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Religious involvement encourages group belonging, and through what Ginges, Hansen, and Norenzayan [38] term coalitional commitment, may lead to out-group hostility. Religious involvement can incorporate any number of activities related to a religion but most widely consists of religious service attendance, prayer, and reading of scripture. These components are also not particular to any one religious group, allowing for cross-group comparisons. Some empirical evidence suggests that religious involvement can relate to less vengefulness [42], less violent behavior [43], and lower violent crime rates [44].

In a study on belief in violent jihad as a mediator between religious involvement and violence in Indonesia, survey data indicate that religious practice measured as a function of mandated prayer, optional prayer, fasting, and religious activities related negatively to belief in violent jihad in a sample of Muslims [45]. However, an alternative perspective related to religious involvement and violence is what Ginges, Hansen, and Norenzayan [46] describe as the coalitional commitment hypothesis. This collective action i. It typically exists in the form of suicide terrorism, the primary differentiating factor in religious terrorism [48, 49].

Ginges, Hansen, and Norenzayan [50] provide empirical evidence that frequency of mosque attendance may increase the predictive likelihood of Palestinian Muslims supporting suicide attacks, despite prayer being unrelated. In support of this conclusion, evidence from large scale survey data suggests that religious service attendance is positively related to agreement that violence against others is justified [51].

If Muslims are, on average, more involved in their religious communities, coalitional commitment may be enhanced in comparison to other religious groups. Thus a greater emphasis on religious involvement may lead to coalitional commitment and a furtherance of support for terrorism and parochial altruism, which may help explain why most religious terrorism is predominately Islamist terrorism.

Do Muslims generally report higher involvement with their religious group or higher attendance at religious services? Furthermore, service attendance was investigated independently since it should be more related to coalitional commitment than other forms of religious involvement [52, 53].

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However, this revealed that the groups did not differ in frequency of attendance. I further evaluated only the extreme end i. Unfortunately, data for other religious groups was not available in this particular data set for comparison.

To further compare religious involvement across religious groups, I consulted the WVS Scores ranged from 0 never, practically never to 6 more than once per week. To evaluate these data in only the most devout adherents, I compared the percentage of total sample that had scores greater than 5 equivalent to more than once per week. Results showed Muslims having a lower percentage of respondents at the extreme end than all other groups except Protestants Table 2. Table 2.

Percentage of respondents who self reported religious service attendance greater than once per week. Self-Reported Religious Service Attendance. Based upon the data presented, there is little evidence to suggest that Muslims engage in more frequent religious activity or have a greater proportion of adherents at the extreme end of religious service attendance that might enhance coalitional commitment compared to other religious groups.

Exploring the roots of terrorism - Oxford Scholarship

The caveat to this is Protestant Christians. This leaves little reason to believe that coalitional commitment is more prevalent or more extreme throughout Islam than other religious groups. This may, however, be different in particular regions [54, 55]. Religious involvement and coalitional commitment may be entirely dependent on contextual factors such as country and denomination or subgroup, or perhaps, may be highly dependent on the content of what it is being promulgated through houses of worship.

Thus, the extent to which Muslims engage in violence compared to other Muslims may still be predicted partially by religious involvement, but the question of more prevalent Islamist terrorism compared to other religious groups likely will not. Religious community involvement is unlikely to lead to coalitional commitment when power holders emphasize positive aspects of religion to the community of believers e.

However, when power holders emphasize lines of division between believers and outsiders, coalitional commitment may be enhanced. Again, this will likely depend on systematic and contextual factors related to the country, political structure and emphasis of the power-holders within a religious community.

Furthermore, the discrepancy between high religious fundamentalism in Muslims but not religious involvement may suggest a problematic aspect—that those with fundamentalist Islamic beliefs may not have formal teaching or training in Islam—education which is necessary for fully understanding the nuances, complexity, and context of religious teaching. This may leave a high number of Muslims at the mercy of religious power holders for religious teaching and interpretation, which can have negative consequences [60], such as through too easily accepting jihadist messages within the current Islamist narrative [61].

A highly related construct— religious commitment —may also be related to tolerance of jihadist movements through the cognitive enhancement of perceptions of threat. It is distinct via its practical application to daily life and its implied intrinsic nature. It may have implications for addressing why religious terrorism is predominantly Islamist because religious commitment may be related to increased anger and hostility in response to perceptions of threat [64].


In-group norms serve to independently guide behavior when in situations of intergroup conflict [67, 68]. This has been demonstrated in work by Ysseldyk, Matheson, and Anisman [70], who determined that intrinsic religious orientation positively relates to greater sadness and anger when a threat to religious identity is experienced and this is further associated with confrontational intentions. This has been corroborated in recent work with Muslim, Christian, and Jewish samples [71], in which religious commitment related positively to increased anger and hostility in response to a religious identity threat, when religious identity was salient.

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This suggests that religious commitment may be enhancing perceptions of threat, which ultimately may lead to violence against out-groups. This limited evidence that Muslims may be, on average, more committed to their religious group, may have implications for religious terrorism since people highly committed to a set of beliefs may be more likely to respond to perceived threats to those beliefs with increased ardor and hostility [73].

