<html><head /> <body> <META http-equiv="Content-Type" content="text/html; charset=UTF-16"><title>The Impact of Faith: Does Religion Make a Difference in Political Conflict?</title><meta name="keywords" content="politics,religion,alternative,andreas,conflict,constructivists,faith,hasenclever,impact,instrumentalists,political,primordialists,strategies,strategy,"><table style="font-family:Verdana; font-size:larger; " align="center" border="0" width="50%"><tbody><tr> <td style="background-color:silver; border-color:white; border-left-style:none; border-style:none; " width="730"><span style="font-family:Verdana; font-size:larger; ">The Impact of Faith: Does Religion Make a Difference in Political Conflict?</span></td> </tr> <tr> </tr> </tbody></table><br><table style="font-family:Verdana; font-size:medium; " align="center" bgcolor="white" border="0" width="50%"><tbody><tr> <td height="131" width="669"><span style="font-family:Verdana; font-size:x-small;"><strong>Editors Introduction </strong></span><span style="font-family:Verdana; "></span><span style="font-family:Verdana; font-size:x-small; ">Identifying the roots of political conflict is notoriously difficult, and, as wars continue to rage, religion and ethics are very often seen as the motivating forces. Are religious and ethical causes simply instigated and manipulated by political leaders in an attempt to justify their actions? Or does genuine conflict really arise from ethical divides? Andreas Hasenclever and Volker Rittberger pinpoint three different perspectives that analyze the impact that faith has had on political conflict, and examine ways in which such conflict can be diffused.</span><br><br> <span style="font-family:Verdana; font-size:x-small; ">This story contributes to the ongoing debate about the role of religious traditions in politics. Volker Rittberger and I argue that although differences in religious creed are hardly ever a genuine source of political conflict, under certain conditions they shape conflict behavior decisively in the direction of either escalation or de-escalation. Our primary purpose is to situate in a broader theoretical framework the question of how religious traditions affect the course of political conflicts. I will start by introducing a simple elite-based model of strategic choices in political conflicts:</span><br><br><A HREF="1708_500.ram" TARGET="_blank"><IMG src="1708_Th_hasen1.gif" id="3380" type="3" align="left" width="102" height="102" name="" url="1708_500.ram"></A><span style="font-family:Verdana; font-size:x-small; ">The model raises into sharp relief the impact that religious traditions might have on the escalation of political disputes. In this regard we take it for granted that the genesis of organized violence is crucially affected by the self-interests of political leaders who are focused only on such cases.</span><br><br><span style="font-family:Verdana; font-size:x-small; ">We then argue that their decision to engage in violent strategies depends on at least two very crucial factors: the degree of mobilization of their followers--the "rank and file"--and the degree of social support they can muster in the widest societal environment.</span><br><br><span style="font-family:Verdana; font-size:x-small; ">Although we know that the use of force in political conflicts cannot be reduced to these two conditions, in our view both a sufficient degree of mobilization and a sufficient degree of social legitimacy are necessary for self-interested leaders when it comes to the decision for or against war.</span><br><br><span style="font-family:Verdana; font-size:x-small; ">In our view, then, leaders might invoke the sacred for four purposes. First, they may give religious meaning to a particular political confrontation: the invocation of the sacred transforms the nature of the dispute. Whereas simple conflicts about power and welfare might be considered not important enough for most supporters, the interpretation of these conflicts as religious confrontations significantly raises the stakes.</span><br><br><span style="font-family:Verdana; font-size:x-small; ">Second, by invoking sacred symbols and holy texts, leaders are able to increase the willingness of their supporters to make sacrifices. As social psychologists observe, the promise of both a meaningful existence on earth and an inconvertible harmony with the transcendental truth of human existence sets free considerable energies among the faithful.</span><br><br><span style="font-family:Verdana; font-size:x-small; ">Third, from the perspective of holy war it is to be assumed that there is deep mistrust between the parties. This makes cooperative forms of conflict management inaccessible.</span><br><br><span style="font-family:Verdana; font-size:x-small; ">And fourth, the use of religious rhetoric, if successfully handled, provides political leaders with access to the social networks of established religious institutions. In the final analysis, the support of the clergy might turn out to be of crucial importance in gaining broader support for their cause.