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Religiosity and Bellicosity: The Impact of Religious

Commitment on Patterns of Interstate Conflict

Kathryn J. Alexander1

September 18, 2015

1 Department of Political Science, Duke University.


Are states international conflict behaviors at all connected to the levels of religious com-
mitment within their populations? Existing quantitative work within the area of religion
and international relations tends to employ shallow conceptualizations of religious vari-
ables, overemphasizing superficial demographic indicators rather than proposing more
robust measurements. This paper takes a first step toward resolving the issues presented
in the literature by using a measurement of the level of religious commitment within a
statethat is, the proportion of a states population to which religious beliefs and practices
are importantto explore whether commitment may be a scope condition for religions
role in international relations, more generally. Using both monadic and dyadic model
specifications, the analysis uncovers a link between increasing levels of religious commit-
ment within states and their propensity to initiate conflictual behavior with other states.
In addition, this finding is also linked to the conditions under which states with differ-
ent majority religions are more likely to initiate conflict with one another, indicating a
need to understand the dynamics of religious commitment itself in order to more clearly
unpack the processes that lead to interstate conflict.
1 Introduction

In the popular mind, particularly in the post-9/11 international political climate, religion
is often credited with playing a powerful role in shaping how countries relate to one
another. From Irans theocratic regime and the rise of the Islamic State to the religious
rhetoric of parades of American presidents and tensions between religious and secular
identities in states like Israel and Turkey, issues tied to religion seem to consistently
dominate news cycles and discussions of international affairs. The very prevalence of such
issues seems enough to prompt the casual observer, at least, to conclude that religion is
a factor of great significance on the world stage. This instinct is corroborated by more
than just headlines, however. Perhaps now more than ever, religion remains a prominent
dimension of modern life for billions of people; indeed, the global population of religious
people is growing (Inglehart and Norris, 2004). When considering major factors that could
condition political behavior, it is only prudent to give religion serious consideration.
Yet, this conclusion has not traditionally been shared or supported by mainstream
international relations work, particularly by its most influential theories. International
relations scholarship prior to the end of the Cold War tended to assume that religion
had no role in the international system, a view shaped by the continuing influence of the
secularism of the Enlightenment and nineteenth century modernization (Fox and Sandler,
2004; Hurd, 2004; Philpott, 2009, 2013). Philpott (2009) explains:

The dominant theories in this field assume that the states, nations, interna-
tional organizations, parties, classes, businesses, interest groups, nongovern-
mental organizations, and lobbies that carry on politics pursue ends that
include power, conquest, freedom, wealth, a redistribution of wealth, welfare
provision, human rights, justice, envinternational relationsonmental cleanli-
ness, and other goals, but they do not pursue religious ends and are not influ-
enced by religious actors. Such theories reason as if religion has disappeared
from politics. (187)

Consequently, write Fox and Sandler (2004), These powerful intellectual perspectives

transformed into the twentieth-century social science disciplines of sociology, political
science, and psychology, resulting in a growing body of literature that hypothesized the
irrelevance of religion (23).
Despite these challenges, a niche research literature has still managed to emerge which
specifically emphasizes religions relationship(s) to international relations, and in recent
years interest has even sharply increased (Hassner, 2011, 37), no doubt spurred on in
great part by the aforementioned popular association of religion with global affairs. This
silver lining is somewhat undermined, however, by the prevalence of some systematic
methodological issues within the body of existing work, chief among them the matter of
how religion is generally conceptualized and measured by recent studies: either too su-
perficially or too contextually. Hassner (2011) provides a framework for conceptualizing
these twin problems by drawing a distinction between what he terms broad and deep
approaches to the study of religion and international relations, emphasizing the current
existence of a tradeoff between generalizability and rigor in the literature. In Hassners
classification, broad approaches emphasize religious behaviors effects on the international
sphere but treat the concept of religion itself superficially: These authors are inter-
ested in the effects of religion on international conflict and cooperation, diplomacy, or
globalization, but they have been hesitant to trace these effects to their origins in religion
itself (46). Conversely, deep approaches employ rigorous contextualization in order to
understand particular movements or religious traditions and offer in-depth insights as
to their intersection with political processes, yet these works tend to be so focused on
particularities as to have no systematic implications.
Hassners solution to the broad/deep divide is what he calls thick religion, an approach
that incorporates traits of both deep and broad scholarship:

Deep, in that it traces the pathways by which religion affects international af-
fairs to their origins in the content and meaning of religion, and broad, in that
it offers generalizable implications across states and regions. A thick religion
approach to the study of religion and international politics requinternational
relationses an understanding of religious detail but also a willingness to gen-

eralize from particular religious movements, regions, or instances to arrive at
broader conclusions. (49)

