Does religion increase violence in society?

Fowid note: A WZB survey experiment among Christians, Muslims and Jews in seven countries shows the mobilizing power of religious written sources. Verses legitimizing violence in religious scriptures increase support for deadly violence. However, there are clear differences between the three Abrahamic religions.

The WZB researchers Ruud Koopmans and Eylem Kanol, together with the German-Canadian political scientist Dietlind Stolle, designed and carried out an experimental study: "Scriptural legitimation and the mobilization of support for religious violence: experimental evidence across three religions and seven countries." They explained the content and results in a communication on this.

For the study, 8,000 Christians, Muslims and Jews in seven countries (Germany, USA, Cyprus, Lebanon, Israel, Palestinian Territories and Kenya) were asked whether or not they considered deadly violence against enemies of the faith to be justified. Half of the respondents were asked the question suddenly, the other half were first presented with a quote from the Bible, the Koran or the Torah, in which violence against alleged enemies of the faith is approved.

They were able to prove for the first time that verses legitimizing violence in religious scriptures increase support for the killing of enemies of the faith.

However, this effect was less pronounced among Jews and Christians than among Muslims. Across all seven countries, 9 percent of Christian believers supported violence without and 12 percent with a previous biblical quotation. Among Jewish believers it was 3 percent without and 7 percent with a Torah quote. Among Muslims, 29 percent supported violence against enemies of the faith without a quotation from the Koran and 47 percent with a preceding one.

For Germany, however, these values ​​are significantly lower:

The most important reason for the differences between the three religions, the researchers show, is the larger proportion of Muslim believers who adhere to a fundamentalist belief. Fundamentalist believers are characterized by the fact that they take the holy scriptures of their religion literally and hold them unchanged in the present. For this reason, they are comparatively more receptive to attempts to legitimize violence by referring to religious written sources.

The findings are important for combating religious extremism. “Religious causes and motivations have to be taken seriously. Violence must not be reduced to socio-economic and psychological causes, ”says Ruud Koopmans.