone would learn to get along- but that is not the world in which we live- and the fact is, people are going to continue to have this ideals and beliefs because religion is the opiate of the masses. As long as religion exists, religious wars will exist- it is an unfortunate inevitability.

Tosteson, Daniel. “Unhealthy Beliefs: Religion and the Plague of War.” The MIT Press, Aug. 2003. Web. 29 May 2013. <>.

Malignani Institute of Technology Staff. “The Northern Ireland Religion Conflict – The Conflict.” The Northern Ireland Religion Conflict – The Conflict . N.p., n.d. Web. 30 May 2013. <>.

Bréhier, Louis. “Crusades.” The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 4. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1908. 30 May 2013 <>.

Isseroff, Ami. “Current Issues in the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict.” The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict . MidEastWeb for Coexistence, 2007. Web. 30 May 2013. <>.

Zalman, Amy, PHD. “Religious Terrorism.” Terrorism Issues ., 2008. Web. 30 May 2013. <>.

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argumentative essay about is religion the cause of war

Is religion the cause of war argumentative essay

Is religion the cause of war argumentative essay is the most widely demanded topic in exams. This essay can also be titled as does religion bring peace, does religion cause conflict essay, does religion cause peace, does religion cause war, does religion cause war debate, does religion cause war essay, does religion cause war pros and cons and how does religion affect war.


Human beings are the most prior and unique creation of God on the earth which forms culture and society.  All human beings are created equally by the gracious supreme power of God. Then we are divided into different religions on the basis of different beliefs.  Every culture and society obeys some sort of religion which includes Islam, Buddhism, and Christianity.    These religions may differ in philosophy or ideology which in return shapes the behavior of a society. 

History reveals many wars of several bloodsheds and taken the lives of many throughout human history.  Many wars have left their mark on our literature that has been taken place in the past.  The reasons behind these wars are for authority, revenge, or economic gains.

What is Religion?

          “ Religion can be defined as worshipping the supreme power according to one’s own faith and beliefs.”

Religion has many other definitions in different contexts as well because it has been explained by different people of different perspectives.  In simple words, religion is the way that connects mankind to the divine of supreme powers. 

Religions differ in the context of differences between the people’s beliefs and practices to worship God.  There is only one supreme power in the universe that is worshiped in different ways by divergent religions.  Different ways of worshipping God vary in the religions.  One religion always consists of the people having the same perception toward God.

Another most prominent definition of religion is;

  Religion is an institute that inculcates moral values, ethical values, laws , and regulations in its followers.

The clashes between the concepts toward the religions have led mankind to many gruesome wars in the past.  The main reason for these wars is that every follower manipulates their own rules and perspectives which differ from other religions. 

Religion is a symbol of love, peace, and unity:

Religion does not only differ in way of worshipping God but it is the messenger of love, peace, unity, and discipline.  There are many religions in the world that have different cultures, values, and traditions.  Every religion contains a sacred book that records the important teaching for its followers.  There exists no religion which states to shed blood and create violence to solve problems.  Every religion spreads the message of peace and humanity among its followers. 

It is not the religion that became the reason for wars in the past and present.  The main reasons for these wars are the clashes between the viewpoints of people and the opinions of political-minded people.  Religion does not convey any message of war but people commit it when their religious sentiments are hurt by others.   There are some political minds that made religion the business and cause of war.  They always get political gains behind every war.  There is a great need of understanding their political gains and act accordingly.  If we respect the values and beliefs of other religions then there would be a peaceful environment in our societies. 

Conflicts in religions:

When people of one religion fight against the other religion, it is called a religious conflict.  A lot of religious wars were fought in history which caused a lot of bloodshed, losses of lives, terror, and violence.  A major part of wars fought in history consist of religious wars.  These wars are often considered to be religious conflicts that caused such massive violence and destruction.  These religious conflicts existed in the past, present, and will surely be present in the future.  It is quite clear that when people of different perspectives and concepts live together in one community there occurs an opinion conflict.  This opinion conflict is not acceptable for every person.  So, there occurs a fight among these people.  In short, these wars and fights are the consequences of hatred that is found in the people of different religions. 