This preliminary evidence of an inter-group difference must be replicated in other samples and across various religious groups for any worthwhile conclusions to be drawn. A final psychosocial religious factor that may help explain the phenomenon of overrepresentation of Islamist terrorism within the confines of religious terrorism is what can be termed the homogenization of Islam.

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  • Homogenization of Islam refers to the idea that followers of Islam are more homogenous in their beliefs than are members of other religious groups. While the empirical work regarding this phenomenon is scant, homogenization of Islam can be inferred from two critical pieces of evidence. First is the observation that the majority of the Islamic world identifies with a central authoritative branch of Islam—Sunni Islam.

    While Sunni and Shia splits can be further divided into schools of Islamic jurisprudence, this number is rather small in comparison to other religions, such as Christianity [75]. Furthermore, despite these divisions, the four orthodox schools of Sunni law are in agreement about most matters. The second evidence for a relative homogenization of Islam is that central tenets of Islam are almost universally accepted in the Islamic world [76]. This universality does not appear consistent with other religious groups [77]. This homogenization of Islam reflects itself through homogenous support for Sharia law in most regions of the world and through belief in a single interpretation of Sharia [78].

    This is distinct from the Judeo-Christian perspective, in which scriptures are the work of divinely inspired humans. A possible outcome of this is extreme in-group homogeneity, coalitional commitment, parochial altruism, and out-group hostility. When perceptions of threat become enhanced, especially in a highly homogenized group, this may lead to a violent backlash [79].

    The concept of homogenization of Islam must be evaluated more fully via empirical data before any conclusions can be drawn as to the explanatory power of homogenization in explaining the prevalence of Islamist terrorism. This brief introduction, it is hoped, might encourage others of the importance of this line of work. There is a necessity within the field of terrorism studies to more adequately address theoretical perspectives of both the rise of terrorism, the current predominant types of terrorism, and effective preventative measures to reduce terrorism.

    The rise of Islamist terrorism and the overwhelming position that Islamist terrorism holds within the realm of religious terrorism is currently in need of further exploration. An emphasis on psychosocial factors assists in examining the reasons for Islamist terrorism predominating within religious terrorism. Is Islam more susceptible to religious terrorism than other religions? While the current article does not adequately answer this question, it does enhance our understanding and proposes avenues for further research.

    First, empirical work evaluating religious fundamentalism is clear in its implications that fundamentalist beliefs are related to racial prejudice [80], hostility toward value violating out-groups [81, 82], support for violence against out-groups [83], and anti-Western sentiment [84]. The data in this article suggest that followers of Islam do, on average, hold more fundamentalist beliefs than do believers from other religious groups. This increased fundamentalism may create more susceptibility to the calls for action from extremist Islamist clerics [85], helping to explain why religious terrorism is predominantly Islamist.

    This finding also implies that fundamentalist beliefs may be targeted by the religious elite to reduce susceptibility to calls to Jihad [86]. Practically and statistically related to religious fundamentalism are religious involvement and religious commitment.

    The Root Causes of Terrorism: Orthodox Terrorism Theory

    The empirical work on religious involvement is unclear as to the direction of its effect on violence. Some work suggests a negative relationship between religious involvement and violence [ 87, 88]; however this article concentrated on the possibility of the enhanced coalitional commitment argument for a relationship between religious involvement specifically religious service attendance and parochial altruism [89, 90].

    The data is inconsistent on whether Muslims engage in more frequent religious service attendance or are generally more involved with their religion than members of other religious groups. A contextual and comparative analysis of the content being promulgated through houses of worship within and between religious groups would likely provide more insight than simplistic evaluations of frequencies. However, the data presented on inter-group differences in religious commitment only weakly support the notion that Muslims are more committed to their religious beliefs than members of other religious groups.

    The limitations of the dataset prevent a stronger conclusion but do provide important preliminary support.

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    Other data also suggest that religious commitment might be related to increased support for Sharia law in Muslims [95]. Data comparing religious commitment across more varied religious groups is necessary to investigate this more adequately. The final psychosocial religious factor explored was the relatively homogenized structure of Islam. While large-scale survey data does support the notion that Islam is more homogenized than other religious groups i. This author knows of no empirical data that specifically connects homogenization of religious beliefs to more out-group hostility; however, the function of in-group homogeneity is solidarity, intra-group support [96], and in-group favoritism [97].

    In-group favoritism may be related to out-group hostility, enhancing the effect of perceived out-group dissimilarity in values, although it need not have to [98]. Other evidence suggests that in-group homogeneity can have negative effects through preventing the collection of new, contradictory information, and through preventing experimentation of different viewpoints, opinions, and values [99]. Thus, homogenization of Islam may act to increase extremist beliefs and maintain high levels of fundamentalism in the Islamic community.

    Not surprisingly, the most supported psychosocial religious variable that may help explain why religious terrorism is predominantly Islamist is religious fundamentalism, which may make Muslims more susceptible to what Pech and Slade [] term the terrorist meme , or what Upal [] describes as the jihadist additions to the Islamist narrative.

    Critical personal study of religious texts [], religious leaders who frame their messages around positive aspects of religion, such as compassion and forgiveness [], and who reframe the current acceptability of parochial altruism may go a long way in reducing Islamist terrorism []. About the Author : Joshua D.