Comparative Politics

Revisiting the Religious Violence Thesis: Minorities in the Middle East



Why do ordinary individuals participate in political campaigns involving mass looting, killings, and enslavement against members of another religious group? This paper argues that religious justifications of violence have a stronger appeal when they target liminal minorities whose beliefs and norms remain illegible in the eyes of a majority religion. It then formulates a series of alternative hypotheses about the role of greed, threat, resentment, and guilt in the motives of perpetrators and uses the self-styled Islamic State (IS) campaign against Yezidis in 2014 as a case study to test these hypotheses . Empirical evidence comes from extensive fieldwork including dozens of in-depth interviews with Yezidi survivors and others in Iraqi Kurdistan. The analysis reveals that religious beliefs were necessary both for making extreme levels of violence permissible and for mobilizing local population to participate in the atrocities.


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