The development of research agendas and methodologies that meet the qualifications of
thick scholarship may appear a tall order, but it is by no means an unattainable goal.
The spirit of Hassners call asks scholars of religion and international relations to take
context seriously while retaining a willingness to generalize where appropriate. Such is the
motivation of the present study, the primary objective of which is to propose a potential
step forward in applying a more conceptually robust understanding of religious variables
to large-N, quantitative studies of international relations. Specifically, this paper explores
the connection between levels of religious commitment within states and their propensity
for initiating international conflicts, moving away from the more common, broad practice
of focusing exclusively on the religious traditions to which majorities of state populations

2 Religious Commitment: A Potential Scope Condi-


One of the most striking components of Hassners proposal for scholarship is his ad-
monishment of the current quality of both quantitative, large-N comparative studies and
in-depth qualitative ones. A primary way in which quantitative methods, in particu-
lar, can be helpful in advancing quality work in religion and international relations is
by empirically identifying certain conditions under which religious factors can be tied
to international phenomena. If scholars of religion and international relations hope to
demonstrate religions importance to their more skeptical colleagues and see religious fac-
tors future inclusion in more mainstream international relations work, the identification
of such scope conditions should be of high priority in their research, for to simply assert
that religion matters to international relations is an unhelpful exercise. Religion, while
an important factor in the lives of many, does not matter to everyone. Critics of reli-
gions inclusion in most international relations studies are not without ammunition: for

every international event with even a passing religious connection, there are numerous
instances of interactions between states in the international system in which no evidence
appears to justify even a minimal role for the consideration of religion, even in countries
with ostensibly religious domestic regimes (Shaffer, 2006). Rather than asking whether
religion matters to international relations, we should instead interrogate the conditions
surrounding when and how it matters.
To identify some potentially interesting scope conditions that will be worth exploring,
it is necessary to ask a rather basic, but fundamental question: what is special about
religion as a factor that can be relevant to international affairs? According to Fox
(2001), there are three major categories of mechanisms via which religions impact on
international politics can be identified. first, decision making and/or policymaking can
be influenced by the beliefs of leaders and/or constituents. Here, religion acts as part
of the process that yields actual policies, whether through leaders or the society they
represent. Second, religion can be a source of legitimacy. In this mechanism, religions
influence is not necessarily in informing policies but is instead used as a means by which
to legitimize and defend them. Finally, domestic religious issues, including conflict, can
spread or otherwise become international issues.
This paper focuses on a potential component of Foxs first category, the beliefs of
leaders and constituents, positing that there are two primary roles for religion at the
individual level, in particular, that could make it pertinent to how states relate to one
another. first, religion as a source of ideas can introduce preference structures and in-
centives that differ from and compete with default material interests in foreign policy
issues. For example, individuals holding particular religious views may find their time
horizons and/or payoff structures altered when it comes to particular events and policies:
The logic is simple: the physical self is mortal, and hence temporary; the religious self,
however, is potentially immortal and eternal. Thus, sacrificing the temporary and mortal
to obtain the eternal and immortal is not only rational but also desirable (Toft, 2007,
100). As Lumsdaine (1993) explains, some actions in international relationssuch as the
distribution of foreign aidcan run completely contrary to state material interests:

A view of human action that sees only self-interest is far too simple. It errs
in leaving out the dark side of human character, often astonishingly powerful,
as well as in ignoring the strength of compassionate feelings, or hatred of
injustice. Principled refusals to do wrong, and acts of love and compassion, are
common, as are folly, unnecessary hatred and domineering, and self-defeating
behavior. Human beings are a mixture of self-interest, idealism, and pointless
destructiveness. All three elements operate, in varying proportions, in civil
society and politics and in international affairs as well as in the life of the
individual. (9)

Though Lumsdaine does not emphasize the role of religion in conditioning the above
motivations and behaviors, it is key to note that religious beliefs can provide concrete
motivations for behaviors unmotivated by self-interest. Not all unselfish behaviors are
necessarily motivated by religious belief, but morality is unquestionably an enormous
part of almost every religious tradition, and with a world population that is only getting
more religious, the relevance of morality in international relations is guaranteed to show
overlap with the relevance of religion in international relations. Religious individuals may
also possess certain perceptions of whether other actors should be classified as friends
or enemies because of religiously-prescribed concepts like empathy, altruism, or divine
justice. This is to say nothing of the powerful possibilities for in-group/out-group identity
construction created by perceptions of shared religious beliefs, which may condition how
states perceive threats from outsiders (Wendt, 1999; Rousseau and Garcia-Retamero,
2007). Shared religious ties and participation in religious communities may also contribute
to the building of social capital within societies, which Putnam (1993) and Helliwell and
Putnam (1995) tie to the quality of government performance.
Second, religious beliefs may contribute to cognitive biases when situations of inter-
national interaction arise. This can take place via skewed perceptions of the likelihood
of victory, actors resolve, or how intervening information should be interpreted. As Ak-
baba and Taydas (2011) point out, Religious views are non-relativistic, meaning that
believers insist that what they believe is true and hence they do not accept alterna-

tive answers (162). Furthermore, religion can be conceptually distinguished from other
ideational forces that might provide competing accounts. Toft, Philpott and Shah (2011)
argue that other forms of belief and belonging, such as nationalism, are conceptually
distinct from religion:

