Reflections on Whether Religion Is the Cause of Wars and Conflicts in Society

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Profane humanists and atheists consistently make the profession that religion is the number-one cause of violence and war throughout the history of humanity. Wikipedia defines a religious war or holy war “as a war primarily caused or justified by differences in religion”. In the modern period, debates are common over the extent to which religious, economic, or ethnic aspects of a conflict predominate in a given war.

Britain’s most outspoken atheist, Richard Dawkins, has averred that religion has been the main cause of violence and war throughout history. He inscribed in his 2013 autobiography that “religion is the principal label, and the most dangerous one, by which a ‘they’, as opposed to a 'we' can be identified”. However, an academic study on the subject of the role of religion contrasts with these claims, as according to ‘Encyclopaedia of Wars’, out of all 1,763 known/recorded historical conflicts, 123, or 6.98%, had religion as their primary cause, and of that percentage, 66, or 53.66%, were related to Islam.

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Still religion has also instituted laws and ideas that have provided civilizations with a cultural allegiance to critical peace-related values. These include solicitude, an openness to and even love for strangers, the proclamation of human rights, gestures of humility and forgiveness, and the drive for social justice. An example of a law enforced to ensure religious tolerance in the USA is: ‘The First Amendment to the United States Constitution prevents Congress from making any law respecting an establishment of religion, prohibiting the free exercise of religion, or abridging the freedom of speech, the freedom of the press, the right to peaceably assemble, or to petition for a governmental redress of grievances”. This is reliable data as it is quoted from the US Constitution, the religious clause in the First Amendment.

However, people from certain religions with different beliefs use conflict to justify their rejection of other beliefs and religions. They do this by protesting in violent ways, such as attacks, assassinations among other violent acts, on those who believe otherwise or those who do not necessarily agree with their religion/beliefs. So, is religion truly the root of most conflicts within society?

Global Perspective

There are plentiful examples of religious wars. Some of the main ones include the Crusades, Yugoslavia, Iraq, Afghanistan, the War on Terror, the Thirty Years’ War, Northern Ireland and the numerous religious wars of France and England. According to Pews Research Centre, violence and discrimination against religious groups by governments and rival faiths have reached new highs in all regions of the world. Although the source is not very recent, it is still backed up by other research done by sources such as Wikipedia. Scientists say that religious conflict has been dividing human society for over 2000 years. Take for example the Thirty Years’ War that was a religious conflict fought mainly in Central Europe. This war started as a battle between Protestant and Catholic states that formed in the Roman Empire and lasted from 1618 to 1648. It remains one of the longest and most brutal wars in human history, with more than 8 million casualties resulting from military battles as well as from the famine and disease caused by the conflict.

Another example is the countries of the Middle East, specifically Egypt, where religious intolerance is a burdening problem in the country. In 2000 a fatal conflict took place between Muslims and Coptic Christians in a small town 300 miles south of Cairo. More than 20 people were killed and 33 wounded because of what started out as an argument between a Coptic Christian family and a Muslim family, and later turned into a bloodshed between other Muslims and Christians. This information was extracted from an article done by the Centre for Reduction of Religious-Based Conflict website. This source is as it is known for writing several issues on the religious intolerance in several countries. The data from this website has also been used in several articles that covered the issue of religious intolerance.

Another religious conflict that broke out most recently was on the Easter of 2017, when two church bombings killed 49 people, and another 29 were killed when extremists attacked people travelling to a monastery in May. More than 15 girls in Minya were kidnapped in 2017 to be forced to marry Muslims and convert to Islam, Open Doors said. This information is extracted from another article done by the Guardian earlier this year.

National Perspective

In Nigeria today, religious and ethnic nationalism has led to conflicts about control of state power, unequal allocation of resources, citizenship issues, economic decline, and state collapse decline and ethno-religious clashes. Therefore, breakdown, breakaway, civil war, civil strife and violent clashes, all of which would typically be regarded unusual in normal states, are common forces or actual occurrences in divided states. According to African Centre for the Constructive Resolution of Disputes (ACCORD), “Nigeria is the most crowded African country with a population of about 182 million by 2015. A majority of the scientific academic sources accept that the half of the population is Christian, the other half Muslim”. Nigeria’s two major religions, are sometimes depicted as intractable entities, that confront each other in pitched clashes, with formal execution of the criminal aspects of the Muslim Sharia legal code (or the likelihood of application), which in turn ignites violence. According to Wikipedia, religious conflict in Nigeria goes as far back as 1953, and specifically in the town of Tafawa Balewa, to 1948.

Violence erupted in Kaduna State on May 1999 over the progression of an Emir, resulting in more than 100 casualties. From February to May 2000 in Kaduna, over 1,000 people died in rioting over the introduction of felonious Sharia in the state. Hundreds of ethnic Hausa were killed in reprisal attacks in southeastern Nigeria. Additionally, over 2,000 people were killed in inter-religious rioting in Jos on September 2001, and a few months later, on October 2001, hundreds were killed and thousands displaced in communal violence that spread across the Middle-Belt states of Nasarawa Benue, and Taraba. The source of this information (ACCORD) is a reliable source because it offers background, as it has been a civil society organization throughout Africa since 1991, credibility with people such as Professor Eghosa E. Osaghae (Vice-Chancellor of Igbinedion University), speaking out on the issue, statistics and data, and well as history. According to Ruby and Shah from Pews Research Centre (2007), although the general premise is that ethnic identity is a more prominent and stable source of identity in Nigeria, some researchers have established that religion was more significant than ethnicity as a source of identity and conflict in Nigeria. In fact, in the Hausa-Fulani North, religious identity is more conspicuous than ethnic identity, and only serves to spark ethnicity. This goes to show that religion is the spark of most conflict and is the cause of conflict in Nigeria, as well as ethnicity, which is an underlying factor.

