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What’s the link between war and religion? Does living through the traumas of conflict make people more religious – or turn them against religion?

Those age-old questions are probed in two studies.

“War Increases Religiosity” appears in Nature: Human Behavior. A team led by Joseph Henrich, chairman of the Department of Human Evolutionary Biology of Harvard University, analyzed interview responses from 1,709 individuals in 71 villages in three countries that had suffered prolonged, brutal internal conflicts that did not revolve around religious or ethnic differences: Sierra Leone’s civil war, 1991-2002; the Lord’s Resistance Army insurgency in Uganda, 1986-2006; and Tajikistan’s civil war and continuing political violence.

The data showed that people who had been more intensely affected by the violence of war were more likely to join or participate in religious groups and practice religious rituals. The data, collected in 2010 and 2011, came from previously published work by other researchers.

The more profound the impact of war on an individual — such as the death, injury or abduction of a household member — the greater the likelihood grew of that person turning to religion. By contrast, those who had been less affected by the impact of war were also less likely to join a a religious group. The statistical breakdown showed that for those in Sierra Leone, greater exposure to war made it 12% more likely individuals would turn to religion; 14% more for those in Uganda; and 41% more for Tajikstan.

Even as years passed, Henrich’s latest study found that religious practice continued to play a significant role in the lives of many of those surveyed. “These effects on religiosity persist even 5, 8 and 13 years post-conflict,” according to the study. The effects held true whether those surveyed were Muslim or Christian. Read more

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