skip to content

Religion and Conflict

The aim of the pathway in Religion and Conflict is to offer students the opportunity to pursue advanced study and introductory research into a vibrant and rapid developing field of considerable contemporary importance. Claims and counterclaims about the causal relationship between religion and conflict appear regularly in scholarly literature, as well as the discourse of religious leaders, the media, and policy-makers, across the globe. Religious motivations are, for example, widely cited as a principal cause of terrorism in the world today, and sacred texts are regularly said to contain the potential to incite hatred, as well as, paradoxically, to be indispensable tools in conflict resolution. The pathway is intended to equip students to critically evaluate such claims and provide them with the knowledge and intellectual skills necessary to become informed, innovative and nuanced contributors to current debates about the place of religion in conflict.

Students taking the pathway will have the opportunity to engage with major theoretical approaches and research methods employed in the field as well as the chance to scrutinise a number case studies, textual, historical and contemporary, from a variety of disciplinary perspectives. In addition to allowing students a deeper engagement with the specific subjects analysed, and introducing them to the complexity necessarily inherent in the field, the case studies will provide a means of exploring the wider implications of questions raised by the study of religion and conflict more generally. Students will also undertake a sustained piece of research in the form of the dissertation, that will allow them to engage with a topic within the field in depth. The pathway will provide a firm foundation for those who wish to pursue further postgraduate studies within the field but it is also intended to give those that do not, a critical understanding of religion and conflict that will prove extremely valuable in other contexts.

Each module of the Religion and Conflict pathway is taught through four fortnightly two hour seminars and is assessed by a 5,000 word essay due at the end of term. The subject of each essay must be agreed with the supervisor and approved by the Module Coordinator . The essay titles must relate closely to the subject of at least one seminar in each module undertaken in the pathway.

Students who wish to write a dissertation in the area of Religion and Conflict are required to attend the seminars during Michaelmas Term and complete one Religion and Conflict assessed essay. It is recommended that students continue on to the Lent Term module but it may be possible in certain cases for students to audit these modules to allow them to undertake a module in another subject in the Lent Term. Students wishing to do this must consult with the Module Co-ordinator as early as possible. In addition to the essays, and dissertation, all students will normally undertake the exercise specific to the pathway, which will involve both a critical analysis of piece of 'grey' literature (from a list of government, law enforcement, NGO and think-tank reports) and a critical comparison of two major contributions to the field, 

The modules available in 2024-2025 will be:

Module 1. Michaelmas Term. Theories and Issues in the Study of Religion and Conflict

Module 2. Lent Term. Contemporary Religious Conflict: Ethnographic Approaches

Module 3. Lent Term. Antisemitism, Islamophobia, and ‘Christian Europe’


Module 1. Michaelmas Term. Theories and Issues in the Study of Religion and Conflict

Module Coordinator: Justin Meggitt,

This module will seek to introduce students to the critical study of religion and conflict by scrutinising current theoretical debates about the place of religion in a variety of forms of conflict, from genocide to domestic violence, and by closely analysing indicative and emblematic scriptural, historical, and contemporary case studies.

Module aims


  • To provide a critical overview of the dominant theories of the relationship between religion and conflict.
  • To examine in depth questions raised by the study of the scriptural, historical, and contemporary dimensions of religion and conflict by means of specific case studies.
  • To introduce, analyse and problematise a multi-disciplinary approach to the study of religion and conflict.

Module objectives. By the end of the module, students should be able to:

  • Critically evaluate the prevalent theories of the relationship between religion and conflict.
  • Analyse claims about the relationship between religious texts and acts of violence in current scholarship.
  • Understand and critique historiographical and popular-cultural debates about the role religion has played within past conflicts and their contemporary legacies.
  • Gain an informed overview of the ‘religious turn’ in terrorism studies, and be able to evaluate the constructions of religion evident in literature produced by scholars working in that field.

