Ron Hassner on Religion on the Battlefield
Date: September 11th, 2016

Why were Catholic chaplains in the British Army more likely to die at the frontlines than their Anglican counterparts in World War I?  Prof. Ron Hassner (UC-Berkeley) explains that this odd phenomenon can be traced to the importance of religious ritual in affecting how military combat is conducted.  The ritualistic importance to Catholics of administering last rites to dying soldiers meant that Catholic chaplains tended to be amongst combatants when bullets were flying.  We use this initial “mini case study” to illustrate Prof. Hassner’s broader theme of how religion plays an important role in the management of combat, a theme addressed in his new book Religion on the Battlefield.  Ron continues the discussion by noting how much of the literature on religion and war focuses on the role of ideas as a motivator for engaging in conflict.  However, he argues that the common practices (e.g., fasting, Sabbaths) and special holy day (e.g. Yom Kippur, Ramadan) observances that people observe ritualistically play as much of, if not a greater, role in conditioning the conduct of military affairs.  He explains that the effects of these rituals are varied and can become force multipliers (that push combat forward) or force inhibitors (that divert fighting to other times and/or places).  He also notes that there are multiple effects that can come about from taking seriously the religious practices of one’s own soldiers or those of the opposing army.  These effects including using to motivate, provoke, exploit, or inhibit the conduct of war.  Ron refers to multiple examples to illustrate these points including the Bombing of Rome and the Battle of Monte Cassino (the importance of “sacred space”), and the Yom Kippur War and Tet Offensive (the importance of “sacred time”).  Our conversation then turns to the role that military chaplains play on the battlefield, with particular emphasis on how they can effect the mental health of soldiers during and after combat.  Ron finishes with some reflections on his path-breaking career and offers up some useful advice for graduate students and young scholars.  Recorded: August 18, 2016.



Prof. Ron Hassner’s bio at University of California, Berkeley’s Department of Political Science.

Religion on the Battlefield, by Ron Hassner.

Religion in the Military Worldwide, edited by Ron Hassner.

War on Sacred Grounds, by Ron Hassner.


Ron Hassner on Religion in the Military.

Ron Hassner on Sacred Space and Holy Conflict.

Philip Jenkins on Religion and World War I.

Robert Kinnune on Military Chaplains.

Sean Scott on Religious Rhetoric in the US Civil War.

James Felak on Pope Pius XII, the Wartime Pontiff.

Ron Mock on Pacificism, War, and Terrorism.

Monica Toft on Religion, Terrorism, and Civil War.

2 Responses to “Ron Hassner on Religion on the Battlefield”

  1. […] Ron Hassner on Religion on the Battlefield. […]

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