Nationalism and religion are not the same. Even where some religions are non-
theistic (as in the cases of Theravada Buddhism, Confucianism, and Jainism),
all religions by definition seek understanding of, and harmony with, the widest
reaches of transcendent realitythe quality that distinguishes them from po-
litical ideologies such as Marxism or secular nationalism that are sometimes
thought to be functionally equivalent to religion. Religions offer answers to
universal questions about the origins of existence, the afterlife, and realities
that transcend humanity; nations generally do not. (21)

Religion offers answers to questions unsatisfied by other elements of human society, par-
ticularly regarding why life exists and the nature of its ultimate meaning. While even
strong ideologies such as nationalism and religiously-divorced systems of morality may
provide answers to questions of how humans should live with regard to themselves and
one another, religion is the term we can apportion to these questions of why. Religions
tend to provide answers to the how questions as well, but these answers are conditioned
upon how the whys were first formulated. Other types of ideological systems lack this
initial foundation. It is because religion deals with these most central questions of human
existence that it is able to condition the behaviors and outlooks outlined above.
Religion can be reasonably regarded as a unique force with the potential to shape
peoples views on politics, including perceptions of how the states in which they live
(or that they govern) should conduct themselves on the international stage. The key
word here, however, is potential. The cognitive perspectives provided by religious belief,
behavior, and belonging will vary across individuals as a function of how prominently the
perspectives feature vis--vis other interests and values. We cannot expect religious factors
to impact anyones views on foreign policy if religion itself is not actually salient to the
actors in whom we are interested. Put differently, for religion to provide an alternative to

baselinelet us say realpolitikpreferences for policy, individuals must actually consider
it relevant.
The notion that religions importance to individuals would be directly tied to the for-
mation of their policy preferences is rooted in conclusions from psychology: According
to theories of cognitive consistency, those for whom religious beliefs are highly salient
should feel greater pressure to bring their political attitudes into congruence with their
religious convictions than those for whom such beliefs are less salient (Smidt, Kellst-
edt and Guth, 2009, 20). Capturing this dimension of religiosity, as some have called
it, or religious commitment, necessitates an understanding and measurement of more
than just straightforward religious affiliation. This crucial connection is particularly over-
looked in most of the existing quantitative scholarship dealing with the topic of religion
in international relations. Existing work tends to operationalize religious variables with
rudimentary indicators of whether a particular faith is dominant within a state (Hass-
ner, 2011). These are measured for statistical models usually by the percentage of the
population that identifies as belonging to a broad faith tradition, such as Christianity
or Islam, or a dummy variable to indicate the religion to which ascribes the majority
of a states population. The issue with exclusively relying on either proxy is that simply
noting the demographic fact that people identify with a particular faith does not say
anything about the degree to which that faith actually matters to them and, therefore,
could be a force in shaping political preferences. This is not to say that such studies are
not valuable, only that they inevitably only explore one dimension of religions potential
political impact and paint an incomplete picture, one that overwhelmingly dominates
cross-national studies in international relations.
This project therefore follows the example of a growing number of scholars in the field
of American politics in attempting to conceptualize and measure religious commitment
for cross-national comparison. Within the American case, individuals with higher levels
of religious commitment have been linked to the highest levels of support for removing
Saddam Hussein from power and invading Iraq, as well as higher likelihoods to view Islam
as encouraging more violence than other religions (Smidt, 2005). Religious commitment

is also associated with higher levels of voter turnout and support for H.W. Bush in the
1988 election. And, perhaps most interestingly, the least committed groups within each
religious tradition are shown to have similar preferences (Kellstedt et al., 1996). In other
words, at low levels of commitment, differences between nominal religious traditions do
not appear to impact political views.
Could such case-specific findings have any international implications? Can religious
commitment be linked at all to not only differences in individual policy preferences, but
also to patterns of interstate interactions? For example, could we expect states with more
invasion-supporting, committed populations to be more prone to undertaking invasion,
overall? If policy preferences appear to converge between religious traditions at the lower
ends of the religious commitment spectrum, does that mean that states with lower levels
of religious commitment may be more cooperative with one another than states with
higher levels? By operationalizing a measurement for states overall levels of religious
commitment, it may be possible to sketch the outline of a potential scope condition for
religions role in international relations beyond the American case.
This papers analysis explores the possibility that these findings could resonate across
different state contexts and have implications for how states interact with one another.
Because the study functions largely as a plausibility probe on this front, emphasis is
placed on determining whether any empirical link exists between religious commitment
and interstate interactions, not necessarily on testing expectations about what such a
linkif it does existlooks like. Indeed, while popular expectations tend to conflate religion
and conflict, it is important to note alternative narratives that instead tie religious factors
to peaceful and positive international outcomes.1 For this reason, the analysis is broken
into four parts, each addressing a particular question about the potential relationship
between levels of religious commitment and states propensity for bellicose (conflictual)
behavior. These questions are as follows:
These points of view tend to emphasize the sacredness of human life revealed in so many faith tradi-
tions, as well as values that promote not only peaceful but positive relationships with other human beings
(Thompson, 1990; Templeton, 1999). Faith can also provide an emphasis on restoration of right relation-
ship to facilitate reconciliation, countering what might be otherwise bellicose impulses (Philpott, 2007b,a,
2009). These accounts might therefore lead to expectations for higher levels of religious commitment to
be associated with preferences for less bellicose, more peaceful foreign interactions.