</span><br><br><span style="font-family:Verdana; font-size:x-small; ">Rittberger and I distinguish three theoretical perspectives on the study of religion and political conflicts: primordialism, instrumentalism and a sort of moderate constructivism. In a nutshell, primordialists argue that the differences in religious traditions should be viewed as one of the most important independent variables to explain violent interactions in and between nations. Collective actors tend to form alliances around common cosmologies, and tensions arise and escalate primarily between alliances with different cosmologies.</span><br><br><span style="font-family:Verdana; font-size:x-small; ">In the Cold War era the superpowers were able to suppress the conflict-generating force of religions for a short period. With the end of the Cold War, however, primordialists expect the dawn of a new world order that will be organized around antagonistic civilizations. At a national level, hitherto multireligious societies will fall apart along religiously defined fault lines. At an international level, a major process of political realignment will take place that will lead to new blocs constituted by common religious traditions. If a Third World War should ever break out under these conditions, it would be a war of religion.</span><br><br><A HREF="1708_501.ram" TARGET="_blank"><IMG src="1708_Th_hasen2.gif" id="3381" type="3" align="left" width="102" height="102" name="" url="1708_501.ram"></A><span style="font-family:Verdana; font-size:x-small; ">The second group of authors, whom we label "instrumentalists," oppose the proposition that differences in religious traditions are genuine causes of political conflict. To be sure, instrumentalists do not deny the current renaissance of political movements virtually all over the globe. In their view, however, this is a result in most cases of growing political, social and economic inequalities in and between nations. Therefore, when we observe the faithful turning into warriors, we should not attribute this change to any particular feature of their faith, but should understand it as a consequence of poverty and discrimination.</span><br><br><span style="font-family:Verdana; font-size:x-small; ">Additionally, instrumentalists are unable to detect any harbinger of the announced reorganization of the international system. What they do observe, in fact, is business as usual. The constellation of power and interests still goes a very long way toward explaining international interactions. Differences in the understanding of the sacred matter only marginally.</span><br><br><span style="font-family:Verdana; font-size:x-small; ">To prevent a misunderstanding, we should emphasize that instrumentalists are well aware of the conflict-escalating power of religious traditions. They know that political entrepreneurs time and again invoke sacred symbols and holy texts for the purpose of legitimizing violence and mobilizing their supporters. The effectiveness of this strategy, however, once more depends on serious political and economic cleavages. If there are such cleavages, it is easy for leaders to give meaning to them in terms of religious discrimination. If not, violence simply will not occur.</span><br><br><A HREF="1708_502.ram" TARGET="_blank"><IMG src="1708_Th_hasen3.gif" id="3382" type="3" align="left" width="102" height="102" name="" url="1708_502.ram"></A><span style="font-family:Verdana; font-size:x-small; ">Let us now turn to the constructivists, at least to the moderate constructivists. In our paper we argue that there are two major zones of agreement between constructivists and instrumentalists. They both agree that differences in religious traditions rarely, if ever, cause violent confrontations. And they both attribute prime importance to political entrepreneurs for the organization of collective action. War in most cases does not originate spontaneously but depends on deliberate choices.</span><br><br><span style="font-family:Verdana; font-size:x-small; ">Constructivists and instrumentalists disagree, however, in one very crucial respect. Constructivists understand religious traditions as intersubjective structures that have a life of their own. They are not as malleable to the interests of the elite as instrumentalists pretend. Rather, they depend on social discourses, which, as Alexander Wendt has put it, "are inseparable from the reasons and self-understanding that agents bring to their action."</span><br><br><span style="font-family:Verdana; font-size:x-small; ">Consequently, the rhetorical power of political entrepreneurs is not unlimited. They have to convince their constituencies of their interpretations of a given situation, and they are always vulnerable to countervailing arguments that might undermine their authority. If they claim, for instance, that war is for the sake of God and is therefore justified, others--at least theoretically--can stand up and dispute this claim by showing that their reading of the holy texts does not support the righteousness of violent action in a given situation. In the final analysis, it is then up to the audience to decide whose arguments they trust more. Constructivists therefore propose to view religion as an intervening variable, that is, as a causal factor intervening between a given conflict and the choice of conflict behavior.