AKC 5 General – Spring Term 2007 – Religion in the contemporary world: social scientific perspectives 12/02/07 AKC 5 – 12 FEBRUARY 2007 RELIGION AND CONFLICT DR MARAT SHTERIN, DEPARTMENT OF THEOLOGY AND RELIGIOUS STUDIES I. Religion, cohesion, and conflict We should go beyond the assumption that any conflict is inherently bad and any cohesion is necessarily good. Cohesion can be based on oppression and involve restrictions that are intolerable to many social groups and individuals; conflict, on the other hand, can, in some circumstances, lead to more freedom and more social justice. Moreover, “a certain amount of discord, inner divergence, and controversy is organically tied up with the very elements that ultimately hold the group together” (George Simmel (1906/ 1955 Conflict: the Web of Group Affiliations, Glencoe: Free Press, p 18). On another level, in many ways, cleavage is the obverse of unity: what holds together a social group may separate it from, and cause tensions with, other groups. Religion can contribute to both social integration and conflict in a variety of ways. On the one hand, religion is capable of providing the ultimate justifications and legitimisation for political system and social organisation; it can symbolically represent societal and group unity; and it may reinforce or even create social solidarity. On the other hand, appeals to different sources of ‘ultimate authority’ can cause or exacerbate conflict between religious groups, which can be particularly troublesome when the religious boundaries of these groups also constitute separate political entities. Conflicts can also arise within religious groups over integrity of their adherence to the scripture vis-à-vis compromise with the larger society, legitimacy of leadership, and dissent of individual members. Also, there maybe conflicts when a religious group takes on and wishes to maintain a ‘world-rejecting’ stance towards the rest of society (‘sectarianism’). Finally, it can be argued that the attempts to exclude religion from the public arena in order to eliminate it as the main source of social conflict (USSR, Turkey, pre-1979 Iran) have been unsuccessful. II. Can religion contribute to cohesion in contemporary societies? Most contemporary societies are multi-religious, with religion being an important marker of ethnic identity or creating new identities beyond ethnic boundaries. Has the contemporary mass migration, associated with globalisation, made religion an inescapable source of social cleavages? Is civil religion a useful concept for thinking of possible solutions to the vagaries of contemporary multi-culturalism and religious pluralism? On the other hand, is it likely that religion will emerge as the definitive fault line in the current geo-political cleavages, often associated with globalisation? III. Religion and pre-existing social and political cleavages in the contemporary world III.1. Northern Ireland: Religious conflict? Conflict between civil religions? III.2. Checnya: Is religious conflict the source of the war or its outcome? III.3. The Balkans: politics or religion? III.4. Clash of civilisations? IV. The nature of religion and conflicts in the modern world World-rejecting stance towards the rest of society can be a source of social conflict between a religious group and outsiders: fundamentalism and particularism. V. Cult controversies in the contemporary world Many conflicts in contemporary societies are concerned with opposition to new forms of religion. Part of these conflicts is the secularist stance found in some contemporary societies and among some social groups. Further Reading Aldridge, A., Religion in the Contemporary World: A Sociological Introduction, Cambridge: Polity Press, Ch. 6, 7, and 8. Beckford, James, Cult Controversies: the societal response to New Religious Movements, London: Tavistock Bellah, Robert et al (1996), The Habits of the Heart, Berkeley: University of California Press Maduro, O. (1982), Religion and Social Conflicts, New York: Marycoll McGuire, M. (2004 or any other edition), Religion: the Social Context, Wadsworth, Chapter 6. Warner, R.S. "Toward a New Paradigm," American Journal of Sociology 98(1993):10441093. Full details about the AKC course, including copies of the handouts, can be found on the AKC website at: http://www.kcl.ac.uk/akc. Please join in the Discussion Board and leave your comments. If you have any queries please contact the AKC Course Administrator on ext 2333 or via email at [email protected] Please note the AKC Exam is on Friday 23 March 2007 between 14.30 and 16.30. EXAM REGISTRATION is now open. To register please reply to the email from the Dean’s Office giving your full name and student ID number. The deadline of registration is 9 March 2007.