Causes of religious conflicts:

There is always a difference between the ideologies of people of different religions and it is found to be the major reason for conflicts and violence in history.  Religion is always based on beliefs, faith, and acknowledgment.  Followers of religion become aggressive when something wrong is said about their religion.  When someone hurts their faith there is a chance of an increase in the revolts between two religions.  One most prominent cause of violence between the people of different religions is the discrimination among the people on the basis of religion and caste. 

Is religion the cause of war?

Every religion in the world promotes love, peace, and unity.  Discriminations based upon the name of religion should be condemned.  Everyone has his own beliefs, faith, and perception of life.  But there exist some political minds that describe religion as the cause of war just to gain their selfish motives.  Religion is the name of promoting harmony and peace and it can never be a reason for war. 

The concept of religion is something that is beyond any kind of conflict and war.  It is not only a religion but the deep faith of its followers.  All the wars that are named to be the religious wars whether in past or the present occurred due to some misconception or any political, social, or personal gain factor given the name of religion.  if someone is found to be a terrorist then we cannot blame the whole religion.  Everyone is responsible for his own bad deeds.  Terrorists do not belong to some specific religion because there is no religion that promotes violence and destruction. 


Religion is considered to be the reason for conflicts in many people.  But this is not true because there are some people who bring conflicts in two religions for their personal gains only.  True followers of religion will never solve any problem by bringing more conflicts and violence among the people.  Religions always convey love, peace, and harmony.  This religious war is a manmade concept otherwise no religion leads to bloodshed and violence. 

Which is the most widely spread religion of the world?

Which religion is the oldest religion in the world.

The word Hindu is an exonym, and while  Hinduism  has been called the oldest religion in the world

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Does Religion Cause Conflict or Peace ?

This essay will explore the dual role of religion in both causing conflicts and promoting peace. It will discuss historical and contemporary examples where religion has been a source of conflict, as well as instances where it has been instrumental in peacebuilding and reconciliation efforts. Also at PapersOwl you can find more free essay examples related to Gender.

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Religion, according to Mrs. Kieffer, is “a set of beliefs and rituals based on a unique vision of how the world ought to be”. Religion has been a significant role in the lives of the everyday person, and while it has been a major factor in the history of humans, – creating hope and faith – it has also caused additional and unintentional conflicts in society. Initially, and still to a certain degree, religion is still a large part of today’s society, although the children of this century has become less devoted to religion and more devoted to the aspects of the ever advancing technology.

Moreover as part of society, religion has caused many issues concerning gender inequality and inequality to the LGBTQ groups. Consequently, religion as a whole has caused many wars to erupt throughout history, because of its “unique” beliefs in certain aspect “of how the world ought to be”.

Religions across the world have principles and rules in which the followers are to live by. In religion women are considered to be 2nd to all male be it father, husband, or son. A women since ancient times are considered to stay at home and beare children for her husband’s family, there was never a mention of a women standing up and fight against the discrimination against these gender roles. For example Timothy 2:11-12 said “I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quite”(Olivia, Cassaundra, Isabella) , and to this day religious women still does not differentiate that a women should not bow to a man as all genders are equal. Women are the center of the religion, as they have been extremely active in the participation in rituals. For example, Woodhead from Washington Post wrote that “Nuns, for example, in the Christian tradition had huge power at certain times in history, acting as very independent groups doing their own thing without a great deal of clerical control” In the present day, religion has advance in some part, making it possible for women to hold power in some branches of certain religion. For example, less than 12% of women are pastors in 2012, even though the percentage are small, women are starting to hold power even if it is a small amount (Melissa, Gabe, Brock).

