What is the main source of violent conflict in the world? If you judged solely by media reports you might assume that religion would be at the top of the list. Today, for example, there is news that Islamic State—a terrorist group that wants to create an Islamic caliphate—set off two car bombs in Syria.
But as Johannes Vüllers, Alexander De Juan and Jan H. Pierskalla explain, a comparison of religious with other forms of violence shows that the religious violence is not as dominant as news reports might indicate:
Even in countries widely known for religious violence, religious actors are rarely involved in violence. For example, religious actors were involved in less than 10 percent of all violent events in Pakistan from 1988 to 2011 (BFRS Violence in Pakistan dataset). The same holds true for Nigeria, often seen as another striking example of religious violence due to the inter-religious clashes in Kaduna and Jos as well as the Islamic terror group Boko Haram. In Indonesia, famously embroiled in ethno-religious communal violence and Islamist terror attacks in the early 2000s, religious actors were involved in only around 1 percent of all violent events since 1998.
The reality, the authors claim, is that religion can play a pacifying role in other, non-religious conflicts:
If we turn from Syria and Iraq to current political crises in other parts of the world, we can see that religion does indeed contribute to peace much more often than reported in news. In the ongoing violent conflict in South Sudan, local religious leaders repeatedly called for peace and engaged in grass-roots peacebuilding activities across ethnic, religious, geographical and political cleavages. In northern Mali religious leaders traditionally play a strong role in local-level conflict resolution, acting as a peace brokers in communal conflicts. They are seen by the population as thekey actors in communal mediation and peacebuilding after Mali’s most recent crisis.
In fact, we believe that everyday religious practice often contributes to peace. Local religious institutions typically have a great positive impact on the communal life.