Religion and Ethnic Conflict—In Theory

At any given time during the past decade, several ethnic conflicts have raged around the world. In the year 2001, these include such wellknown cases as Kosovo, Chechnya, Israel, Kashmir, Sri Lanka, and Indonesia. In the view of many political analysts and social scientists, the era of the Cold War and ideological conflict has given way to an era of ethnic wars and cultural conflicts. Whether one subscribes to this characterization or another (one of the most convincing is that this is the era of globalization), ethnic conflict is an undeniable feature of the contemporary sociopolitical landscape.

What is its cause? The problem with answering that question is not the lack of theories, but rather an excess. Around the question of ethnic conflict has sprouted a plethora of answers, a thicket of theories suggesting variously that (1) cultural traditions and historical legacies are giving rise to “primordial hatreds”; (2) the socioeconomic tensions produced by modernization and uneven development stoke violence among ethnic groups; and (3) political disorder and “failed states” create a “security dilemma” between ethnic groups that are often exploited by ambitious and unscrupulous “political entrepreneurs.”

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