Religious Terrorism: A Cross-Country Analysis

Cite As:
Feldman Naomi E., Ruffle Bradley. Religious Terrorism: A Cross-Country Analysis Haifa Israel: Samuel Neaman Institute, 2008.
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A growing theoretical literature explains why religious organizations are better suited to perpetrate suicide bombings in particular and terror attacks more generally than their non-religious rivals. We offer the first comprehensive test of the roles of religion and religious ideology in terrorism using a unique country level database on domestic terrorism. Our results show that religious terror groups actually carry out fewer attacks on average than groups of other ideologies (e.g., nationalist and communist).

Yet, in line with the theoretical literature (e.g., Berman and Laitin 2008), religious groups claim at least as many victims as non-religiously motivated attacks for almost all tactics, not just suicide bombings as commonly perceived.

In support of Adam Smith's beneficent view of religious competition, we find that increased religious diversity is associated with less terrorism, particularly religious terrorism. Moreover, our results reveal that communist and nationalist terrorist groups commit more terror attacks as terror groups in their country become more numerous, whereas religious terror groups are unresponsive to the number of competing terrorist groups.

We conjecture that this difference follows from the greater lethality of religious terrorism.
Religious terrorist groups behave as market leaders, while less efficient non-religious groups act as followers responding to competitive pressures.

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