The Cult of Coercion: Religion and Strategic Culture in British Counterinsurgency. My dissertation project analyzes how counterinsurgent forces construe and combat rebel groups that mobilize along religious lines. It explains why and when the religious characteristics of rebels elevate military planners’ threat perceptions and how this, in turn, influences strategic preferences for coercive measures rather than bargained solutions. Drawing on eight months of archival research, the project provides detailed comparative evidence from British counterinsurgency campaigns during the early postwar period. Particular attention is paid to conflicts in Malaya, Mandatory Palestine, Cyprus, and Kenya. My findings point to a novel explanation for the intractability of religious conflicts. Existing studies point overwhelmingly to the influence of dissidents’ spiritual beliefs to explain this puzzle. My research, in contrast, suggests that political elites’ perceptions of religion also pose a critical barrier to religious conflict settlement.
Taming the Gods: How Religious Conflict Shapes State Repression. Journal of Conflict Resolution.forthcoming. With Peter Henne. Despite a robust literature on general forms of state repression, the determinants of religious repression remain unclear. This article argues that a regime’s experience with religious conflict will lead it to be more repressive of religious groups within its territory for three primary reasons. Religious conflict increases the behavioral threat posed by religious groups, lowers the cost of repressing these communities, and evokes vivid memories of past religious violence that underscore the role of the state in taming religion to maintain social order. New, cross-national data on religious conflict and repression from 1990 to 2009 shows that religious conflict has a significant and positive effect on the level of religious repression for the time period under investigation, expanding the types and severity of government restrictions on religion in a country. Our findings point to the importance of studying the causes and nature of negative sanctions against religious communities, specifically. While this article is forthcoming in the Journal of Conflict Resolution, Peter and I recently previewed the paper in a podcast found here.
Seek, and You Will Find: Religious Intelligence in British Counter-insurgency Operations. St. Antony's International Review, 12, 1 (2016): 16-37. Counter-insurgent forces across a variety of contexts have been criticized in recent years for insufficient attention to the role of religion in insurgency wars. The consensus view of this critique alleges that military planners, at best, misunderstand the impact of religious identities and beliefs on guerrilla forces and, at worst, ignore them all together. In this article, I challenge this conventional wisdom by tracing the routine efforts of British forces to understand the impact of religion during conflicts in Mandatory Palestine, Cyprus, and Kenya. Drawing on original data collected from the colonial archives, I demonstrate how security personnel repeatedly obtained and evaluated religious intelligence in three key issue areas: combat operations, information operations, and demobilization. My findings have significant implications for the study of both religious violence and civil wars. First, they illustrate how binaries that construe state actors as secular and non-state actors as religious are often oversimplified. Second, they point to how religion affects conflict in meaningful, and oftentimes unanticipated, ways. While not necessarily the cause of a particular rebellion, religious sensibilities often shape how counterinsurgents combat guerrilla forces.
Band of Believers?: Religion and Rebel Group Fragmentation. How does religion impact the organizational structure of rebel groups? Conventional wisdom suggests that religious identities, beliefs, and practices help to unify and maintain the allegiance of insurgents. The demanding and rigid nature of religion is believed to increase combatant resolve and offer a powerful social control mechanism to deter defection. This consensus view, however, has not been systematically tested. I address this omission by analyzing new quantitative data on the religious dynamics and fragmentation of 240 rebel groups that participated in armed conflicts between 1990 and 2010. Contrary to popular notions, the results demonstrate that groups mobilized along religious lines are more, not less, likely than other rebel organizations to splinter. I argue that religious rebel groups suffer from fragmentation more often than their secular counterparts due to the prevalence of religious outbidding. This tactic exacerbates divisions between moderates and extremists and leads to collective splits. The argument and the findings point to the importance of studying how ideational factors can both advantage and undermine the resiliency of rebel groups. Versions of this manuscript were awarded the 2015 Weber Best Paper Award from the Religion and Politics Section of the American Political Science Association and the 2015 Best Graduate Student Paper Award from the Religion and International Relations Section of the International Studies Association, respectively.
Avoiding the Clash of Civilizations: Non-Intervention in Religious Civil Wars. Do the religious dimensions of armed conflict influence the likelihood of foreign military intervention, and, if so, how? In this study, I argue that third parties will be less likely to intervene in religious struggles because they view such disputes through the prism of the “clash of civilizations” thesis. This Huntingtonian worldview portrays religious conflicts as the product of primal forces largely beyond the influence of political actors. Consequently, military intervention is construed as a costly and ineffective political strategy. I test this argument with new data on third-party incursions in Africa from 1989-2012. The preliminary analysis suggests that intervention has a negative association with conflicts in which combatants on either side of the battlefield adhere to different religious traditions. This effect holds even when taking into account the influence of 9/11, Islam, and colonial legacies. These results challenge previous claims that the religious identity of combatants has little effect on the likelihood of military intervention, especially during the post-Cold War period. In addition, they point to the enduring influence of the “clash of civilizations” thesis amongst policy makers.
The Cost of Forgiveness: How Religious Leaders Shape Individual Attitudes Towards Transitional Justice in Aceh. With Ben Oppenheim. What is the relationship between religion and forgiveness in post-conflict societies? A burgeoning argument within the peace and conflict literature suggests that religious leaders play a critical role in promoting and establishing reconciliatory transitional justice mechanisms in societies transitioning from civil war and authoritarian rule. However, little empirical research has explored how religious beliefs and institutions shape the propensity of individual citizens to forgive ex-combatants. Are religiously motivated individuals more likely to forgive ex-combatants? Does their trust in religious institutions and actors impact their attitudes towards transitional justice? What influence do religious leaders have over their adherents’ willingness to forgive perpetrators rather than seek retributive justice? These questions are explored in this paper through survey responses of 1,500 citizens in Aceh, Indonesia.