Jason Klocek on Religious Conflict and Repression
Date: April 2nd, 2017

Why do political leaders repress religious groups and how might their actions be related to instances of religious conflict within society?  Jason Klocek, a doctoral candidate in the Department of Political Science at the University of California – Berkeley, examines this relationship and reports on findings that he and his co-author, Peter Henne (University of Vermont), discovered in a forthcoming article in the Journal of Conflict Resolution.  After talking about his wild experiences in Turkmenistan, Jason details the state of the scholarly literature when it comes to understanding the repression of religious organizations.  He notes that much of the previous scholarship has argued that religious repression prompts religiously-motivated violence, but that a new set of scholars are also observing a reverse causality wherein religious unrest in a society motivates state leaders to crack down on religious groups, including ones not directly involved in any conflict.  While acknowledging the endogeneity of such a relationship — wherein conflict motivates repression and vice versa — he and Prof. Henne find statistical evidence that the appearance of religious unrest in a society is often what provokes a variety of tighter restrictions on religious groups and activity.  Using data from Jonathan Fox’s Religion & State Dataset, they test their hypotheses that pick up on some of the research done by William Cavanaugh.  That latter scholarship emphasizes that state rulers often rely upon a “myth of religious violence” often dating back deep in history to justify crackdown on groups they see challenging their authority or ruling position.  Jason provides a couple illustrative examples of where this has happened recently, including in Russia (with respect to unrest in Chechnya) and China (referencing the uprising of Uighurs in the western portion of the country).  Tony notes a few other cases such as how Padre Hidalgo in Mexico and the Taiping Rebellion in China are often viewed as instances of religious mobilization that could cause worry to incumbent leaders.  Jason then provides us a summary of his dissertation research wherein he attempts to understand why religious conflicts are so much more difficult to resolve than non-religious ones.  Whereas past scholars (including Jason’s mentor and frequent RoR guest Prof. Ron Hassner) have emphasized the religious side of the conflict coin, Jason notes that secular rulers also form intransigent images of religious groups and leaders that cause problems when it comes to negotiating settlements.  He illustrates this with the case of British counterinsurgency in Cyprus during the 1940s and ’50s and reveals some interesting empirical findings he discovered in dusty archives.  We finish with Jason’s reflections on what he has learned over the course of his studies.  Recorded: March 24, 2017.



Jason Klocek’s bio at the University of California, Berkeley, Department of Political Science.

Peter Henne’s bio at the University of Vermont, Department of Political Science (Prof. Henne is Jason’s co-author on the article discussed here).

The Myth of Religious Violence, by William Cavanaugh (mentioned in podcast).

Journal of Conflict Resolution (institutional access required).

Jonathan Fox’s Religion & State Dataset at The ARDA.


Matthew Isaacs on Religion and Ethnic Rebellion.

Ani Sarkissian on Religious Liberty in the Post-Soviet World.

Monica Toft on Religion, Terrorism, and Civil War.

Religious Liberty and Violent Religious Extremism: A Panel Discussion.

Ron Hassner on Religion on the Battlefield.

Ron Hassner on Sacred Spaces and Holy Conflict.

Ann Wainscott on the Politics of Islam in Morocco.

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