Another conflict that religion has with is the indepence of a person’s choice in relationship. In most religion a man is not supposed to court a man or a women is not to court a women, because it is considered a taboo. For example, LGBTQ People and Religion wrote, “ For most of human history, gay men and lesbians have been viciously persecuted. Today, homosexuals are a favorite target of the religious right, whose members frequently quote scripture to justify anti-gay bias and even violence.’’ Although , the reason for these discriminations are because of wrong interpretations of the multiple religious texts. An example of the is from LGBTQ People and Religion who wrtoe that the “ Biblical interpretations that are used to condemn gay men and lesbians are used in much the same way that other readings of scripture have been to justify the perceived inferior status of other minority groups. This is, in part, because the Bible itself contains many opportunities for potentially controversial interpretations.” in these interpretations many will interpret it the way they view of it as right. An example of this is from 2017 in which a homosexual couple; David and Charlie wanted a wedding cake and asked the backer Jack from Master Cake to make them a wedding cake but he refused because it would be against his religious teaching and that it would express and opinion in which he did not support. The situation was taken to the supreme court, and they were in the favor or Jack. Although it was in jack’s favor, he knew the reason why the couple did what they did and the couple knew why Jack did what he did.

Consequently, in the same fashion religion caused some of the major wars in the world, because of the idea of how things are meant to be. For example the most current major war about religion in the middle east was because of the idea that the Holy land of Jerusalem is for only one group and should not be shared, between the Palestinians and Israelis. The conflict between these 2 countries started in the 20th century and is still ongoing, with a death count of 9,854 palestine and 1,261 israelites in 2019 alone. Another major current conflict in the past few years is a militant group from Al-Qaeda called ISIS; the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria is a group who believe that they are the new Caliph and is the new Islamic Force. They uses religion as a reason to terrorise and frighten people because the belive that it is the way for people to see what they believe in and for them to promote their religion. Overall religion causes wars, and inequality between people whether they be because of genders or personal preferences and the “unique” beliefs of different types of people and their beliefs in certain aspect “of how the world ought to be”.


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"Does Religion Cause Conflict or Peace ?." , 29 May 2021, (2021). Does Religion Cause Conflict or Peace ? . [Online]. Available at: [Accessed: 19 May. 2024]

"Does Religion Cause Conflict or Peace ?.", May 29, 2021. Accessed May 19, 2024.

"Does Religion Cause Conflict or Peace ?," , 29-May-2021. [Online]. Available: [Accessed: 19-May-2024] (2021). Does Religion Cause Conflict or Peace ? . [Online]. Available at: [Accessed: 19-May-2024]

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Informational: Develop the topic with facts, definitions, concrete details, quotations, or other information and examples related to the topic; include illustrations and multimedia when useful to aiding comprehension. Opinion: Provide reasons that are supported by facts and details; draw from credible sources. Narrative: Use narrative techniques such as dialogue, description, and pacing to develop experiences and events or show the responses of characters to situations. Informational: Group related information in paragraphs and sections, linking ideas within categories of information using words and phrases; provide a concluding statement or section; include formatting when useful to aiding comprehension. Opinion: Create an organizational structure that includes related ideas grouped to support the writer’s purpose and linked in a logical order with a concluding statement or section related to the opinion. Narrative: Organize an event sequence that unfolds naturally, using a variety of transitional words and phrases to manage the sequence of events; provide a conclusion that follows from the narrated experiences and events. Informational: Group related information logically linking ideas within and across categories of information using words, phrases, and clauses; provide a concluding statement or section; include formatting when useful to aiding comprehension. Opinion: Create an organizational structure that includes related ideas grouped to support the writer’s purpose; link opinion and reasons using words, phrases, and clauses; provide a concluding statement or section related to the opinion. Narrative: Use narrative techniques such as dialogue, description, and pacing, to develop experiences and events or show the responses of characters to situations; use concrete words and phrases and sensory details to convey experiences and events precisely. Informational: Identify and introduce the topic clearly. Opinion: Introduce the topic and state an opinion on the topic. Narrative: Orient the reader by establishing a situation and introducing a narrator and/or characters. Integrate information from several texts on the same topic to demonstrate understanding of that topic. Interpret various presentations of information within a text or digital source and explain how the information contributes to an understanding of text in which it appears. Refer to details and examples in text to support what the text says explicitly and make inferences. Write with an awareness of style.


