Identity threats and ideas of superiority as drivers of religious violence? Evidence from a survey experiment in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania

Published date01 May 2022
Date01 May 2022
Subject MatterRegular Articles
Identity threats and ideas of superiority
as drivers of religious violence?
Evidence from a survey experiment
in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania
Matthias Basedau
GIGA Institute for African Affairs
Simone Gobien
GIGA Institute for African Affairs
Lisa Hoffmann
GIGA Institute for African Affairs
Religion has become increasingly contentious in recent years. Faith-based discrimination, hostility and violence seem
to have increased worldwide. But how can faith lead to conflict? In this article, we test the impact of two important
dimensions of religion that have been neglected in previous research: the belief in ‘one true religion’ and perceptions
of threats by other religious groups. Putting these two potential drivers to the test, we conducted a representative
survey experiment with 972 respondents in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. Results show that one of the tested dimensions,
perceptions of threats by others, increases the support to use violence to defend one’s own group. This is particularly
the case for religiously intolerant respondents with characteristics such as pre-existing threat perceptions, unfavorable
views on intermarriage, or belief in the superiority of their own faith. In contrast, we find relatively weak evidence
that the prime of ‘one true religion’ increases the readiness to use violence. Our findings have important implications
for policy: We conclude that appeals by leaders to threats by others and intolerance toward other faiths can contribute
to more conflict. Political and religious leaders should refrain from capitalizing on such notions and should promote
tolerance towards other faiths instead.
Africa, conflict, religion, survey experiment
In recent years, religion has become increasingly conten-
tious. Terrorist attacks, armed conflict and xenophobia
based on religious identity or ideology have been making
headlines almost on a daily basis and in virtually all parts
of the world (see e.g. Asal & Rethemeyer, 2008; Obaidi
et al., 2018; Sandler, 2014). With little doubt, religious
violence is on the rise (e.g. Svensson & Nilsson, 2018;
Toft, Philpott & Shah, 2011). Armed conflict with reli-
gious overtones occurs mainly in Africa, Asia, and the
Middle East. Notorious cases include Islamist funda-
mentalist insurgencies in Afghanistan, Nigeria, or Syria
(Walter, 2017). Bloody confrontations between religious
identity groups have occurred in the Central African
Republic or Iraq (Walter, 2017). In Myanmar and many
other countries, religious minorities have suffered from
violent repression (e.g. Fox, 2018). Europe and North
Corresponding author:
Journal of Peace Research
2022, Vol. 59(3) 395–408
ªThe Author(s) 2021
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/00223433211035234

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