Moral Neutrality of Religion in the Light of Conflicts and Violence in Mediatized World


Although only seven percent of wars in human history were caused by explicit religious motives – as it is suggested by one estimate – religious beliefs affect human attitude to the world. Especially in the context of the rash of contemporary conflicts and terror attacks which have a stated connection to religious motives, it is important to try to understand the possible religious motivations of such antisocial and dangerous behaviors. There are several different research perspectives on this topic, but none of them by itself offers a sufficient explanation. The purpose of this essay is to show that religious components themselves can be interpreted as morally neutral, and that their supposed impact on behavioral patterns can, in fact, be attributed to non-religious factors. Religion is discussed as cultural phenomenon partially interacting with cognitive and adaptive patterns.

If the inline PDF is not rendering correctly, you can download the PDF file here.

  • ATRAN S., GINGES, J. (2012). Religious and Sacred Imperatives in Human Conflict,Science, 18 May, 336 (6083), 855-857.

  • ATRAN S., HENRICH J. (2010). The Evolution of Religion: How Cognitive By-Products,Adaptive Learning Heuristics, Ritual Displays, and Group Competition Generate Deep Commitments to Prosocial Religions,Biological Theory, 5(1), 18-30.

  • ATRAN S., SHEIKH H., GÓMEZ A. (2014). For Cause and Comrade: Devoted Actors and Willingness to Fight, Cliodynamics, 5 (1), 42-57.

  • BARKUN M. (2003). Religious Violence and the Myth of Fundamentalism,Totalitarian Movements and Political Religions, 4 (3), 55-70.

  • BOYER P. (2008). Being human: Religion: Bound to believe? Nature, 455, 1038-1039.

  • BOYER P. (2001). Religion explained. The evolutionary origins of religious thought, New York, Basic Books.

  • BOYER P. (2003). Religious Thought and Behaviour as By-Products of Brain Function,Trends in cognitive sciences, 7 (3), 119-124.

  • BROSNAN S.F., DE WAAL F.B. M. (2014). Evolution of responses to (un)fairness, Science, 346 (6207),1251776.

  • CAVANAUGH W. T. (2007). Does Religion Cause Violence? Harvard Divinity Bulletin, 35 (2 &3).

  • COHEN A. B., KOENIG H. G. (2004). Religion and Mental Health,Encyclopedia of Applied Psychology, vol. 3, 255-258.

  • COPAN P., FLANNAGAN, M. (2014). Did God really command Genocide?Michigan, Baker Books.

  • DORN A. W. (2010). The Justifications for War and Peace in World Religions. Part III: Comparison of Scriptures from Seven World Religions, Defence R&D Canada – TorontoContract Report, DRDC Toronto CR 2010-036, March.

  • EIBL-EIBESFELDT, I. (1971). Love and Hate, London, Methuen.

  • FEIERMAN J. R. (2009). How Some Major Components of Religion Could Have Evolved by Natural Selection? In E. Voland & W. Schiefenhovel, The Biological Evolution of ReligiousMind and Behavior(51-66). Berlin Heidelberg: Springer.

  • GIBBONS A. (2014). How we tamed ourselves—and became modern,Science, 346 (6208), 405.

  • GINGES J., ATRAN S. (2011). War as a moral imperative (not just practical politics by other means),Proceedings of the Royal Society. Biological Sciences, 278 (1720), 2930–2938.

  • GINTIS H. (2013). Territoriality and loss aversion: the evolutionary roots of property rights, In K. Sterelny, R. Joyce, B. Calcott,B. Fraser (Eds.), Cooperation and its evolution, Cambridge MA, MIT.

  • GUNNING J., JACKSON R. (2011). What’s so ‘religious’ about ‘religious terrorism’? Critical Studies on Terrorism, 4 (3), 369–388.

  • HANSDAK S. G., PAULRAJ R. (2013). Are we doing harm by omission? Addressing religiosity of the mentally ill,World Psychiatry, 1 (40).

  • HERZFELD N. (2007). Lessons from Srebrenica. The Danger of Religious Nationalism,Journal of Religion & Society, Supplement Series 2, 110-116.

  • HORKHEIMER M., ADORNO T. W. (1969). Dialektik der Aufklärung: philosophische Fragmente,Frankfurt am Main, Fischer.

  • JOHNS M. D. (2013). Ethical issues in the study of religion and new media, InH. A. Campbell (ed.), Religion Understanding religious practice in new media worlds, Routledge Taylor& Francis Group, Oxon, New York, pp. 238-246.