The Literacy Design Collaborative teaching task provides a blueprint for seamlessly integrating literacy and content standards in a rigorous, authentic classroom experience. After determining the discipline, course, and grade level, educators use teaching tasks built around predefined template prompts. The teaching task requires students to read, analyze, and comprehend written materials and then write cogent arguments, explanations, or narratives in the subjects they are studying.

While it is believed that that the issue of slavery was a major cause of the Civil War, there were many contributing factors. In this task, students will determine the primary cause of the Civil War and support it using evidence from multiple informational texts.

In this extended writing task, students will read, analyze, and gather relevant information from text(s) and write an argumentative essay. Students will:

  • Read and analyze information about the factors contributing to the start of the Civil War.
  • Determine the primary cause of the Civil War.
  • Read and analyze information from non-fiction sources.
  • Cite evidence from multiple sources.
  • Write an argumentative essay that determines the primary cause of the Civil War and supports it with evidence from multiple texts.

abolition - the action of ending a system, practice, or institution

agriculture - the science or practice of farming, including cultivation of the soil for the growing of crops and the rearing of animals to provide food, materials, and other products

confederate - a person one works with, especially in something secret or illegal

economy - the wealth and resources of a country or region, especially in terms of the production and consumption of goods and services

industry - economic activity concerned with the processing of raw materials and manufacutring of goods in factories

secede - withdraw formally from membership in a federal union, an alliance, or a political or religious organization

350 minutes/7 periods

“A Nation Divided” Scholastic News Edition 5/6 79.18 (2011): 4-5. EBSCO eBook Collection. Web. 10 July 2014.

Adams, Jim. “The Civil War.” Junior Scholastic 104.11 (2002): 9. EBSCO eBook Collection. Web. 10 July 2014.

Olson, Tod. “Bleeding Kansas.” Junior Scholastic 107.11 (2005): 20-23. EBSCO eBook Collection. Web. 10 July 2014.

“The Road to War.” Junior Scholastic 113.10 (2011): 20-21. EBSCO eBook Collection. Web. 10 July 2014.

Weinstein, Mike, and Marcia Amidon Weinstein. "Growing Up in Slavery." Appleseeds 14.3 (2011): 17-19. EBSCO eBook Collection. Web. 10 July 2014. 

Related Materials & Resources

Ayers, Edward L. “The Causes of the Civil War, 2.0.” Opinionator New York Times , 28 Apr. 2011). Web. 10 July 2014. < >.

Ayers, Edward L. “The Civil War: 10 Things You Should Know (but Probably Don’t).” Scholastic . Scholastic, 2014. Web. 10 July 2014. < >.

Kelly, Martin. “Top Five Causes of the Civil War: Leading up to Secession and the Civil War.” American History ., 2014. Web.10 July 2014. < >.

Literacy Design Collaborative . Literacy Design Collaborative, n.d. Web 30 June 2014. < >.

Suggested Instructional Strategies

Instructional procedures.

Teacher Preparation Prior to launching the teaching task in the classroom, a teacher should consider the following questions:

How much support will students need to successfully complete the task?

What parts of the process can be completed independently (during or outside of class)? What parts of the process represent new learning or substantial challenge and warrant direct instruction or guided practice during class?

What content and vocabulary instruction and activities will be provided so that students are able to successfully complete the task?

How will reading be scaffolded for my students? (Read together? Read in groups? Read independently?)

What note-taking method will students use, and does that method align with the writing task?

How will students make the transition from the reading to the writing? (outline, graphic organizer, etc.)

What writing instruction is needed to help students write their thesis statements, organize their notes, embed quotes, and cite evidence?

How will students receive feedback at various stages of the writing process to make sure they are answering the prompt, their papers are focused, their ideas are fully developed with details, examples, etc.?