I. Is a states level of religious commitment at all connected to its overall likelihood
to initiate confict with other states?

II. Is the likelihood that a state will initiate conflicts against a state with a differ-
ent majority religion affected by the initiating states domestic level of religious

III. Does the level of religious commitment within State B in a dyad appear to condition
the impact of State As level of religious commitment on its likelihood to initiate
conflict with State B?

IV. Does the joint level of religious commitment between State A and State B in a
dyad (level of commitment of State A * level of commitment of State B) appear to
condition whether State A is more likely to initiate conflict when State B has the
same/different majority religion?

The next sections present the research design for the analysis and a discussion of the
results, addressing each of the above questions. These are followed by an exploration of
some theoretical narratives that could potentially explain the findings.

3 Research Design

3.1 Data

Short of peering inside of someones brain, how might one attempt to determine an in-
dividuals level of religious commitment? This study uses two strategies: looking at
religious behaviors and self-evaluations of religiosity. Religious behavior refers to actions
undertaken by an individual associated with observance of a particular faithattending
religious services outside of weddings, funerals, and such special occasions, for example.
Religious behavior can be reasonably assumed to track with religious commitment be-
cause of the costs of time and energy associated with participation in behaviors versus
simple identification. On the other hand, a self-evaluation of religiosity is an assessment
undertaken by an individual regarding the importance of religion to his or her life.

Ideally, at least one cross-national survey asking about both religious behavior and
religiosity would be administered in every country, every year, but in reality, such surveys
are far more scarce, and most tend to ask about either behavior or religiosity, if they ask
about them at all. To take advantage of as much survey coverage as possible for the
purposes of this study, I standardize responses to both types of questions, using them to
generate a generalized measure for respondents religious commitment. This procedure
is consistent with standard practices in the sociology of religion (Kellstedt et al., 1996,
177), and strategies to mitigate some of the potentially problematic elements of this
approach are elaborated upon below and in the Methods subsection. Coding rules for
this standardization are presented in Appendix A. It is also necessary to acknowledge that
these measurements of religious behavior and self-evaluations of religiosity have been self-
reported in surveys. As with any data that relies upon individuals relating information
about themselves, we should be appropriately aware of results that may carry a reporting
bias. This is no reason to eschew survey data, but it is a well-debated caveat.
To generate the primary variable of interest for my analyses, individual-level data was
drawn from multiple cross-national surveys, including the World Values Survey, the Inter-
national Social Survey Programme, Latinobaromtro, Arab Barometer, Asian Barometer,
Caucuses Barometer, Afrobarometer, and a number of smaller, one-wave survey projects.
This study, in fact, brings together more survey sources than any previous scholarship
on these themes.2 As a result, one of the major contributions of this project is the provi-
sion of better data coverage and greater confidence in the generalizability of results than
preceding work.
From the individual-level response data, responses were aggregated by country-year
to deliver the total of respondents who fall within each of four categories of religious
commitment: very religious, somewhat religious, not very religious, and not at all
religious. Each total was then divided by the total number of respondents for the country-
year (including individuals who elected not to answer or had their response omitted for
some other reason) to deliver a proportion of total respondents. Then, taking into account
Previous work has tended to rely on one of these surveys at a time, so they have been either
regionally-focused or limited in their coverage.

the potentially vague conceptual boundaries between very and somewhat religious,
the proportion totals of these categories were combined, resulting in a measurement
of the proportion of a countrys population in a given year reporting to be at least
reasonably religiously committed. If multiple surveys were available for a country for
a particular year, their yielded proportions were averaged. Finally, because the study
utilizes a cross-sectional methodological approach with a dependent variable that is a
count over a particular time period, each countrys proportions of committed respondents
were averaged for a single commitment measurement. Therefore, a states level of religious
commitment consists of the average proportion of its population that self-identifies as
very religious or somewhat religious over the time period in question.
Different religious traditions can constitute vastly different constellations of beliefs
and, by association, different practices that might be considered applicable as religious
behaviors. This could accordingly bias any results toward explaining the religious com-
mitment of adherents to religions like Christianity and Islam, which have more clear-cut
prescriptions of observable religious behaviors than Buddhism. This issue is at least
somewhat addressed by the question wording of surveys given in different areas. The
Asian Barometer, for example, asks, About how often do you practice religious services
or rituals these days? which allows for a variety of behaviors in accordance with the
majority religions of East Asia. However, to more deliberately control for what might
constitute different expressions of religious commitment across faiths, I include a variable
in the model that indicates the majority religion of a state, taken from the International
Religious Freedom Dataset provided by the Association of Religion Data Archives. The
inclusion of this control also enables the analysis to build upon the existing literature in
religion and international relations that uses such dummy variables as their only religious
indicators, evaluating whether previously discovered effects (or lacks thereof) linking re-
ligion to interstate conflict may in fact be overlooking the impact of the degree to which
religion is actually salient to state populations. In the monadic analysis, this variable
manifests as a dummy variable indicating the broader religious tradition to which the ma-
jority of a countrys population ascribes, while the dyadic analysis includes an indicator