</span><br><br><span style="font-family:Verdana; font-size:x-small; ">There are three different types of strategies that are expected to help control, if not reduce, the violence-promoting impact of religious creeds on the course of political confrontations. One is the strategy of socioeconomic development and democratization, which is designed to overcome the underlying modernization crisis; the second is the strategy of deterrence and repressive denial, which aims at increasing the costs of violent resistance and uprisings; and the final strategy is the dialogue strategy, which seeks to delegitimize the use of violence for the advancement of religious or other interests. In this regard we can take up the distinction between primordialists, instrumentalists and constructivists.</span><br><br><A HREF="1708_503.ram" TARGET="_blank"><IMG src="1708_Th_hasen4.gif" id="3383" type="3" align="left" width="102" height="102" name="" url="1708_503.ram"></A><span style="font-family:Verdana; font-size:x-small; ">Primordialists are convinced that incompatible creeds, if left unchecked, will necessarily result in bloody confrontations. In order to avoid the escalation of otherwise unavoidable conflicts, they recommend the classic strategies of containment and deterrence.</span><br><span style="font-family:Verdana; font-size:x-small; "></span><br> <span style="font-family:Verdana; font-size:x-small; ">The increased mobilization of militant faithful should be outweighed by the deployment of overwhelming force. No rational actor should expect any gains by aggression no matter how just his cause is and how mobilized his supporters are. In order to make this strategy work, communities with incompatible understandings of the sacred should be separated along defensible front lines. This separation will certainly entail considerable human costs, but according to primordialists the alternative would be endless civil wars between unyielding antagonists. With established front lines, however, a balance of power and threat would start to operate and would render the system of civilizations relatively stable.</span><br><br><A HREF="1708_504.ram" TARGET="_blank"><IMG src="1708_Th_hasen5.gif" id="3384" type="3" align="left" width="102" height="102" name="" url="1708_504.ram"></A><span style="font-family:Verdana; font-size:x-small; ">Instrumentalists, by contrast, muster strong evidence for their claim that in most cases differences in religious traditions are not sufficient to cause violent confrontation. These differences are certainly suited to escalate conflicts, but in the end their motivational impact rests on social, economic or political discrimination.</span><br><br><span style="font-family:Verdana; font-size:x-small; ">As a result, instrumentalists reject all strategies that exclusively target conflict behavior, such as deterrence and containment. Instead, they propose strategies of development and democratization that point to the underlying causes of most violent conflicts. If people are better off materially and if they have a voice in their polities, they are no longer susceptible to the seductive charms of self-declared guardians of the sacred. The attractiveness of force as a means to improve living conditions decreases, and political entrepreneurs find it harder to mobilize people for violent action.</span><br><br><span style="font-family:Verdana; font-size:x-small; ">In our paper, we argue that the central problem with instrumentalists' recommendations is that they presuppose a viable state. In many developing countries, as well as in many regions of the former Soviet Union, however, the state cannot operate as a "crisis manager," because it is itself a part of the crisis. In many cases, the expectation that economic and social conflicts can be defused by virtue of economic development and democratization is therefore--in our view--rather deceptive.</span><br><br><A HREF="1708_505.ram" TARGET="_blank"><IMG src="1708_Th_hasen6.gif" id="3385" type="3" align="left" width="102" height="102" name="" url="1708_505.ram"></A><span style="font-family:Verdana; font-size:x-small; ">In search of alternative strategies, this leads us to turn to constructivist scholars. As already mentioned, constructivists hold that people not only must have material incentives to use violence but also must come to the conclusion that the use of force is legitimate. Political entrepreneurs, therefore, often frame political disputes in terms of cosmic confrontations. They ascribe satanic intentions to the opposing party and argue that its members deserve no mercy: for the sake of a peaceful world, the mortal enemy should be definitively erased from the earth. According to constructivists, it is the persuasive power of such interpretations that enables political entrepreneurs to mobilize their constituencies in the first place.