Daily Plan The daily plan is flexible based on students' prior knowledge, experience and skills in reading, research and writing as well as their ability to apply subject area knowledge to a new scenario. The amount of time, in class instruction, and scaffolds needed can be increased or decreased to provide the appropriate level of challenge and support for students.

Teaching Task

4-5 Task 1 (Argumentation/Explain): What was the primary cause of the Civil War? After researching several informational texts, write an argumentative essay in which you answer the question and explain your reasons in suport of your opinion. Support your opinion with evidence from your research.

Task Engagement and Analysis The teacher introduces the teaching task to students by linking the task to the class content that has been taught previously and to existing knowledge, skills, and interests. The teacher asks students to read the teaching task and make notes or discuss with peers things they already know about this issue or topic.

The teacher helps the students to understand the expectations of the teaching task by asking students what they think a good response to the task might include and creating a classroom list. The teacher may share examples of the type of texts the students will produce (either actual student samples or commercially published texts). Sharing the rubric with students will clarify the expectations. (Clicking on each performance level of the rubric will enable teacher access to annotated student writing for that level.)

The teacher explains the timetable and supports available for completing the task.

Text Selection The teacher has either preselected the texts or will provide access to research sources for students to select texts. The teacher asks students to begin to record information about the sources (e.g., using notebooks, note cards, technology). The teacher may need to provide models or instruction on creating a bibliography or works cited. The students should identify author, title, publisher, date, and any other needed information (e.g., volume, editor) A discussion about the credibility or merit of sources may be needed.

Preview texts The teacher can provide students with all of the texts or offer students a list of acceptable sources from which to choose. The teacher briefly highlights each text with a summary to assist students in making appropriate text selections. The teacher asks the students to skim through each text to identify the genre, purpose, and text structure. A teacher think-aloud explaining rationale for making certain text selections may be beneficial to students.

Note-taking The teacher provides or suggests that a note-taking method be used that is consistent with the expectations for the task and the type of writing (e.g., argumentative-pro/con t-chart). Students should be encouraged to refer to the teaching task so that their notes are relevant to the prompt. Students should be encouraged to include both textual information and their own connections and implications. Students should continue to add to their bibliography or works cited.

Teachers may need to teach or reinforce practices to promote academic integrity and to help students avoid plagiarism. The ability to use and credit sources appropriately shows respect for the work of others and adds credibility to a student's argument and/or research.

Reading and Research The teacher assigns the reading, research and note-taking to students and provides instruction to support analysis and synthesis of texts. The teacher may ask students to reflect orally or in writing on key questions including:

Which parts of the text provide evidence that relates to the prompt?

What historical or current examples did you notice that relate to the prompt?

What is the text explicitly saying? What gaps or unanswered questions do you see?

What competing arguments have you encountered or thought of based on the text (argumentative)?

How do you know your sources are credible?

Depending upon the needs of students in the classroom, additional scaffolds may be necessary (e.g., whole-group reading and teacher modeling of note-taking, paired in-class reading, talking to the text, small group discussion). The teacher may either provide students with print source options or make electronic texts available to them through the use of Web 2.0 tools (e.g., Wikis, Nings) or online library databases (e.g., EBSCO, ProQuest).

Transition to Writing The teacher uses discussion based strategies such as the Paideia/Socratic seminar or small group discussions to help students make connections between their research and notes and the teaching task.

Developing a Thesis or Claim Students write an opening paragraph that includes a controlling idea and sequences the key points that will be made throughout the writing assignment. The teacher may provide models of opening paragraphs and analyze them with the class. Students may provide feedback to each other on their opening paragraphs. Students should compare their opening paragraph to the teaching task and assess whether the paragraph fully address the main points of the prompt (e.g., define and explain, compare, take a position, etc.)

Organizing Notes/Planning Students organize their notes into a graphic organizer or outline that establish a logical structure for the assignment. An outline begins with the thesis or claim, sequences key points and includes supporting evidence from texts.