Seminar topics

Seminar 1. Theories and Issues of Religion and Conflict

This seminar will provide a critical introduction to the prevalent theories in the study of the relationship between religion and conflict. Explanations of the role that religious practices, beliefs, and ideologies play in inciting, legitimating or ameliorating violence and conflict, from genocide to domestic violence, will be scrutinized. Special attention will be paid to definitional issues and their implications, and claims of different kinds about causality.

Seminar 2. Contemporary Case Study: Terrorism

In this seminar the religious turn in terrorism studies will be examined, and especially the so-called 'New Terrorism' thesis and the 'fourth wave' theory, that emerged subsequent to the sarin attacks by Aum Shinrikyo in Tokyo in 1995, and also the events of 9/11. The claim that a new, global form of terrorism has emerged, that is unparalleled in its indiscriminate use of violence, and unconstrained by this- wordly strategic goals of previous forms, and that it is characteristically religious, will be critically analysed. We shall look carefully at the constructions of religion evident in terrorism studies literature, and the recurring tropes of apocalyptic and irrationality that typify leading contributions in the field.

Seminar 3. Historical Case Study: 'Barbary' Slaving in the Early Modern World

This seminar will consider the contested role of religion in so-called 'Barbary' slavery and the dominant historiographical and popular cultural debates about its interpretation. This phenomenon, part of a much broader and longer lasting experience of slaving in the Mediterranean, drew large numbers of Christians, Muslims and Jews into sustained, violent conflict, as well as acts of cooperation.

Through the scrutiny of popular captivity narratives, and other primary sources, from chapbooks to plays, we shall the examine the religious framing of this conflict, and its cultural uses in the early modern period, paying particular attention to the themes of conversion, holy war and sexual violence. The session will also examine current debates within historical writing about this conflict, notably the roles of colonialism and orientalism, and the racialisation of the conflict, as well as contemporary disputes about its legacy and memorialisation.


Seminar 4. Scriptural Case Study: Book of Revelation

This lecture/seminar will focus on the contextual and interpretative history of the Book of Revelation, and hermeneutical approaches associated with its implication in violence. It will explore contested readings of the themes of persecution, suffering, martyrdom, judgement and vengeance found in current critical literature on Revelation, and debates about their real, metaphorical and mythic qualities, as well as the gendered representations of violence and victimhood. The reception history of Revelation, as it relates to acts of violence - and anti-violence - will also be examined.

Assessment. The module is assessed by a 5,000 word essay due at the end of term. The subject of each essay must be agreed with the supervisor and approved by the Module Co-ordinator and Degree Committee. The essay titles must relate closely to the subject of at least one seminar in the module.

Sample essay questions

Students can choose to focus on specific religious texts, traditions, or historical events in formulating their question but the following suggestions may prove helpful.

Seminar 1: Theories of Religion and Conflict

    • What are the failings of current theories of the relationship between religion and conflict?
    • Can religious violence be considered a secularist ‘myth’?

Seminar 2. Contemporary Case Study: Terrorism

    • Does religion cause terrorism?
    • What are the critical problems raised by the ‘religious turn’ in terrorism studies?

Seminar 3. Historical Case Study: 'Barbary' Slaving in the Early Modern World

    • Does the memorialisation of past religious conflict cause more harm than good?
    • Were slaves in the early modern Mediterranean victims of a religious conflict?

Seminar 4. Scriptural Case Study: Book of Revelation

 Can sacred texts incite violence?
    • Does the eschatological hope of the Book of Revelation ameliorate or accentuate conflict?