for whether or not the two states in a dyad share the same majority religion.
Determining what sorts of interstate interactions to examine through the lens of re-
ligious commitment is not necessarily a straightforward taskreligious traditions can be
both theoretically and empirically linked to all kinds of human behaviorsbut in light
of popular assumptions that often associate religion with violence, as well as the fact
that existing scholarship on religion in international relations tends to focus on conflict,
I opt to test the viability of my chosen scope condition in association with antagonistic,
bellicose state actions. A natural step for future work in this area would be to examine
cooperative and altruistic state behaviors, such as the distribution of foreign aid.
To operationalize conflictual interstate behaviors, a count of initiations of militarized
interstate disputes (MIDs) was employed as the outcome of interest. As will be discussed
in further detail below, the analyses are conducted on a cross-sectional, non-temporal
basis, and thus the dependent variable for the models is an aggregate count of MID
initiations by individual country over a particular time period. For the monadic model,
this total count is over the time period 1990-2008, while for the dyadic models, the
count is for 1990-2001. Both periods are determined by the availability of data from the
Militarized Interstate Dispute (MID) dataset compiled by the Correlates of War (COW)
Project. MIDs are more common than interstate wars, offering more variation across
cases and more occurrences to examine statistically, and their employment in scholarship
on international conflict is relatively standard practice.
A militarized interstate dispute is a case of conflict in which the threat, display or
use of military force short of war by one member state is explicitly directed toward the
government, official representatives, official forces, property, or territory of another state
(Jones, 1996, p. 163). For this study, I include cases where the conflict action constitutes
the display or use of military force, omitting cases where only threats have been issued
in order to distinguish costly conflict actions from cheap talk. It also bears repeating
that country counts are based on MID initiations, where a state is the first mover in a
conflict, not on mere MID involvement, owing to potentially distinct sets of mechanisms
that might link religious commitment to the latter.

3.2 Methodology

The modeling strategy employed for this project is a cross-sectional analysis that com-
pares across countries without any temporal element. Relying upon a cross-sectional
approach for this study has the advantage of providing a more conservative test of the
viability of religious commitment as a scope condition than would a time-series cross-
sectional approach because it reduces the problems of serial-correlation inherent to panel
data. In addition, as has been previously mentioned, there are not applicable surveys
available for every country in every year; running cross-sectional analyses helps to deal
with this reality, as well, as no imputation is required for dealing with missingness. If
anything, we can actually be more confident in the precision of the level of religious com-
mitment variable for each state included in the models, since the proportions for each
country are averaged across multiple surveys, which might each otherwise come with
their own idiosyncratic effects. This provides a method by which to account for potential
issues with standardizing across different types of questions that go into the commitment
measurement, as well.
The analysis evaluates states in two different ways, the first of which is monadic
looking at the general propensity for countries to initiate MIDs, regardless of who those
MIDs are withand the second of which is dyadictaking into account the natures of
target states. Because the dependent variable is a count of militarized interstate disputes,
a Poisson generalized linear model with a Log link function is used to estimate the
effects of the explanatory and control variables identified above in both the monadic and
dyadic components of the analysis. I have already described the procedure for computing
the level of religious commitment variable in preparation for the cross-sectional; each of
the other independent variables is held at its mean or median over the relevant period
of time (1990-2008 for the monadic component, 1990-2001 for the dyadic), generating
non-temporal country snapshots. These individual country profiles each constitute an
observation in the monadic model. Each directed dyad (combining states in pairs twice,
with each state having the opportunity to be the initiator [State A] as well as the target
[State B]) constitutes an observation for the dyadic models.

