Sociologist Rodney Stark Explains Why Global Religious Hostility Is on the Rise

Image: Marcus Bleasdale / VII
Image: Marcus Bleasdale / VII

In a late February, predawn raid in Buni Yadi, a town in northeast Nigeria, Islamic militants locked the doors of a boys’ dormitory and set it on fire. At least 59 students perished in the flames. The militants were linked to Boko Haram, a terrorist group that seeks to establish an Islamic state in Yobe, Nigeria.

The mainstream media cover these kinds of horrific attacks, which are often motivated by simmering religious hostility, according to recent data from the Pew Research Center. But rarely do media cover the larger, global story of religious intolerance.

That’s the challenge that Rodney Stark, professor of social sciences and codirector of the Institute for Studies of Religion (ISR) at Baylor University, and Katie E. Corcoran (an ISR postdoctoral fellow) took on in their new book, Religious Hostility: A Global Assessment of Hatred and Terror. They found that one critical difference between conflicts of the distant past and today is that national armies once fought wars on religious grounds, whereas today, militant civilians—not soldiers—are the main combatants. Daniel Philpott, professor at the University of Notre Dame and author of Just and Unjust Peace, interviewed Stark, best known among CT readers for his research on the early church and the Crusades.

Why do we need another book on religious persecution and intolerance?

Much of what has been written about terrorism and the Middle East simply isn’t true. There was the recent, widely publicized claim of 100,000 Christians a year dying for their faith. That’s pretty stunning. When I found out how that 100,000 number was calculated, I realized it was absurd. More likely, the number was less than 7,000 a year.

Another reason for our project was the infatuation with the Arab Spring. People should have known better. President Hosni Mubarak was a tyrant, but he replaced Anwar Sadat after Sadat was assassinated by the Muslim Brotherhood. And why? Because Sadat had made a treaty with Israel. Mubarak had many flaws, but he suppressed the Egyptian fanatics, the ones who killed Sadat. If you look at Gallup World Poll data, when Egyptians were allowed to choose freely in an election, they chose a tyrant—one dedicated to attacking Christians, Jews, and Arab moderates.

Egypt’s army has reinstated Mubarak’s policies. That’s good—probably. But we missed the whole spectrum of events. We decided to write a book that looked at real data to figure out what was going on in the world.

Click here to read more.

SOURCE: Christianity Today
Interview by Daniel Philpott

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