RELIGION is as likely to promote peace as to promote conflict, a
report by academics from the Open University suggests.
The researchers, Professor John Wolffe and Dr Gavin Moorhead,
argue that, although insecurity around the world often appears to
be provoked by religious extremism, there is no simple "cause and
effect perspective whereby 'dangerous ideas' lead people to violent
"Religion plays an ambivalent role when it comes to threatening
or promoting security. That is, in certain situations it can be a
threat, in other situations it promotes security," says their
report, Religion, Security and Global Uncertainties.
The main recommendation is that policy-makers, journalists, and
academics dig deeper to understand religion properly and the part
that it plays in various contexts before coming to conclusions
about how it relates to violence.
The report, launched in Westminster on Tuesday, also states that
governments should use religious leaders more widely to counter
security and terrorism, and to reach marginalised groups in
The researchers say that they want to combat the widespread
assumption that, where different religious groups live side by
side, there will always be conflict that threatens wider
Professor Wolffe writes: "There is no inevitable relationship
between religious difference, conflict and insecurity. There are
countless historical examples - from locations and periods as
diverse as the ancient Middle East, early modern Europe, and
contemporary London - of people of varied religious commitments
living peaceful, albeit sometimes segregated, lives."
He suggests that interreligious co-existence breaks down often
as a result of outside factors, such as rapid economic or social
change, attempts to impose secularism, or the influence of
The report also acknowledges, however, that religion can
sometimes legitimise or inspire conflict and threaten security. One
other contributor, Professor Robert Gleave, of the University of
Exeter, suggests that society cannot properly comprehend and thus
protect itself from contemporary Islamic jihadism if it does not
understand theological debates going back to the 1970s and '80s
within some branches of Islam.
Research for the report was based on interviews with 22
academics, and material from subsequent discussions and
conferences. It concludes that most of the participants in this
process believed that religion by itself was rarely a threat to
"Rather, problems arise when religion operates in tandem with
other factors, especially political ones," the report argues.
Governments and security forces need to look deeper when examining
conflicts, which often have multiple causes, than simply ascribing
the violence to "religion".
The MP who chairs the all-party parliamentary group on global
uncertainties, John Glen, a Christian, said this week that the
report showed why there needed to be greater religious literacy in
"I think there's a tendency to simplify and not to contextualise
religion within other matters," he said before the launch of the
"It's easier to attribute motivation to a misguided theology or
religious affiliation, rather than a more complicated mix of
resentments and identifications that form motivation for an actor
in an extremist situation."
In particular, he expressed caution about assuming that Islamic
State's actions characterised "authentic Muslim faith".