Control variables included in the models are drawn from the greater literature on
conditions for interstate conflict. These are made up of a states CINC score (Correlates
of War National Material Capabilities Dataset) to account for countries varying levels
of capability; Polity score (Polity IV Project), to control for factors associated with
regime type, including whether democratic and/or autocratic institutions may enhance
or restrict the impact of religious factors; an indicator of major power status (EUGene),
because major powers may be overall more likely to be involved in conflict; and a variable
capturing neighboring country dynamics (Correlates of War Direct Contiguity dataset).
For the monadic analysis, this neighbors control takes the form of number of neighboring
countries, because states with more neighbors can have more opportunities and/or reasons
for interstate disputes. The dyadic analysis includes an indicator for whether the two
states in a dyad are contiguous.
Results of the analyses are presented in the form of substantive effects plots, which
chart a predicted value of the dependent variablehere, that value is always the predicted
number of MID initiations by a state during the time period covered by the analysisover
changes in the value of the variable of interest and under any particular conditions set
by the researcher, for example, two states sharing the same majority religion.
Presenting model results in this way has a number of advantages. first of all, sub-
stantive effect plots are much more straightforward in their interpretation than raw co-
efficients, particularly in the case of non-linear models and when interaction terms are
employedboth of which are true of this study. Related to this point, unlike the pre-
sentation of raw coefficients, substantive effect plots allow the observer to determine the
significance of a particular factor by simultaneously viewing the uncertainty associated
with an estimate and the substantive magnitude of the relationship between the variable
of interest and the dependent variable. Exclusive reliance on p-values would miss the
complexity of these relationships. Tables containing the point estimates of the models,
however, are included in Appendix B.

4 Results and Discussion

Question 1: Is a states level of religious commitment at all connected to its

overall likelihood to initiate confict with other states?

[Figure 1 about here]

Figure 1 presents the substantive results of the first, monadic analysis. The plot
represents what might be termed a median state in the international system, according
to the datathat is, a state with median capabilities, number of neighbors, and polity
score. It is a not a major power and has Christianity as a majority religion, as it is the
median faith tradition within the group of states examined. The median state is not
intended to represent any actual, existing countrythough there may be countries within
the data that fit its profilebut rather to demonstrate how, when other factors are held
constant at their medians, the predicted count of MID initiations for a state changes over
various levels of religious commitment.
As Figure 1 shows, as the proportion of the median states population that is re-
ligiously committed (level of religious commitment) increases, there is a corresponding
steady increase in the predicted number of militarized interstate disputes that it initiates
a substantive increase from an estimated 0.5 MIDs when close to 0 percent of a states
population identifies as religiously committed to an estimated 1 MID as that percent-
age approaches 100. Considering that the median number of initiations for states in the
monadic dataset is zero, and that the mean is 1.08, a predicted substantive increase by 0.5
MIDs is not inconsequential. Having controlled for typical explanatory factors for conflict,
this is particularly striking, and an initial indication that religious commitment could not
only be a scope condition for understanding religions role in international affairs, but
also a potentially salient characteristic to examine in more mainstream scholarship on
interstate conflict.

Substantive Impact of
Religious Commitment (Monadic)

Predicted Count: MID Initiation



0.2 0.4 0.6 0.8
Proportion of Population Religiously Committed

Figure 1

Question 2: Is the likelihood that a state will initiate conflicts against a state
with a different majority religion affected by the initiating states domestic
level of religious commitment?

[Figures 2 and 3 about here]

Figures 2 and 3 display the first results of the transition from examining states exclu-
sively on their individual characteristics (monadically) to interrogating how the natures
of their potential adversaries may impact the likelihood for conflict (dyadically). In this
part of the analysis, the model accounts for the capabilities and polity scores of each
state within a dyad, as well as for whether either is a major power and whether they are
contiguous.3 The variable of interest, level of religious commitment of State A (the poten-
tial/actual initiating state), is interacted with whether the pair of states has a majority
religion in commonan indicator which takes a value of 0 or 1. The reasoning behind
this interaction is that levels of religious commitment may have a different relationship
to MID initiations when states share a majority religious tradition than when they do
not, an expectation that follows narratives expecting differences between religions to lead
to, or at least contribute to, conflict behavior.4 This view can be logically extended to
an expectation that such differences could be magnified and hostilities exacerbated when
states populations are more committed to their own religious traditions.
However, as Figures 2 and 3 show, there is an almost nonexistent difference between
the predicted count of militarized interstate disputes initiated by a median state A as
the proportion of its population that is religiously committed increases when it shares
a majority religion with a median State B (Figure 2) and when it does not (Figure 3).
Raw estimates of this model are presented in Table 2 in Appendix B.
Perhaps the most well-known, and controversial, expectation of such a relationship is put forth in
Samuel Huntingtons The Clash of Civilizations (1993), in which Huntington predicts that conflicts in
the post-Cold War era will fall along civilization lines rather than other cleavages or grievances. Civi-
lizations, as Huntington conceives of them, are the broadest shared cultural grouping short of humanity
itself, and he ties their natures to shared ideasfueled predominantly by religion. Some of the impli-
cations from the prediction are that such shared ideas exist, that they are significant at the societal
level, and that they motivate how states interact with one another, in terms of conflict or otherwise.
The thesis indicates that differences between civilizations are ultimately irreconcilable at some level, and
Huntington assumes that these irreconcilable differences will inevitably lead to conflict. For empirical
responses to Huntington, see Bolks and Stoll (2003), Gartzke and Gleditsch (2006), and Chiozza (2002),
among others.

