IBSS: Religious Infusion and Asymmetric Group Conflict

Project: Research project

Project Details


IBSS: Religious Infusion and Asymmetric Group Conflict IBSS: Religious Infusion and Asymmetric Group Conflict Project Summary Why do the weak sometimes attack the strong? What role might religion play in motivating or giving low-power groups the capacity for violent action? It is no surprise that groups with greater power and resources are willing and to engage in conflict with their weaker counterparts, yet some weak religiously-infused groups, undeterred by their significant resource constraints, violently engage much more powerful groups at the risk of incurring great costs. Why? This is a question with significant national security implications. Drawing on insights from multiple fields in the social and behavioral sciences, we propose nine interconnected hypotheses on how differences in religious ritual, doctrine, and context shape both the motivations and capacities of weak but religiously-infused groups to initiate conflict against stronger groups. This project employs three integrated methods to test these hypotheses: (1) Transnational comparative case studies of two transnational Muslim ethnic groups in the Middle East and South Asiathe Kurds in Iran, Iraq, Syria, and Turkey, and the Baluchi in Iran, Afghanistan, and Pakistanwill help to unpack the interactions between religious motivations, capacities, and other factors in asymmetric intergroup conflicts. (2) Qualitative comparative analyses of 40 low-power groups around the world will enable us to assess why some religiously-infused low-power groups are significantly more conflictual than others, and to examine the impact of state regulation of religion and state repressive capacity on rebellion by weaker, highly religious groups. (3) Lab experimentation in the U.S. and India enable the test of core causal hypotheses about how and why religion infusion shapes the motivations and capacities of weaker groups to violently engage stronger groups. Together, these methods will elucidate the causal mechanisms linking resource-poor but religiously-strong groups to asymmetric conflict. Intellectual Merit This project contributes to existing knowledge about religion, ethnicity and conflict by: (1) hypothesizing nine mechanisms through which religion may shape conflict, (2) extending and integrating theory in political science, economics, anthropology, and social psychology that connects religion and conflict, (3) testing novel hypotheses, in sites around the world, about the causal mechanisms through which religiously-infused, low-power groups engage in asymmetrical conflict, (4) creating an empirical approach in which methods from multiple research traditions inform causal inferences and conclusions, and (5) creating a unique dataset on religion and asymmetric conflict. Broader Impacts This project will have significant broader impacts: (1) This multidisciplinary project will generate theory and findings of interest to academics across the behavioral and social sciences. (2) We will freely make available to the academic community and policy makers the data, codebooks, and publications resulting from the project, via courses at professional meetings and website. (3) The U.S. and many international organizations lack data on how groups differ in their religious infusion and how these differences translate into group conflict. The results of this project could thus assist policymakers in identifying factors that create or mitigate intergroup conflicts, and the dissemination of this research will be designed to reach not only scholars but also policy makers and practitioners. (4) The project will educate and train graduate students from underrepresented groups in research processes, and the data will be made available to these students for their own research. (5) The study will facilitate and provide a model of interdisciplinary research on key socio-political and cultural questions that have, despite a decade of attention to the presumed role of religion in violent conflict, evaded robust answers. (6) Effective U.S. policy and strategies depend on understanding how religious infusion shapes violent conflict between weak groups and their stronger counterparts. The knowledge gained through our project will aid the US and its allies in anticipating the emergence of conflict situations, creating interventions to defuse potential conflicts, and managing existing seemingly intractable conflicts in the Middle East, South Asia, and North Africa.
Effective start/end date9/1/145/31/19


  • National Science Foundation (NSF): $979,229.00


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