Module 2. Lent Term. Contemporary Religious Conflict: Ethnographic Approaches

Module coordinator: Prof. Joseph Webster

Seminar 1. Exclusive Brethren Antichrists: Accusations of Evil and Political Conflict on the Aberdeenshire Coast
In this lecture/seminar we will discuss the case of the Exclusive Brethren, a socially separatist religious group who eagerly anticipate the imminent apocalypse. By examining the premillennial dispensationalism of Brethren ‘founding father’ John Nelson Darby, we will attempt to understand the relationship between contemporary politics and the imagination of future religious conflict. Among other topics, we will track various Brethren identifications of the Antichrist as a way to consider how accusations of this-worldly evil may be fertile ground for the development of social processes of ‘othering’ – processes which are crucial for sustaining and reproducing religious

Seminar 2. The Religion of Orange Politics: Fraternity and Hate in Scotland and Northern Ireland
In this lecture/seminar we will discuss the Protestant commitments of the Orange Order and other loyalist groups active in Scotland, as well as their connection to ‘post-Troubles’ Northern Ireland. By questioning what we might mean by ‘sectarianism’, and by interrogating why, according to some in the Orange Order, religious bigotry and hate are morally good, we will attempt to rethink the social role of conflict in the production of social cohesion. From fraternal drinking and football violence, to contentious parading and political campaigning, this session will examine the role of religion in imagining and enacting ethno-nationalist conflict between Catholics and Protestants since signing of the Good Friday Agreement.

Seminar 3. Racism and Islamophobia: The Religion of the Far-Right in Contemporary Britain
In this lecture/seminar we will examine how racism and Islamophobia come to take on religious expressions within certain white-majority communities in Britain. At issue is how far-right politics – as both a narrative and a form of activism – deploys the notion of Britain as a ‘Christian nation’ to the exclusion of those they regard as somehow culturally or ethnically incommensurable with Britain’s (imagined) ‘Christian heritage’. Seen as an ‘invented tradition’, Britishness may be actively redefined as a kind of religion, with civic nationalism giving way to ethno-religious nationalism as a result. By examining ethnographic accounts of the National Front and the English Defence League, this session will consider what happens when religious identity becomes inseparable from claims about ‘race’, as well as from experiences of racism.

Seminar 4. American Protestant Fundamentalism: From ‘Cultural Wars’ to Political Violence
In this lecture/seminar we move from Britain to the United States to consider how Protestant exceptionalism produces cultural conflicts that sometimes spill over into actual religious violence. By re-examining Susan Harding’s ethnographic account of Jerry Falwell’s ‘Moral Majority’ and comparing it to imaginations of religious and political conflict at the heart of ‘Survivalist’ and ‘Prepper’ culture, this session will consider to what, if anything, has changed in over 40 years of American Protestant ‘Culture Wars’. With the rise of nationalist populism under the Presidency of Donald Trump, to what extent is American Protestant Fundamentalism an ally of such conflicts, or
might the relationship between Trump and radical Christianity be other than what many assume?


Module 3. Lent Term. Antisemitism, Islamophobia, and ‘Christian Europe’


Module coordinators: Prof. Esra Özyürek ( and Dr Daniel Weiss (

European Christendom has been marked by two notable forms of hatred: antisemitism/anti-Judaism and Islamophobia. In this module we will explore both phenomena independently, as well as in relation to one other. Some scholars argue that these two forms of hatred are essentially different, as Judaism has often been conceived of as a category internal to ‘Christian Europe,’ while Islam has often been conceived as external to it; hence, antisemitism functions as the hatred of an ‘internal enemy’ and Islamophobia as the hatred of an ‘external enemy.’ Other scholars, conversely, argue that Jews and Muslims have often been imagined in very similar terms, or even as one and the same. In this module we will explore the religious and racial dimensions of these two minorities, whether conceived of as inside or precisely at the cultural margins of a ‘Christian Europe.’ As we examine these dynamics historically, philosophically, theologically, and anthropologically, we will aim to understand how they have formed and challenged understandings of the meanings and possibilities of the idea of ‘Europe.’


Seminar 1: Jews and Muslims in Christian Theology


Anidjar, Gil. (2003) The Jew, the Arab: A History of the Enemy. Stanford University Press.

