Debating Peace & Religion

We are glad to see the Peace and Religion report has created such a stir and we hope to continue to drive healthy public discussion.

Reading through the comments, we have noticed a number of similar issues, criticism and questions. Below are some answers and clarifications.

Questioning the methodology

The Peace and Religion report investigates the empirical relationship between peace and various religious measures related to levels of religious belief, restrictions and hostilities towards religion, combined with a number of other socio-economic factors to statically explain the relationship between religion, peace and conflict.

With respect to our methodology, our findings are based on quantitative research and statistical analysis, drawing on data from the 2013 Global Peace Index. The reason we are using the 2013 GPI (and not our most recent 2014) is because we are assessing all the armed conflicts that took place in 2013. For full details of the methodology, skip to page 25 of the Peace and Religion Report.

Religion and Conflict

Of the 35 armed conflicts that took place last year, 30 had more than one cause. In looking at the table below, we can clearly see that “religious element” (see definition below table) played a role in 21 conflicts, but was never the only cause. There are 5 conflicts where both “religious element” and “opposition to the system (ideology)” were the only two causes. In all these cases, the conflict is considered “religious” as the ideology is related to the establishment of an Islamic system of government.

Religious Elements

Religious Elements” refers to conflicts where a major actor in the conflict claims affiliation with a particular religious group or tension between religions is a major cause of conflict.”

For a full definition of the types of conflict listed in the table above, download the Peace and Religion report and skip to “Appendix B” on page 27.

Religion and Peace

Religion does not have a significant statistical explanatory power for peace. While religion undoubtedly plays a significant role in many conflicts, when assessing the global statistical determinants of peace, there are other factors which are more strongly associated to peace than religion. Multivariate analysis (which runs over 100 factors associated with peace and elements associated with religion) shows that economic inequality, corruption, political terror, gender and political instability have a much more significant connection with levels of peace in a country than religious factors.  The analysis did not look at whether certain religious beliefs have more influence than others factors.  For more on this, download the Peace and Religion report and skip to page 16 (and read to page20).

Peaceful religious countries, unpeaceful non-religious countries

Many people sought clarification over the claim “Of the 10 most peaceful countries, three would be considered religious”. This claim was based on findings in the 2013 Global Peace Index. Three countries are in the top 10 most peaceful that are also above the international average for levels of religious belief. These three countries are Iceland (97.2% of the population), Sweden (94%) and Norway (93.7%) – data is from the World Religion Project.

At the other end of the scale, the countries with the first and third highest percentage of atheists, North Korea and Russia, are in the 10 least peaceful countries, ranked 155th and 154th respectively on the 2013 Global Peace Index.

Religious majorities and peace

The report also shows that if the members of a religious group dominates and “achieves a monopoly”, they are likely to be able to access and use the power of the state. What has been seen in the past is that dominant religious groups with state power are open to persecute other religious groups and competitors. Many of the least peaceful countries do not have high levels of religious diversity. The presence of multiple religions in a country appears to have a pacifying effect if they are free of restrictions.

Continuing the debate

And there we have it, round one of answers, clarifications and hopefully food for thought. We look forward, as ever, to further comments and discussion with you all. You can comment on our Facebook page, on this article, or get in touch with us on Twitter @GlobPeaceIndex

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