Religious Conflicts: Opportunity Structures, Group Dynamics, and Framing

Tomas Lindgren


Explanations of violent religious conflicts usually focus on preconditions, facilitator causes or precipitating events at micro, meso or macro levels of analysis. As social psychology is the scientific study of the ways in which thoughts, feelings, perceptions, motives, and behaviors are influenced by interactions and transactions between groups and individuals, it can increase our understanding of the dynamics of religious conflicts at micro and meso levels. In this paper, I illustrate this point with a discussion of the utility of social movement theory for understanding the dynamics of religious conflicts. Social movement theory locates religious conflicts within broader contexts and complex processes by focusing on the interplay between micro and meso factors and the ways in which people perceive macro factors. Given certain conditions, religion can and often do contribute to collective violence. Religion is rarely, if ever, the main cause of intergroup conflicts, but is often used as an instrument for the mobilization of human and non-human resources. Appeal to religion may help conflicting parties overcome the collective action problem associated with intergroup conflicts. This does not necessarily mean that religious conflicts have unique characteristics or a logic of their own that sets them apart from other types of intergroup conflicts.


Religion; conflict; violence; social psychology

Full Text:



Appleby, R. S. (2000). The ambivalence of the sacred: Religion, violence, and reconciliation. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.

Avalos, H. (2005). Fighting words: The origins of religious violence. Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books.

Barash, D. P. & Webel, C. P. (2009). Peace and conflict studies (second edition). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.

Barter, S., & Zatkin-Osburn, I. (2014). Shrouded: Islam, war, and holy war in Southeast Asia. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 53, 187–201.

Basedau, M., Pfeiffer, B., & Vüllers, J. (2016). Bad religion? Collective action, and the onset of armed conflict in developing countries. Journal of Conflict Resolution, 60, 226–255.

Benford, R. D., & Snow, D. A. (2000). Framing processes and social movements: An overview and assessment. Annual Review of Sociology, 26, 611–639.

Bose, S. (2003). Kashmir: Roots of conflict, paths to peace. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Brass, P. R. (2003). The Production of Hindu-Muslim Violence in Contemporary India. Seattle, WA: University of Washington Press.

Castano, E., Yzerbut, V., Bourguignon, D., & Seron, E. (2002). Who may enter? The impact of in-group identification on in-group/out-group categorization. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 38, 315– 322.

Della Porta, D. (1988). Recruitment processes in clandestine political organizations: Italian left-wing terrorism. International Social Movement Research, 1, 155–169.

Della Porta, D. (2013). Clandestine political violence. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Della Porta, D., & Diani, M. (2006). Social movements: An introduction (second edition). Malden, MA: Blackwell.

Fox, J. (2000). Is Islam more conflict prone than other religions? A cross- sectional study of ethnoreligious conflict. Nationalism and Ethnic Politics, 6, 1–24.

Fox, J. (2002). Ethnoreligious conflict in the late twentieth century: A generaltheory. Lanham, MD: Lexington Books.

Fox, 3. (2004). Religion, civilization, and civil war: 1945 through the millennium. Lanham, MD: Lexington Books.

Galtung, 3. (1996). Peace by peaceful means: Peace and conflict, development and civilization. London: SAGE.

Glenny, M. (1999). The Balkans: Nationalism, war, and the great powers, 1840–1999. New York: Penguin.

Haslam, A. A., Reicher, S. D., & Platow, M. 3. (2011). The New psychology of leadership: Identity, influence and power. New York: Psychology Press.

Halevy, N., Bornstein, G., & Sagiv, L. (2008). “In-group love” and “out- group hate” as motives for individual participation in intergroup conflict: A new game paradigm. Psychological Science, 19, 405–4 11.

Hasan, N. (2006). Laskar Jihad: Islam, militancy, and the quest for identity in post-New Order Indonesia. Ithaca, NY: Cornell Southeast Asia Program.

Hassner, R. (2009). War on sacred grounds. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.

Hick, J. (1989). An interpretation of religion. London: Macmillan.

Hood, R. W. Jr., Hill, P. C., & Spilka, B. (2009). The psychology of religion: An empirical approach (fourth edition). New York: The Guilford Press.

Huddy, L., Feldman, S., & Cassese, E. (2007). On the distinct political effects of anxiety and anger. In W. R. Neuman, G. M. Marcus, A. N. Crigler & M. Mackuen (Eds.), The affect effect: Dynamics of emotion in political thinking and behavior (pp. 202–230). Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

Huntington, S. (1996). The clash of civilizations and the remaking of the world order. New York: Simon & Schuster.

Isaacs, M. (2016). Sacred violence or strategic faith? Disentangling the relationship between religion and violence in armed conflict. Journal of Peace Research, 5, 2 11–225.

Isaacs, M. (2017). Faith in contention: Explaining the salience of religion in

ethnic conflict. Comparative Political Studies, 50, 200–23 1.

Johnson, D. (2016). God is watching you: How the fear of God makes us human. New York: Oxford University Press.

Jones, J. (2008). Blood that cries out from the earth: The psychology of religious terrorism. New York: Oxford University Press.

Juergensmeyer, M. (2008). Global rebellion: Religious challenges to the secular state, from Christian militias to al Qaeda. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.

Juergensmeyer, M. (2017). Terror in the mind of God: The global rise of religious violence (fourth edition, revised and updated). Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.

Kalyvas, S. N. (2006). The logic of violence in civil war. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Kimball, C. (2002). When religion becomes evil. San Francisco: HarperCollins.

Klandermans, B. (1984). Mobilization and participation: Social psychological expansions of resource mobilization theory. American Sociological Review, 49, 583–600.

Kurzman, C. (1996). Structural opportunity and perceived opportunity in social movement theory: The Iranian revolution of 1979. American Sociological Review, 61, 153–170.

Lindgren, T. (2005). The narrative construction of Muslim prayer experiences. International Journal for the Psychology of Religion, 2, 159– 174.

----------, (2014). Religion och konflikt [Religion and conflict]. Skellefteå, Sweden: Artos bokförlag.

---------, (2014b). Hjalmar Sundén’s impact on the study of religion in the Nordic countries. Temenos, 52, 39–61.

--------, (2016). The psychological study of religious violence: A theoretical and methodological study. Al-A lbab, 5, 155–174.

McAdam, D. (1986). Recruitment to high-risk activism: The case of freedom summer. American Journal of Sociology, 92, 64–90.

McAdam, D. (1999). Political process and the development of black insurgency, 1930–1970 (second edition). Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

McKenna, T. M. (1998). Muslim rulers and rebels: Everyday politics and armed separatism in the southern Philippines. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.

Mesquida, C. G. & Wiener, N. I. (1996). Human collective aggression: A behavioral ecology perspective. Ethology and Sociobiology, 17, 247– 262.

Mesquida, C. G. & Wiener, N. I. (1999). Male age composition and the

severity of conflicts. Politics and the Life Sciences, 18, 18 1–189.

Morris, A., & Staggenborg, S. (2004). Leadership in social movements. In D. Snow, S. Soule & H. Kriesi (Eds.), The Blackwell companion to social movements (pp. 17 1–196). Oxford, UK: Blackwell.

Mueller, J. (2000). The banality of ethnic war, International Security, 1, 2–70.

--------, (2007). The remnants of war. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.

Norenzayan, A. (2013). Big gods: How religion transformed cooperation and conflict. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Oberschall, A. (1973). Social conflict and social movements. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.

Passy, F. (2001). Socialization, connection, and the structure/agency gap: A specification of the impact of networks on participation in social movements. Mobilization: An International Journal, 6, 173–192.

Pearce, S. (2005). Religious rage: A quantitative analysis of the intensity of

religious conflicts. Terrorism and Political Violence, 17, 333–352.

Reedy-Maschner, K. L. & Maschner, H. D. G. (1999). Marauding middlemen: Western expansion and violent conflict in the subarctic. Ethnohistory, 4, 703–743.

Sageman, M. (2008). Leaderlessjihad: Terror networks in the twenty-first century. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.

Sageman, M. (2017). Turning to political violence: The emergence of terrorism. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.

Schwartz, R. M. (1997). The curse of Cain: The violent legacy of monotheism. Chicago: University of Chicago press.

Sosis, R., Kress, H., & Boster, J. (2007). Scars for war: Evaluating alternative signaling explanations for cross-cultural variance in ritual costs. Evolution and Human Behavior, 28, 234–247.

Selengut, C. (2003). Sacred fury: Understanding religious violence. Walnut Creek, CA: AltaMira.

Smith, C. (1991). The emergence of liberation theology: Radical religion and social movement theory. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

Snow, D. A. (2004). Framing processes, ideology, and discursive fields. In D. Snow, S. Soule & H. Kriesi (Eds.), The Blackwell companion to social movements (pp. 380–412). Oxford, UK: Blackwell.

Snow, D. A., & Benford, R. D. (1992). Master frames and cycles of protest. In A. Morris & C. M. Mueller (Eds.), Frontiers in social movements (pp. 133–155). New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

Snow, D. A., Rochford, B. E., Worden, S., & Benford, R. D. (1986). Frame alignment processes, micromobilization, and movement participation. American Sociological Review, 51, 468–481.

Svensson, I. (2007). Fighting with faith: Religion and conflict resolution in civil wars. Journal of Conflict Resolution, 51, 930–949.

---------, (2012). Ending holy wars: Religion and conflict resolution in civil wars. St Lucia, New Zeeland: University of Queensland Press.

Svensson, I., & Nilsson, D. (2018). Disputes over the divine: Introducing the religion and armed conflict (RELAC) data, 1975 to 2015. Journal of Conflict Resolution, 62, 1127–1148.

Tajfel, H. (1970). Experiments in intergroup discrimination. Scientific American, 223, 96–102.

Tarrow, S. (1988). National politics and collective action: Recent theory and research in Western Europe and the United States. American Review of Sociology, 14, 42 1–440.

---------, (2011). Power in movement: Social movements and contentious politics (revised and updated third edition). Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

--------, (2006). Issue indivisibility and time horizons as rationalist explanations for war. Security Studies, 1, 34–69.

Toft, M. D. (2007). Getting religion? The puzzling case of Islam and civil war. International Security, 4, 97–13 1.

Toft, M. D., Philpot, D., & Shah, T. S. (2011). God’s century: Resurgent religion and global politics. New York: W. W. Norton & Company.

Van Klinken, G. (2007). Communal violence and democratization in Indonesia: Small town wars. London: Routledge.

Weinberg, L., & Eubank, W. L. (1987). The rise and fall of Italian terrorism. Boulder, CO: Westview Press.

Weinstein, J. M. (2005). Resources and the information problem in rebel recruitment. Journal of Conflict Resolution, 49, 600–624.

Williams, R. H. (2004). The cultural contexts of collective action. In D. Snow, S. Soule & H. Kriesi (Eds.), The Blackwell companion to social movements (pp. 91–115). Oxford, UK: Blackwell.

Wulff, D. M. (1997). Psychology of Religion: Classic and contemporary (second edition). New York: John Wiley & Sons.

Article Metrics

Abstract views: 1329 PDF views: 861