It’s been quite evident according to the top headlines of most newspapers from the past few years that religious extremism is on the increase worldwide, especially in South Asian countries. Since the beginning of it, numerous scholars have tried to trace the drivers of violent religious extremism with a view to finding a sustainable solution. Religious extremism glorifies the supremacy of one particular group while opposing a tolerant and inclusive societal structure. Two challenges arise because of this. There is an abnormal increase in the violent religious extremism across national borders and problematic governance of diverse societies (Juergensmeyer, 2001). Along with its multifaceted impact, religious extremism is not a secluded phenomenon. The term must be examined within its socio-political and economic contexts. The political drivers reveal the manipulation of religiosity to broaden the already existing rifts and create intolerance among different religious communities for political gain.
Religious extremism has multiple forms. It is viewed as having a high sense of ideological commitment expressed through some certain forms of action that display deep loyalty to a belief system (Prus, 2005). This concept includes practices related to certain rituals and customs of many religious groups. The core features include isolation, evangelizing to non-members, the maliciousness of members and nonmembers, criminalization, and elimination of recalcitrant persons or those considered to be enemies (Njoku and Akintayo, 2018). The interesting part is non-members consider the behavioral patterns of religious extremists as delusional and invalid but, members of religious extremist groups view their actions as sacred activities assigned by God. Religious extremism often denounces social values and seclusion and, try to enlarge the application of religious doctrines (Liebman, 1993). This often leads to conflict in society.
The politicization of religion and religious extremism constructs a fragmented society and gives rise to religious intolerance. According to many scholars, a certain kind of political environment contributes to the escalation of religious extremism (Vries, 2002). Denial of political rights and civil liberties work as a catalyst in this regard. If people do not have the legal avenues to express political demands and grievances, they are deprived of affecting any political decisions such as free and fair elections. Civil liberties are closely related to political rights that include freedom of expression, of the press, of association, and, of religion (Denoeux and Carter, 2009).
Another important factor is government repression and gross violations of human rights. Exposure to harsh government repression increases a significant number of religious extremist groups. When governments engage in the mass violation of human rights, it somehow pushes individuals to become radicalized. The religious extremists then can easily project their actions as a form of reciprocal violence. If the manifestation of human rights violation is met with systematic injustice, it fuels the underlying grievances against the governance. Widespread corruption in the political system may not directly increase religious extremism but it prompts large-scale civil disengagement and political apathy (Horgan, 2005).
Lastly, one major political factor of religious extremism can be seen in the contemporary world. This is known as the discredited or illegitimate governance. If the government is illegitimate in the eyes of the population because of the failure in three fundamental areas then violent religious extremism is very much likely. These are: socio-economic, political and, diplomatic, military, and international spheres. Also, when there is an absence of legal opposition, a credible alternative of the existing regime, religious extremism arises (Denoeux and Carter, 2009).
Addressing religious extremism requires a multidimensional strategic approach. However, before any kind of strategy, the underlying factors that promote religious extremism must be resolved. This is more necessary in the case of political factors as they have a far-reaching impact on the lives of individuals. The manipulation of the sense of religiosity and religious identity for the purpose of political gain can escalate large-scale communal violence. Religiousness is a crucial aspect of individual identity but religious extremism puts the identity of different religions at grave risk. This issue needs more focus to bring back harmony and peace in society.
Juergensmeyer, M. (2001). Terror in theMind of God: The Global Rise of ReligiousViolence, Berkeley (California): Universityof California Press
Vries, H., D. (2002). Religion andViolence, Maryland: Johns HopkinsUniversity Press
Prus, R. (2005). Terrorism, tyranny, and religious extremism as collective activity: Beyond the deviant, psychological, and power mystiques, American Sociologist, 36(1),47–74
Njoku E.T., Akintayo J. (2018). Religious Extremism, In: Leeming D. (eds) Encyclopedia of Psychology and Religion. Springer, Berlin, Heidelberg
Liebman, C., S. (1993). Extremism as a religious norm,Journal for Scientific Study of Religion, 22, 75–86
Denoeux, G., Carter, L. (2009). Guide to the drivers of violent extremism, United States Agency for International Development.
Horgan, J. (2005). The social and psychological characteristics of terrorism and terrorists. In T. Bjorgo (Ed.), Root causes of terrorism: Myths reality and ways forward. London: Routledge: Taylor and Francis Group