</span><br><br><span style="font-family:Verdana; font-size:x-small; ">Up to this point, instrumentalists agree. But apart from improving the living conditions of desperate people, they do not see any other way to prevent them from being seduced. Here constructivists are opposed. According to them, instrumentalists underrate the independent role played by religious leaders in many conflict-driven societies. Their interpretations of the situation are of crucial importance, and they can make a difference. Think, for instance, of the moderating influence of Christian churches in the struggle against apartheid in South Africa. Similarly, the Indian Congress movement for independence, the Pashtun reform movement in Pakistan, the Tibetan Liberation movement, and even the American civil-rights movement could be cited as illustrations of the peacekeeping power of religions.</span><br><br><span style="font-family:Verdana; font-size:x-small; ">For constructivists, the impact of religious traditions on the cause of conflict is dependent not on a clash of civilizations but on a clash of interpretations. The conflict-escalating understanding of the sacred does not necessarily win over moderate interpretation. Therefore, constructivists propose to further extensive intra- and interreligious dialogues in order to strengthen the peace-preserving aspects of religious traditions. Leaders of religious communities are in a position to expose the political instrumentalization of religious traditions. They can insist on the intrinsic value of all human beings, and they are able to monitor the treatment of minorities in their respective zones of influence. If they do so, this will presumably make a crucial difference for the course of many conflicts.</span><br><br><span style="font-family:Verdana; font-size:x-small; ">Constructivists are well aware that the propagation of peace-loving attitudes alone is no guarantee for lasting peace. Dialogues must be supplemented--as far as possible--with economic and political development strategies and sometimes--as a last resort--with means of force. Nevertheless, the success of these strategies depends, finally, on the willingness of these fractions of the population to respect the rights of minorities and to reject violence as a means of conflict management.</span><br><br><span style="font-family:Verdana; font-size:x-small; ">We therefore propose a third strategy, one that would initiate a dialogue, or reinforce the ongoing dialogues among the world's religions, in order to achieve and strengthen an interreligious world ethos. Such an ethos is held to broaden the space for cooperative forms of conflict management during socioeconomic crises, thus preventing political conflicts from escalating into violent clashes.</span><br><br><A HREF="1708_506.ram" TARGET="_blank"><IMG src="1708_Th_hasen7.gif" id="3386" type="3" align="left" width="102" height="102" name="" url="1708_506.ram"></A><span style="font-family:Verdana; font-size:x-small; ">To conclude, the next step for constructivist analysis of religion in political conflicts would be to devise strategies that further extensive intra- and interreligious dialogues. These dialogues should be designed to develop and implement a culture of mutual respect among religious communities. As a result, the instrumentalization of the sacred would be considerably harder to achieve.</span><br><br><span style="font-family:Verdana; font-size:x-small; ">As far as we can see, however, there are two major obstacles on the way to an effective culture of mutual respect in intra- as well as in interreligious affairs. First, the security dilemma that exists between many communities with divergent creeds must be ameliorated; it is evident that a culture of mutual respect is difficult to establish when acute security threats exist. And second, religious hard-liners, who hitherto have legitimized violence and who evidently fear a loss of credibility if they change their position, must be converted.</span><br><br><span style="font-family:Verdana; font-size:x-small; ">If constructivists come up with realistic answers to the question of how to achieve a culture of mutual respect between world religions, that would give--in our view--an impressive proof for the practical usefulness of an approach that is still contested among scholars. And we are trying to work on it.</span><br><br><span style="font-family:Verdana; font-size:x-small; font-style:italic; ">This story is part of a paper given at the "Religion and International Relations Conference" on May 27, 2000, at the LSE, organized by Millennium, a journal of international studies. Copyright The London School of Economics and Political Science.</span></td> </tr> </tbody></table> </body></html>