BERLIN, Germany — Religious texts provide the faithful with the guiding principles to live, what their cultures consider, the best lives. Some of these ancient texts, however, come from times when violence against non-believers was an accepted practice. Although these spiritual scriptures are typically a motivating force for good, a new study finds verses which legitimize violence do cause people to support deadly extremism in today’s society.
From America, to Europe, to regions throughout the world, violent extremist incidents have been a modern plague in recent years. Researchers from the Berlin Social Science Center (WZB) note many of these perpetrators quote verses from their religion’s holy scriptures during their deadly crimes.
Abdullah H., a Syrian standing trial for allegedly stabbing a homosexual couple and killing another man in Dresden, Germany last year, reportedly testified that he was inspired to commit the crime by a Quranic sura. Despite incidents like this, study authors say experts continue to doubt that religion can truly motivate people to do violence.
Dangerous influences in scripture?
Researchers Ruud Koopmans and Eylem Kanol gathered 8,000 Christians, Muslims, and Jews to determine whether or not certain scriptures can lead believers to support killing enemies of the faith. Study authors included participants from the U.S., Germany, Cyprus, Lebanon, Israel, the Palestinian territories, and Kenya in this experiment.
For half of the group, researchers asked if they thought lethal force against their faith’s non-believers was justified without any introduction or setup to the question. For the other half however, the team first presented them with a quote from the Bible, Koran, or Torah. These quotes endorse violence against those who allegedly do not believe in those religions.
Results reveal that referencing scriptural passages which legitimize violence noticeably increases support for deadly acts among all three faiths. The impact also remained constant across all seven countries as well. However, researchers find support of deadly extremism was weaker among Jews and Christians than among Muslims.
Specifically, nine percent of the Christians supported violence without reading any scriptures beforehand. That number rose to 12 percent among Christians seeing such a quote before hearing the question. For Jews, three percent supported violence without reading quotes and seven percent supported it after seeing such a passage.
Among Muslims, the study finds 29 percent supported violence against non-believers without any extra influence. For those referencing a Quranic quote first, 47 percent said they supported violence against religious enemies.
Fundamentalism can lead to rationalizing violence
Study authors suspect the reason for this dramatic difference between the faiths is because a large number of Muslims adhere to a “fundamentalist interpretation” of their faith. Fundamentalists typically view the holy scriptures of their religion literally. They consider the teachings and principles of their faith to still be completely valid in present day society.
Therefore, researchers conclude fundamentalists are extremely susceptible to those trying to legitimize violence by quoting religious sources. The team adds that this is a significant step in countering the threat of religious extremism.
“Religious causes and motivations must be taken seriously. Violence should not be reduced to socio-economic and psychological causes alone,” says WZB director Koopmans in a media release.
Researchers note this is the first study to prove violence-legitimizing scriptures can mobilize support for deadly extremism. Koopmans adds religious leaders must actively counter fundamentalist interpretations of their faiths and start putting these ancient teachings into the proper historical and social contexts.
The study appears in the Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies.