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The “Ambivalence of the Sacred” in Africa: The Impact of Religion on Peace and Conflict in Sub-Saharan Africa


  • Matthias Basedau

    () (GIGA Institute of African Affairs)

  • Alexander De Juan

    () (University of Tübingen)


Given the widespread focus on socioeconomic factors, it comes as no surprise that religion is neglected in most theoretical explanations of African civil conflicts. While scholarly interest is increasing in light of the civil wars in Sudan, Nigeria, and northern Uganda, no systematic empirical analysis has been undertaken to date. Hence, this paper aims to provide a preliminary assessment of the role of religions in sub-Saharan civil conflicts. Quantitative and qualitative analysis based on a newly compiled database including 28 violent conflicts show that religion plays a role more frequently than is usually assumed and that the effects of religions are principally ambiguous. Religious actors and institutions have escalating effects in many cases, yet more often they become active for peace. Religious identities and ideas seem to have a particular impact on conflict. Even though religion seems secondary when compared to classical “risk factors,” the findings demonstrate that religious factors have to be taken seriously when analyzing civil conflicts in Africa.

Suggested Citation

  • Matthias Basedau & Alexander De Juan, 2008. "The “Ambivalence of the Sacred” in Africa: The Impact of Religion on Peace and Conflict in Sub-Saharan Africa," GIGA Working Paper Series 70, GIGA German Institute of Global and Area Studies.
  • Handle: RePEc:gig:wpaper:70

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Rudolph J. Rummel, 1997. "Is Collective Violence Correlated with Social Pluralism?," Journal of Peace Research, Peace Research Institute Oslo, vol. 34(2), pages 163-175, May.
    2. Tanja Ellingsen, 2000. "Colorful Community or Ethnic Witches' Brew?," Journal of Conflict Resolution, Peace Science Society (International), vol. 44(2), pages 228-249, April.
    3. Paul Collier & Anke Hoeffler, 2004. "Greed and grievance in civil war," Oxford Economic Papers, Oxford University Press, vol. 56(4), pages 563-595, October.
    4. repec:cup:apsrev:v:101:y:2007:i:03:p:505-525_07 is not listed on IDEAS
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    Religion; Africa; ambivalence; civil war; violent conflict;

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