Understanding Religious Violence

Radicalism and Terrorism in Religion Explored via Six Case Studies

Reddit icon
e-mail icon
Twitter icon
Facebook icon
Google icon
LinkedIn icon
James Dingley, Marcello Mollica
  • London, England: 
    Palgrave Macmillan
    , December
     228 pages.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.


Understanding Religious Violence: Radicalism and Terrorism in Religion Explored via Six Case Studies is divided intonine chapters written by five authors, and edited by James Dingley and Marcello Mollica. The main case studies span China, Ukraine, Ireland, and different places in the Middle East, examining the State and domestic violence. Each case study is clearly and deeply linked to religion—mainly Christianity and Islam. While certain studies provide a portrait of intra-religious conflicts, others emphasize inter-religious clashes. The contexts are always well-described, and the authors discuss how profound the current problems are, and how deeply rooted they are in history. Using a wealth of references, each chapter is accompanied by a rich bibliography, even those chapters born out of fieldwork. While methodologies are not as readily available throughout the book, one comes to understand that rigor is not the only key concept at play. In fact, every chapter is surprising and addresses its subject matter in a wholly original way. In certain places, the war on terror is instrumentalized to serve the State, against minorities reclaiming more autonomy, by acting to maintain or push out those groups that appear to be threats to the majority. However, this is not unique—clashes between different sets of laws or levels of administration are used to better understand reactions to domestic violence or resistance. 

The first case study introduces what we have come to understand about terrorism, radicalism, and political violence. Dingley, who has no less than four contributions in the book, reminds us that these problems are old. However, in “Classical Social Theory and the Understanding of Contemporary Religious Terrorism” he focuses too closely on Christianity and Islam, until he reminds us how much we have recently been exposed to through the onslaught of media. The definitions provided here are always welcome, such as the glimpses into Jewish terrorism. However, the most impressive are his chain of arguments, a thread picked up subsequently by the other authors, including Chiara Olivieri who writes about Chinese Muslims in a very pedagogical manner. In “Religious Independence of Chinese Muslim East Turkestan ‘Uyghur’,” she paints a clear picture of what is happening to this minority in this vast Republic, providing a fascinating introduction for readers not familiar with the subject. In this regard, Benedetta Panchetti proposes an exploration of a legal process that puts people face-to-face with their religious and legal expectations within the confines of the Lebanese system. This chapter, entitled “Women’s Rights Between Civil and Religious Laws: The Lebanese Law on Protection of Women and Family Members from Domestic Violence and the Religious Authorities’ Opposition” deepens Sunni, Shi’a, and Christian points of view, but also the dialectic between the confessional identity of the authorities and parliament state law. This is very interesting, particularity for such a small country. The “Geopolitical Vector of Ukrainian Orthodoxy in the Context of National Security” study is the hardest one to follow due to its numerous acronyms and statistical data. Other than this minor flaw, Yevhen Kharkovshchenko and Olena Bortnikova manage to give the reader a clear picture of what the church represents and can do against symbolic and military violence in this former USSR territory. The authors portray the situation in detail and provide numerous solutions; this is unusual up to this point in the book, but later it is discovered that they will not be the only ones proceeding in this way. Dingley does it in his second text “The Case of Northern Ireland.” Here, after giving us the impression that sociology is the discipline he favors, Dingley dives into an extended historic overview of this part of the world and proves that he is extremely prolific and … Durkheimian. The absence of any divisions within the chapter may increase the reader’s confusion, not to mention that his subjectivity, which appears in the conclusion, may bother some, as it appears to have a lack of nuance and a need for generalizations. In “Terror-Driven Ethno-Religious Waves: Mapping Determinants in Refugees’ Choices Escaping Iraq and Syria,” Marcello Mollica explores two driving phenomena—diaspora and terrorism—and logically proposes two conclusions. Given that this study is born out of fieldwork, the methodology here is better introduced than anywhere else in the book, other than the subsequent chapter on the Ezidi people. Mollica brings his attention to this group of refugees, and unfortunately, he is not as generous with his information as he could be. For all the areas he covers, he argues that religion is the reason for discrimination and terrorism, but it is also the major relations bounding or the adequate alternative structure. The book’s final case study, “Being Ezidi in the Middle East,” is another chapter dedicated to this lesser-known group that has been subjected to more violence than it has inflicted on its neighbors. Again, religious beliefs and practices are at the center of the problems addressed and provide an explanation as to why they have been victims to the Islamists. This case study is the only one to cite sacred text and, as it is shorter than the others, leaves us wanting more, especially since the conclusion feels incoherent. Though Dingley and Mollica re-examine this case study, it is still disappointing. It seems that the proposed solutions for religious violence feel, at times, superficial and in favor of mainly Western countries. The two authors, perhaps in a hurry to conclude the book, seem to have forgotten that blind spots still exist. Certainly, six cases studies can provide wonderful examples of the ways in which sociocultural elements converge or aggregate around religion in many places, and can provoke violent situations occurring at various levels. However, this is not enough to understand such complex phenomena. Perhaps the title of the book provides an expectation of understanding religious violence, an expectation that continues to grow throughout the cases, and yet cannot be fully met. However, Understanding Religious Violence still paints a complex picture of its many, possibly infinite, forms.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Isabelle Lemelin is a postdoctoral Research Fellow at the Centre d’expertise et de formation sur les intégrismes religieux et la radicalisation and Lecturer in the Department of Religious Studies at Université du Québec à Montréal.

Date of Review: 
June 21, 2019
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

James Dingley is Political Sociologist at Queen’s University, Belfast. He is Chairman of the Francis Hutcheson Institute and a member of the Advisory Committee of the Northern Ireland Security Qualifications Group.

Marcello Mollica is Associate Professor of Cultural Anthropology and Ethnology at the University of Messina. Italy.


Reading Religion welcomes comments from AAR members, and you may leave a comment below by logging in with your AAR Member ID and password. Please read our policy on commenting.