Development of rough drafts Students begin writing their rough drafts. The teacher frequently checks in with students to answer questions, offer feedback, and provide writing instruction as needed. Through planning, the teacher embeds opportunities for students to receive feedback on their writing prior to the submission of the final draft either through peer conferencing, teacher conferencing, or written teacher feedback. Students revise their drafts based on the feedback they receive. The amount of time needed for the development of rough draft varies and may include time during and outside of class.

Completion of Final Draft Students either self or peer-edit their papers for conventional errors and complete the final draft.

Assessment and Reflection The teacher uses the LDC rubric to assess the students' writing and provide feedback to help students improve their performance. Patterns in student performance guide further instruction.

Analytic Scoring The rubric is structured to facilitate analytic scoring - the awarding of separate scores by readers for each of the seven scoring elements. Scorers should keep in mind that the description of work quality within any particular "cell" of the rubric may still address more than one idea, and therefore may not match a particular essay perfectly. The scorer must identify the descriptor that is the best match to a paper based on the preponderance of evidence. If the decision is truly a "coin toss," the scorer should feel free to use the "in-between" or "half" scores. A variation of analytic scoring might be used in a situation in which the emphasis of instruction at a particular time might be on a subset of the seven scoring elements. For example, if instruction is focused on development and organization, then a teacher might simply award scores for those two scoring elements.

Holistic Scoring Holistic scoring is assigning a single, overall score to a paper. Analytic and holistic scoring rubrics look much the same. The holistic scorer's job is to pick the single score (1, 2, 3, 4) that corresponds to the set of descriptors for scoring elements that best matches a paper. Again, in-between or half scores can be used. Ideally, holistic scorers are thinking about all the scoring elements as they read papers, but over time they find that they can assign holistic scores very rapidly, yet still fairly accurately. This is one of the advantages of holistic scoring. However, analytic information is not generated by this method.

Score Recording and Feedback It would be good practice for teachers to share the rubrics with students and discuss "criteria for success" relative to the scoring elements. However, it is not intended that a clean scoring rubric would be attached to every paper that is scored in all situations. It might be more appropriate to attach score slips that list the scoring element names with blank spaces after them for the recording of scores (and a space for a total score, too, perhaps). A customized rubber stamp could accomplish the same. Analytic scores do provide useful information to the students since they reference descriptors in the rubric. However, nothing beats descriptive comments that are best written in the margins of the papers where they are most appropriate.

Cut Scores for Proficiency Levels Scorers can readily compute a total score (the sum of the seven element scores) or an average score (that sum divided by 7). If translating scores to performance levels is desired, then the structure of the rubrics lends itself to the use of the following cut scores:

LDC Scores and Grades LDC scores could be translated to grades contributing to students' course grades. How this would be done is an individual teacher's decision. Teachers could establish their own cut scores for letter grades or just re-label the four performance levels as A, B, C, D. They could come up with their own way to convert LDC scores to numerical grades consistent with whatever numerical scale they use for other class work.

Georgette Hackman, Cocalico School District

Jared Augustine, Cocalico School District

Content Collections

Date published.


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    Argumentative Essay On War On Religion 1569 Words | 7 Pages. War on Religion There is a belief among people that declares religion as the main cause of wars worldwide, and it has been the main cause of violence throughout the history of humanity.

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  15. Religion as the Cause of War, Essay Example

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    Essay on Religion Causes War. There are many arguments and counter-arguments when discussing the topic of religion causing war. Many critics argue that throughout history, religion has been the single greatest source of human-caused wars, suffering, and misery. In the name of God (by whatever name), more suffering has been inflicted than by any ...

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    Everyone has his own beliefs, faith, and perception of life. But there exist some political minds that describe religion as the cause of war just to gain their selfish motives. Religion is the name of promoting harmony and peace and it can never be a reason for war. The concept of religion is something that is beyond any kind of conflict and war.

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  22. "Causing Conflict: The Primary Cause of the Civil War" Opinion

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