Substantive Impact of Initiating
State's Religious Commitment:
Target Has Same Majority Religion
Predicted Count: MID Initiations





0.0 0.2 0.4 0.6 0.8

Proportion of Population Religiously
Committed, Initiating State

Figure 2

Substantive Impact of Initiating
State's Religious Commitment:
Target Has Different Majority Religion
Predicted Count: MID Initiations





0.0 0.2 0.4 0.6 0.8

Proportion of Population Religiously
Committed, Initiating State

Figure 3

In other words, whether State A and State B have the same majority religion or not
does not appear to matter to State As likelihood to initiate conflict. However, there is
another clear connection between level of religious commitment and predicted counts of
MID initiations. Though the values on the Y axes of Figures 2 and 3 are significantly
smaller than in Figure 1seeming to suggest much less of a substantive effectone must
note inherent differences between the monadic and dyadic data, a most significant one of
which being that counts of initiations are not totals for individual states any longer, but
rather totals for directed pairs of states. The median number of initiations for a dyad
in the data is again 0, while the mean is down to 0.019. The substantive relationship
between level of religious commitment and predicted MID initiations presented in Figures
2 and 3 is actually, therefore, a relevant one. One may also note that the increase
from approximately 0.001 predicted MID initiations when State As levels of religious
commitment are close to 0 percent to a count of close to 0.0075 initiated MIDs when
those levels are closer to 100 percent represents a 650 percent increase. So while shared
majority religion may not be much of a substantively impactful factor, levels of religious
commitment appear to be meaningful in dyadic relationships just as they were in monadic

Question 3: Does the level of religious commitment within State B in a dyad

appear to have any effect on the likelihood that State A will initiate conflict
with State B?

[Figures 4 and 5 about here]

While the answer to the previous question focused on the level of religious commitment
within initiating states, considering the findings thus far, it makes sense to consider
whether target states levels of commitment may also factor into the likelihood that a
State A will initiate a MID against a State B. Is whether State As commitment matters
to conflict propensity somehow contingent upon State Bs religious commitment profile?
Exploring this possibility, a second dyadic analysis5 emphasizes an interaction of the levels
The raw estimates of this model are presented in Table 3 in Appendix B.

Substantive Impact of Initiating
State's Religious Commitment:
Target Has Minimum Religious Commitment
Predicted Count: MID Initiations





0.0 0.2 0.4 0.6 0.8

Proportion of Population Religiously
Committed, Initiating State

Figure 4

Substantive Impact of Initiating
State's Religious Commitment:
Target Has High Religious Commitment
Predicted Count: MID Initiations





0.0 0.2 0.4 0.6 0.8

Proportion of Population Religiously
Committed, Initiating State

Figure 5

of religious commitment within both States A and B in a dyad. The model here therefore
includes an interaction term between the level of religious commitment within State A and
that within State B, the implication here being that we might expect that whether State
As level of religious commitment comes into play is contingent upon the nature of State
Bs own level of religious commitment. To display a relatively fine-grained picture of what
this relationship looks like over changes in State As level of religious commitmentas has
been the case in the previous figures and thereby enabling comparison between themfive
different scenarios were created, differing on State Bs level of religious commitment. In
the first scenario, presented in Figure 4, States A and B are median in every way except
in terms of their religious commitment variable; State As level of religious commitment is
allowed to vary from the observed minimum to the observed maximum (shown along the
X axis) while State Bs level of religious commitment is held at its observed minimum.
In other words, Figure 4 shows the change in the predicted count of MID initiations by
State A as its level of religious commitment changes when State Bs level of religious
commitment is minimal. The other scenarios follow this example, with State Bs level of
religious commitment set to the observed 1st quantile value (0.36), the observed median
value (0.51), the observed 3rd quantile value (0.79), and the observed maximum value
(0.98). Figures 5 presents the 3rd quantile value (high religious commitment) for
comparison here, while the plots for the remaining scenarios are available in Appendix
These plots tell a fascinating story about the interactive impact of joint levels of reli-
gious commitment within dyads. When State B has lower levels of religious commitment
(Figures 4 and 5), we observe essentially no change in the predicted MID initiation count
for State A over increases of its own level of religious commitment. This changes ever so
slightly when State Bs proportion of the population that identifies as religious increases
to around 50 percent, at which point State As predicted number of MID initiations grad-
ually increases as its own commitment level increases. The most drastic changes by far,
however, appear when high levels of religious commitment in both states are associated
with relatively much higher MID initiation counts (see Figure 5), the curve becoming

ever steeper in both graphs as State As religious commitment level increases.
These results drive home the conclusion that higher levels of religious commitment are
somehow connected to states propensities for initiating conflict. But what is more, the
results also emphasize a key dyadic dynamic to this connection, in which the likelihood
that we will observe a state initiating conflict with another is as much about the level of
religious commitment within the targeted state as it is about the level within the initiating
state. Though the monadic analysis revealed a higher general bellicosity associated with
higher religious commitment levels, further scope conditions appear to have been placed
on that empirical finding.