Carter, J. Kameron (2008) Race: A Theological Account

Soulen, R. Kendall (1996) The God of Israel and Christian theology

Kalmar, Ivan. (2012) Early Orientalism: Imagined Islam and the Notion of Sublime Power. London: Routledge.

Heschel, Susannah. (2008) The Aryan Jesus: Christian Theologians and the Bible In Nazi Germany. Princeton University Press.

Mufti, Amir (2007) Enlightenment in the Colony: The Jewish Question and the Culture of Postcolonial Culture. Princeton University Press.

Topolski, Anya. 2020. The dangerous discourse of the ‘Judaeo-Christian’ myth: masking the race–religion constellation in Europe. Patterns of Prejudice.

Westerduin, Matthea. 2020. Questioning religio-secular temporalities: mediaeval formations of nation, Europe and race. Patterns of Prejudice.

Shohat, Ella. 2020. The Split Arab/Jew Figure Revisited. Patterns of Prejudice.


Seminar 2: From Anti-Judaism to Antisemitism


Bauman, Zygmunt. (1997) Postmodernity and its discontents.


Adorno, Theodor and Max Horkheimer. (1997) Dialectics of Enlightenment Nirenberg, David. (2013) Anti-Judaism: The Western Tradition. New York: Norton

Hochberg, Gil. 2020. From ‘sexy Semite’ to Semitic ghosts: contemporary art between Arab and Jew. Patterns of Prejudice.

Amnon Raz-Krakotzkin. 2015. “Secularism, the Christian Ambivalence Toward the Jews, and the Notion of Exile.”

Hess, Jonathan. 2002. Germans, Jews and the Claims of Modernity


Seminar 3: Islamophobia


Runymede Report (1997) Islamophobia: A Challenge for Us All


Silverstein, Paul. (2005) Immigrant Racialization and the New Savage Slot: Race, Migration, and Immigration in the New Europe. Annual Review of Anthropology.

--- (2010) The Fantasy of Violence of Religious Imagination: islamophobia and anti- Semitism in France and North Africa. In Islamophobia/Islamophilia. Indiana UP.

Kumar, Deepa. Islamophobia and The Politics of Empire. London: Verso.


Fekete, Liz. 2009. A Suitable Enemy: Racism, Migration, and Islamophobia in Europe. Pluto.

Rana, Junaid. 2011. Terrifying Muslims: Race and Labor in the South Asian Diaspora. Duke University Press.


Said, Edward. 1981. Covering Islam.


Seminar 4: Jewish-Muslim connections in Europe


Brann, Ross (2021)   Iberian Moorings: Al-Andalus, Sefarad, and the Tropes of Exceptionalism

Stroumsa, Sarah (2019). Andalus and Sefarad: On Philosophy and Its History in Islamic Spain

Meedeb, Abdelwahab and Benjamin Stora. (2014) A History of Jewish-Muslim Relations: From the Origins to the Present Day. Princeton University Press.

Bunzl, Matti. (2007) Antisemitism and Islamophobia: Hatreds of Old and New in Europe.

Meer, Nassar (2014) Racialization and Religion: Race, Culture, and Difference in the Study of Antisemitism and Islamophobia. London: Routledge

Gilman, Sander. The Case of Circumcision: Diaspora Judaism as a Model for Islam?


Esther   Romeyn,    ‘Anti-Semitism    and    Islamophobia:   spectropolitics   and immigration’, Theory, Culture & Society, vol. 31, no. 6, 2014, 77–101.

Katz, Ethan. (2015) The Burdens of Brotherhood: Jews and Muslims from North Africa to France

Klug, Brian. (2013) Interrogating new Antisemitism. Ethnic and Racial Studies 36(3): 468-482.

Baer, Marc. (2020) German, Jew, Muslim, Gay: The Life and Times of Hugo Marcus. Columbia University Press.

Stranger/Sister documentary