Has Religion Really Caused More Wars Than Anything Else?
It is often stated with all the authority normally given to a well known fact that religion has caused more wars than anything else. This idea has particularly caught on since the atrocities commited in the name of religion on September 11, 2001. But is it true?
Dr. John A. Tures tackles the question in the report at the Miller-McCune link above. He is an associate professor of political science at LaGrange College. After hearing a pastor at his church make this comment, Dr. Tures became curious enough to enlist the aid of some of his poly-sci students. Together, they applied serious research methods to the question.
What they learned may be surprising to some readers.
Analyzing data they found in Kalevi J. Holsti’s 1991 book Peace and War: Armed Conflicts and International Order, 1648-1989, Dr. Tures and his students classified the primary motivation for every war during that time frame according to four general categories: religion, real estate, riches, and regimes.
As can be seen in a table in the report which presents their results, at no time during the three centuries they studied was religion the primary motivation in a majority of the conflicts. On the contrary, regime change came in first, as the motivation for 178 wars, with a desire to seize real estate second at 117. Out of a total of 364 major armed conflicts in that period, the religious motivation came in last, at only 16.
Why then is religion as a major cause of war such a popular myth?
According to Dr. Tures, “Many wars are falsely framed as religious by a media either ignorant of the reasons for fighting, or seeking a simpler, quicker explanation than a detailed history, a complicated border or an ethnic component too difficult to untangle in 45 seconds. And when there is a religious component, it receives a disproportionate amount of coverage, compared to other issues from that war, or other fights that do not have a religious bent, because religious wars have a narrative we all understand — the perceived clash between good and evil.”