Local Perspective

In Kenya, religious conflict and intolerance has been a minor issue. However earlier this year, January 24th, religious clashes broke out at Jamhuri High School located in Nairobi, Kenya, where at least 35 students were left injured over alleged religious discrimination. Preparatory reports indicate that some students were stabbed during the discord that started on Tuesday 24th, when a Christian and a Muslim reportedly differed in the dining hall. This was caused because another Muslim student got taken of the queue for the dining hall for setting ahead of his schoolmates. One of the students Mohammed Gulled said: “He is the person diving us. Christians are favored. We have lessons until 4.30pm, so we cannot pray. He has brought guards who are now in charge of the mosque. That is not right. We don’t carry bombs to this place”. This is a reliable source extracted from a newspaper article done by the MKenya Forums, a platform in which Kenyans freely interact and express their political and social views, which is reliable as other sites, provide the same information, however, it does not give enough data or statistics to make this a strong claim.

Another extreme example of religious conflict in Kenya happened April 2nd, when Al Shabab gunmen freed Muslims and targeted Christians in a 13-hour siege at a majority Christian university that killed at least 147 people. Religious leaders throughout Kenya who dealt with the growing Muslim-Christian tension say that they aren’t sure how much longer communities have lived side by side withstanding the pressure. Father Willybard Lagho, vicar general at the Catholic Archdiocese of Mombasa in the coastal region of Kenya, and head of the country’s interfaith council, said: “We feel targeted, we feel scared…. It is becoming more and more difficult to tell Christians to be patient. Some of them are saying time has come to react and defend ourselves”. This is sourced from The Christian Science Monitor which may be viewed as a dependable source, as a Christian website that offers recent information, credibility and authority, as the speakers interviewed in the article have experience with this topic. This goes to show that perhaps the religious divide in Kenya is being used by certain communities and religions as an opportunity to protest their beliefs upon those who disagree with their beliefs. This further goes to back up the claim that maybe religion is the cause and roots of conflict in society both in present day and even in history.


Religious conflict has many causes as well as consequences. The first being religious intolerance. Religious intolerance may lead to the discrimination of people from a specific religion, as well as the stigmatization of that religion. This may have on impact on the social structure of community, therefore disrupting the peace. Religious conflict may also lead to several religious bashes. In countries such as Nigeria, harassment of Christians and Jews by both government forces and social groups increased slightly in 2014. Christians were harassed in 16 out of 20 countries in the region (up from 15 countries in 2013), and Jews were harassed in 18 countries (up from 17 the previous year). About 800,000 more people were displaced by religion-related armed conflict in 2014 than in the previous year.

Courses of Action

The following courses of action have been taken to help resolve the issue of religious intolerance. One of the reasons of religious conflict arises is due to insufficient information, so by introducing religious education in schools as well as comparative religious studies to promote understanding of other religions therefore prevent radicalization especially amongst the youth.

Another course of action which has been implemented on by the Lagos State Government (Nigeria) is to organize regular parleys and dialogue between religious leaders and government at the federal and state levels to create a platform where such issues can be tackled, as well as finding fairground for all religious beliefs.

Religious slurs and remarks are often the spark of religious conflicts, so by ensuring that public figures such as politicians avoid making religious remarks or using religion in their campaigns, ten religious conflicts can be kept at bay.

Another course of action that the governments of countries with religious based conflict such as Nigeria should take is to must address the socio-economic problems and unemployment in the country and the resultant deprivation, pain, frustration, agony, hunger and outrage of the citizens which make them vulnerable and prone to crime.

Personal Perspective

After researching on this pending issue, my knowledge on the topic, its causes and consequences, as well as its possible solutions, has notably expanded. Before doing this report my understanding was that in all cases religion was the solution to conflict rather than sometimes a source of unrest in today’s society. I did not realize the extent to which religious conflict has affected countries and individuals. This issue does not only concern those affected by it, but by those also around it. I think that should it not be an issue in the first place, as religious freedom in belief is a human right. However, I do not think that religious conflict is something that has straight forward solutions, as it is up to the individual or society to accept and respect different beliefs and religions.


In conclusion, the causes of religious conflict and war are primarily due to the fragmentary teaching of religion which leads to either a misapprehension of that religion and their beliefs, or leads to others considering others to be of less value, which then manifests into conflict. It also caused by the attitude of its private nature and cause fear to the followers by making others believe that only one unique religion has all the knowledge when it comes to God. This creates fear within the followers of that certain religion, which forces them to exclude themselves from other religious brackets, causing religious discrimination. And the most common cause would be the lack of accurate knowledge regarding another religion, which also leads to assumptions made about followers of those religions. Religious discrimination, conflict and war is therefore caused by incomplete teaching or reciprocity, the attitude of exclusivity, which then leads to seclusion, hatred, rejection and fear within society.


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Reflections on Whether Religion Is the Cause of Wars and Conflicts in Society. (2023, September 08). Edubirdie. Retrieved June 17, 2024, from
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