  • JUERGENSMEYER M., KITTS M., (2011). Introduction: Why Is Religion Violent and Violence Religious? In M. Juergensmeyer,M. Kitts (Eds.), Princeton Readings in Religion and Violence, Princeton: Princeton University Press.

  • JOSHI S., KUMARI S. (2011). Religious Beliefs and Mental Health: An Empirical Review,Delhi Psychiatry Journal, 14 (1), 40-50.

  • KÜNG H. (2005). Religion, violence and “holy wars”,International Review of the Red Cross, 87 (858), 253-268.

  • LAWSON E., MCCAULEY R. N. (1990).Rethinking Religion: Connecting Cognition and Culture, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.

  • LUNDBY K. (2013). Theoretical frameworks for approaching religion and new media, In H. A. Campbell (ed.), Religion Understanding religious practice in new media worlds, Routledge Taylor& Francis Group, Oxon, New York, pp. 225-237.

  • MCDONALD M. M., NAVARRETE C. D., VUGT M. VAN. (2012). Evolution and the psychologyof intergroup conflict: the male warrior hypothesis,Philosophical Transactions of the RoyalSociety B, 367(1589), 670–679.

  • MOHR S., HUGUELET P. (2004). The relationship between schizophrenia and religion and its implications for care,Swiss Medical Weekly, 134 (25-26), 369-76.

  • NASON-CLARCK N. (2004). When Terror Strikes at Home: The Interface Between Religion and Domestic Violence,Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 43 (3), 303–310.

  • NEPSTAD S. E. (2004). Religion, Violence, and Peacemaking,Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 43 (3), 297-301.

  • NORENZAYAN A. (2013). Big Gods: How Religion Transformed Cooperation and Conflict,Princeton, Princeton University Press.

  • NOWAK M., TARNITA C. E., WILSON E. O. (2010). The evolution of eusociality,Nature, 466, 1057-1062.

  • OVIEDO L. (2016). Religious attitudes and prosocial behavior: A systematic review of published research,Religion, Brain & Behavior, 6 (2), 169-184.

  • PARGAMENT K., LOMAX J. W. (2013). Understanding and addressing religion among people with mental illness,World Psychiatry, 12(1), 26–32.

  • PHILLIPS C., AXELROD A. (2007). Encyclopedia of wars, New York, Facts on file.

  • PRICE J. (2012). Foreword, In J. Polimeni,Shamans among us. Schizophrenia, Shamanism and the Evolutionary Origins of Religion, Scottsdale, Arizona, Evo Books Evolution Applied.

  • ROLLS E. T. (2012). Neuroculture. On the implications of brain science, Oxford, Oxford University Press.

  • ROSSANO M. J. (2010). Supernatural selection. How religion evolved, Oxford, Oxford University Press.

  • ROY K. (2009). Norms of war in Hinduism, In. V. Popovski, G. M. Reichberg, & N. Turner (Eds.), World religions and norms of war, Tokyo, New York, Paris, United Nations University Press.

  • SEABRIGHT P. (2013). The birth of hierarchy, In. K. Sterelny, R. Joyce, B. Calcott, & B. Fraser (Eds.), Cooperation and its evolution, Cambridge MA, MIT.

  • SILK J. B. (2014). Animal behaviour: The evolutionary roots of lethal conflict,Nature, 513, 321-322.

  • SIMS A. (2009). Is Faith Delusion?London, Continuum.

  • SLONE D. J. (2004). Theological Incorrectness: Why Religious People Believe What TheyShouldn’t,Oxford, Oxford University Press.

  • SLYKE VAN J. A. (2011). The Cognitive Science of Religion, Burlington, VT, Ashgate.

  • SZENTES B., THOMAS C. D. (2013). An Evolutionary Theory of Suicide,Games, 4 (3), 426-436.

  • WAAL DE F. (1996). Good natured: the origins of right and wrong in humans and other animals,Cambridge, Mass., Harvard University Press.

  • WAAL DE F. (2005). Our inner ape: a leading primatologist explains why we are who we are,New York, Riverhead Books.

  • WEST S. A., GRIFFIN A. S., GARDNER A. (2007). Social semantics: altruism, cooperation, mutualism, strong reciprocity and group selection,Journal of Evolutionary Biology, 20 (2), 374-385.


Journal + Issues