Religion, Security and Global Uncertainties Report Published

The Open University’s ‘Religion, Security and Global Uncertainties’ Report has been published, and is available in full.

OU’s Prof John Wolffe and Dr Gavin Moorhead are the principal authors of the report, which has been crafted through a series of interviews and roundtable discussions with academics, MPs, public policy officers, journalists, church minsters, school head teachers and representatives of faith communities, local community organisations and NGOs between October 2013 and January 2014.

There also are two short films about the project on which the report is based. One introduces the project, the other presents highlights from discussions at the January 2014 symposium in Milton Keynes. View the videos here…

The project’s website describes the report this way:

This report examines the relationship between religion and security, including terrorism and so-called ‘religious violence’. It has two key objectives:

To provide guidance on identifying circumstances in which religion (either on its own or in combination with other factors) is likely to give rise to security challenges.

To provide a constructive interrogation of some underexplored assumptions relating to religion and security.

I have been involved with the project throughout, so must confess an interest. Other participants from Northern Ireland have included Rev Dr Norman Hamilton, Prof Sean Connolly (Queen’s), Dr Neil Jarman (the Institute for Conflict Research & Queen’s), John Bell (the Institute for Conflict Research and UU), and Dr Duncan Morrow (UU).

The main conclusions and recommendations of the report are:

  1. Religious literacy and a wider vocabulary are needed by all. We must consider and explain what we mean by terms such as religion and security before we develop policy, research or media reports based on them. We must not assume that we all have the same or even compatible understandings.
  2. Religion plays an ambivalent role when it comes to threatening or promoting security. That is, in certain situations it can be a threat, in other situations it promotes security. As a consequence, it is crucial that practitioners, policymakers, academics and journalists get a deep understanding of a particular context before they evaluate or seek to predict the role of religion in security issues.
  3. There is no simple ‘cause and effect’ perspective whereby ‘dangerous’ ideas lead people to violent action. In fact research indicates that there is an infinitely complex combination of contingencies that can bring conflict and spark violence, including many different social triggers, flashpoints, contexts and characteristics of the protagonists involved. Accordingly, seeking simple and short-term solutions can be counterproductive and lead to greater problems in the future.
  4. It is particularly important to encourage an ethic of inclusivity to help forestall violent responses. Seek to consult with a broad diversity of representatives within communities, including the youth, the marginalised and the most alienated. After all, these groups are considered to be the most likely to become ‘radicalised’.
  5. Practical initiatives can be developed based on previous examples of good practice. For example, the successful ‘bottom up’ approach developed by ECONI (Evangelical Contribution on Northern Ireland – now the Centre for Contemporary Christianity in Ireland) is seen to have encouraged and brought positive change from within the Evangelical Christian tradition. Similarly, through consultation with communities involved, we can identify problems with failed strategies to ensure success in the future.
  6. We can also identify specific badges and flashpoints within certain communities that have tended to re-ignite conflict or cause a shift from tension to violence. However, history also suggests that ill-judged or mistimed attempts to remove flashpoints, can prove counterproductive and provoke the very confrontations they were intended to prevent.
  7. Religious leaders are potentially effective agents for overcoming community tensions and for promoting or countering challenges to domestic and international security, especially in reaching alienated and marginalised groups. However policy-makers, politicians and activists within civil society and the public sector seem reluctant to engage with these agents, particularly in the West where we tend to want to keep a divide between state and religion. This needs to be remedied.
  8. Academics and policy-makers need to develop long term strategic partnerships, informed by proper knowledge of their respective capabilities and requirements.
  9. The religious literacy of journalists should be promoted and improved through training, access to better religion sources, and the establishment of an Institute for Religious Literacy and the Media.
  10. Self-appointed ‘experts’ can mislead. Identified contacts at regular intervals should be regularly reassessed to ensure a dynamic, ever-changing and diverse group of representatives involved in decision-making.

My written contribution is focused on Northern Ireland and includes a short case study of ECONI. It is titled, ‘Religion and Security: Can Religion Contribute to Peace and Reconciliation?’ (pp. 28ff). Neil Jarman’s contribution is titled ‘Beyond the Academic Dance: From Research to Policy and Practice’ (pp. 37ff). Sean Connolly writes on ‘Secularism and Secular: Religion’s Evil Twin?’ (pp. 19ff).

Gladys is a Research Fellow in the Senator George J Mitchell Institute for Global Peace, Security and Justice at Queen’s University Belfast. She also blogs on religion and politics at