Weaponization of Religion: The Manipulation of Religion in the Pursuit of Political Power in Yugoslavia and Syria
Date of Award
Bachelor of Arts (BA)
John Entelis, Ph. D.
Caley Johnson, Ph.D.
Religious conflict has played an important role in shaping human history, particularly in the last few decades with the proliferation of ethno-religious violence. This paper examines the development of the relationship between religion and politics, then analyzes how leaders manipulate religion to gain political power. Two case studies—Yugoslavia/Yugoslav Wars and Syria/Syrian Civil War—are used to demonstrate this ability religion has to spur conflict when coopted for political means. Yugoslavia and Syria make ideal case studies because both countries have a deeply rooted and seemingly inseparable link between ethnicity and religion. Methods of cooptation include using religious mythology and symbolism, influencing religious institutions, restructuring the government, and changing state policy towards religion and religious sects. Leaders, such as former Serbian President Slobodan Milošević and current Syrian President Bashar Assad, gained political authority and maintained legitimacy by manipulating religion and pitting their countrymen against each other in violent conflict. Ethno-religious conflicts and the associated protracted violence continues to undermine international security. Understanding the relationship between religion, political power, and conflict, is critically important to developing sustainable outcomes in peace processes.
Echele, Kathryn, "Weaponization of Religion: The Manipulation of Religion in the Pursuit of Political Power in Yugoslavia and Syria" (2023). Senior Theses. 111.