Religion and the Refugee: Part 2

This is part two in a three part series on Religion and the Refugee. For the introduction to the series click here, and for part one click here Religion Creates the Refugee

Religion is an integral part of the refugee's definition under international law; religion defines the refugee. Today, I want to dig even deeper into the conflicts and persecutions that cause forced migration in order to propose that religion also creates the refugee. Many who work and do research in the sphere of forced migration today choose to focus on factors like war, famine, and climate change as they contribute to increases in refugee flows. Often under the guise of political correctness they skirt the issue of religion and the significant role it plays in creating refugees and causing forced migration. And yet, ignoring the issue of religion will not do anything to alleviate the ills it can cause. In this post, and on this blog, I want to face religion squarely, acknowledging the good and evil it has affected on society and asking how we can leverage the good for the future.

A Religious World

According to a 2012 study conducted by the Pew Research Center in more than 230 countries and territories, 84 percent of the world's population identify with a religious group. Religion is a powerful form of community, a belonging found through shared beliefs and a common worldview. For major global religions like Christianity and Islam, that community spans continents, languages, ethnicities, and cultures, creating an overarching commonality for those who profess the same faith. No other organizations or groups have been able to achieve the same level of impact and the same depth of community that religious groups do. Political ideologies like communism have tried to imitate religion, but they have fallen short. Social groups, like the LGBT community in the west, sometimes operate in ways that mirror religious groups, and yet many of those individuals still consider affiliation with a religious group an important part of their identity. Communities based on shared interests or common perspectives still cannot replace the bond formed between people who share the same beliefs about spiritual things.

A Divided World

Unfortunately, those same deep bonds of community and belonging that are formed by religion can quickly turn defensive and often violent when the religion is threatened from either within or without. A threat from within can happen when some members of a religious group seek reformation or try to overthrow a corrupt leader. The Protestant Reformation is probably one of the clearest examples of this in a major world religion. The Catholic Inquisitions tortured countless Protestants and others as they tried to purge the church of heresy. The Huguenots are a well known group of French Protestants who were forced to convert to Catholicism, flee France, or be killed. The French Huguenots are a prime example of refugees created by religion.

Religious groups can also be threatened from the outside, most often by other religious groups, also resulting in violent conflicts and the creation of refugees. The Crusades are a historical example of this, as well as the long history of conflict between Hindus and Muslims on the Indian subcontinent. Most religions claim to be the ultimate truth, to have found the one reliable way of connecting with a deity (or deities) and achieving a happy afterlife. The existence of all these competing claims and the nonexistence of a way to prove who is right, means that there will inevitably always be religious conflict. Individuals will unite under the banner of a community that has provided them with a sense of belonging, they will fight for what they believe (or against what they do not believe), and religion will continue to create refugees. Even in this modern age the majority of major world conflicts have been partly or primarily religious in nature. The Sudanese Civil War and ongoing conflict involves Christians and Muslims, the Israel-Palestine conflict grinds on, and Daesh (also known as ISIS) commits genocide against religious minorities.

So what does this all mean? If religion causes so much obvious suffering, shouldn't it be eliminated? Could the world refugee crisis be solved if religion were removed as a factor? Though religion plays such a sobering role in creating refugees, in the final post in this series on religion and the refugee, we'll look at how religion may also play a significant role of healing in the aftermath of forced migration.