Davis Brown on Religion, Initiating War, and Data
Date: March 26th, 2017

Does the religious composition of a nation and its leaders have an impact on whether a country will initiate a war?  Prof. Davis Brown, a research fellow at Baylor’s Institute for Studies of Religion and visiting assistant professor at the U.S. Air Force Academy, uses new data to show that the answer is yes.  The political science sub-field of international relations (IR) has long ignored religion as a factor explaining the occurrence of recent wars.  Prof. Brown reviews why this might be the case, and also takes us on a brief tour of the different schools of thought that operate within IR, including realism and constructivism.  We then talk about the construction of a brand new data set that categorizes different countries at different times according to the government’s religious preference.  Davis was (and still is) instrumental in building this data set that initially examines governments on five dimensions: official favoritism of/hostility towards religion; support for religious education; financial support to religious institutions; regulatory burdens on religious groups; and the free exercise of religion.  We discuss what a massive undertaking this data collection and coding is, and why such efforts should be appreciated to the social sciences writ large.  Davis admits to not listening to Led Zeppelin while doing this work (though Tony would have the volume cranked up).  Prof. Brown then reveals the results of a series of logistic regressions he conducted and published in the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion.  He finds that since 1946, the more Christian a nation is, the less likely it is to initiate an international conflict.  Islam, on the other hand, shows the opposite trend, with more Islamic nations being more likely to start a war.  No effect was found on countries that have a Buddhist influence.  We discuss Davis’s ideas about a “religious war ethic” and how this would filter its way into foreign policy decisions.  He talks about just war ethics versus pacifism and notes the importance of doing case study research to find the specific causal links, though case study work is inherently difficult where much of the effect religious ethics may play is subconscious.  He offers up some possibilities related to Anwar Sadat in the 1970s and George H.W. Bush in the early 1990s.  We finish with some of the interesting revelations Prof. Brown experienced throughout the course of his studies and data coding, including his greater understanding of Islam and the discovery of a Buddhist war ethic.  Recorded: March 11, 2017.



Prof. Davis Brown’s bio at Baylor’s Institute for Studies of Religion.

The Influence of Religion on Interstate Armed Conflict,” by Davis Brown at the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion (may need subscription)

The Sword, The Cross, and the Eagle: The American Christian Just War Tradition, by Davis Brown.

Religious Characteristics of States data set at The Association for Religious Data Archives (The ARDA).

Government Religious Preferences data set (coming soon).

The Revenge of God: The Resurgence of Islam, Christianity, and Judaism in the Modern World, by Gilles Kepel (mentioned in interview).


Davis Brown on Just War Theory.

Monica Toft on Religion, Terrorism, and Civil War.

Ron Mock on Pacifism, War, and Terrorism.

Religious Liberty and Violent Extremism: A Panel Discussion.

Ron Hassner on Religion on the Battlefield.

Thomas Farr on Religion, Religious Liberty, and Foreign Policy.

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