Exploring Religious Conflict
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September 11th drove home the fact that the United States and its intelligence community must directly address the issue of religious motivations for violence. This document reports the result of a three day workshop organized by the RAND Corporation to bring together intelligence analysts and experts on religion with the goal of providing background and a frame of reference for assessing religious motivations in international politics and discovering what may cause religiously rooted violence — with emphasis on radical Islam. The group considered three phenomena: (1) “cosmic war” — a concept referring to the metaphysical battle between the forces of Good and Evil that enlivens the religious imagination and compels violent action; (2) radical fundamentalist violence and states that use it for political gain; and (3) new religious movements (NRMs), often referred to as cults, and why some may turn violent. The group concluded that the watchword for policy might well be to try to guide Islamic NRMs toward the social mainstream of the Muslim world, daunting though that task may appear at present.