Monica Toft on Religion, Terrorism, and Civil War
Date: September 5th, 2011

A week before the 10th anniversay of the September 11th terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, Prof. Monica Duffy Toft of Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government joins us to discuss what we have learned about religiously-motivated violence over the past decade.  This podcast represents our second discussion on the book God’s Century: Resurgent Religion and Global Politics (co-authored with Daniel Philpott and Timothy Shah), the first being focused on the role of religion in promoting democracy.  Our attention here turns to why religious groups and individuals would be prompted to violence.  The discussion is far-ranging, looking not only at Islamic terrorism, but includes an examination of the Irish Republican Army in Northern Ireland, Hindu nationalism in India, and the influence of Buddhism on the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka.  Prof. Toft provides definition of terrorism and “informal violence,” the latter which encompasses such “spontaneous” events as ethn0-religious riots.  She argues that looking at, and including, informal violence in the analysis of terrorism is crucial for understanding the phenomenon of religiously-motivated violence.  Prof. Toft lays out her explanation for the increasing salience of religious violence, focusing both on institutional factors such as how states regulate religious organizations and the importance of political theologies.  The confluence of these institutional and ideological factors helps explain why religious terrorism and civil war has increased since the 1970s.  Our conversation also considers the recent rampage of Anders Behring Breivik in Norway.  We also discuss the role of religion in civil wars such as Sudan, Yugoslavia and other parts of the world.  Prof. Toft finishes the interview with her thoughts on whether religious violence is likely to subside in the future.  Recorded: August 29, 2011.


Monica Duffy Toft’s website at Harvard University, Kennedy School of Government. 

Initiative on Religion in International Affairs at the Belfer Center (Harvard University).

God’s Century: Resurgent Religion and Global Politics, by Monica Duffy Toft, Daniel Philpott, and Timothy Samuel Shah.

Securing the Peace: The Durable Settlement of Civil Wars, by Monica Duffy Toft.

The Geography of Ethnic Conflict: Identity, Interests, and Territory, by Monica Duffy Toft.


Dan Philpott on Religious Resurgence and Democratization.

Eli Berman on Religious Terrorism.

Ron Hassner on Sacred Spaces and Conflict.

Nathan Brown on the Muslim Brotherhood.

3 Responses to “Monica Toft on Religion, Terrorism, and Civil War”

  1. Jonathan Fox says:

    I liked the podcast and the God’s Century book. I highly recommend the book. It is an excellent piece of research and I pretty much agree with most of it but I have some reservations about the use of political theology both in the book and the podcast. Political theology certainly exists and the definition is as good as any but I wonder whether the use of it in God’s Century is fully accurate. I agree that people’s beliefs influence their actions but I question whether political theology is as influential as it is made out to be by Monica Toft and her co-authors. I believe that in some cases shifts in political theology come after changes in behavior rather than before them. That is, behavior can change and the political theology shifts in order to justify the actions that are already being taken due to other motivations. This is not an all or nothing proposition. In some cases the description in God’s Century (and the podcast) is likely accurate but it is presented in the book and podcast as a unidirectional relationship when the reality is likely much more complex.

  2. […] Monica Toft on Religion, Terrorism, and Civil War. […]

  3. […] Monica Toft on Religion, Terrorism, and Civil War. […]

Leave a Reply

Listen or Download This Episode
Search The Podcast
To search the podcast, type a term and click the Search button.

Connect With Us