Question 4: Does the level of religious commitment within State B in a dyad

appear to condition the impact of State As level of religious commitment on
its likelihood to initiate conflict with State B when State B has a different
majority religion?

[Figures 6 and 7 about here]

The final component of the dyadic analysis brings together the specifications of its preced-
ing parts. Perhaps the results of Part 3, which emphasized the impact of the interacted
levels of religious commitment within a dyad on the likelihood that State A would initi-
ate a MID, could help explain the somewhat counter-intuitive takeaway of Part 2, which
found no difference between the substantive impact of levels of religious commitment
on predicted counts of MID initiations when states had the same or different majority
religions. The results of this final model, which includes another interactionthis time be-
tween the levels of religious commitment of States A and B and the indicator for whether
the states share the same majority religionare presented in two more substantive effects
plots (Figures 6 and 7).6 The first plot (Figure 6) shows the effects in a scenario when
otherwise median states share the same majority religion, and the second plot (Figure 7)
shows the effects in a scenario when those majority religions are different. Both scenarios
set State Bs level of religious commitment to high, following the findings of Part 3.
The raw estimates of this model are presented in Table 4 in Appendix B.

Substantive Impact of Both States' Religious
Commitment: Target Has High Commitment,
Same Majority Religion
Predicted Count: MID Initiations





0.0 0.2 0.4 0.6 0.8

Proportion of Population Religiously
Committed, Initiating State

Figure 6

Substantive Impact of Both States' Religious
Commitment: Target Has High Commitment,
Different Majority Religion
Predicted Count: MID Initiations





0.0 0.2 0.4 0.6 0.8

Proportion of Population Religiously
Committed, Initiating State

Figure 7

The results of Part 3 revealed that not only State As level of religious commitment
matters to its propensity for bellicose behaviors, and indeed we can see from the cur-
rent results that the conditioning impact of State Bs level of religious commitment (set
to high in this scenario) continues. While in Part 2 no discernable difference existed
between the relationship of religious commitment to MID initiation under conditions of
shared or different majority religions, the puzzle of that counter-intuitive finding appears
to have been unlocked by introducing the dynamics of State Bs level of religious com-
mitment to the analysis. When we take the dyadic dynamics of religious commitment
into account, we can suddenly see what common narratives of religion and conflict might
have suspected: on average, states with higher levels of religious commitment are more
likely to initiate conflict with states that also have high levels of religious commitment
and differ in their majority faith tradition. In other words, it appears that when two
states have populations that are each highly committed to different traditions, they are
more likely to experience conflict. Introducing religious commitment as a factor to the
study of international conflict uncovers an important dynamic that would be missed by
continuing to focus only on differences in majority religions within dyads.

5 Exploring Mechanisms: Why and How Does Reli-

gious Commitment Matter?

As the above results have demonstrated, religious commitment appears to be an empiri-

cally viable scope condition for understanding the roles that religion can play in interna-
tional relations. What is it about religious commitment itself that could be driving the
observed substantive effects? This particular section of the paper is intentionally brief, for
while identifying the potential mechanisms that could be behind these empirical findings
will be important to developing a robust understanding of how religion factors into in-
terstate interactions, such identification will require much more attention and additional
inquiry than can be provided here. The goal of this project, first and foremost, has been
to introduce an as-yet unexplored factor to the quantitative study of religion and inter-

national relations, and in the process take a step forward in identifying the conditions
under which religion may be a factor of importance to international affairs, generally.
Even with both of these objectives achieved, however, this piece would be remiss in not
offering some preliminary ideas regarding the processes that yield the presented results.
Hopefully these potential explanations can provide a jumping-off point for future work
on this topic that focuses on the dynamics of causal mechanisms.
Dyadic differences in majority religion only appear to matter when both states levels
of religious commitment are high (not only State As). This is certainly an interesting
finding and a highly relevant scope condition to identify. It is also important to recall,
however, that religious commitment itself was clearly linked to State As MID initiation
behavior in each step of the analysis, under every tested set of conditions. It could be
that religious commitment plays some sort of role in hardening existing inter-religious
animosities that could make armed conflict more likely, but the overall results of this
study also appear to indicate that there is something about religious commitment in its
own right that could be generally linked to state bellicosity. What might be the nature
of this link? Perhaps the prevalence of religious commitment itself makes it a factor in
not only conflict initiation, but indeed in the antagonistic relationships and bargaining
behaviors that come before the step where use of force takes place. So while State A
may be the first mover (initiator) in a MID, the actions beforehand by State B could also
be connected to its own levels of religious commitment, increasing the probability that
escalation to a MID takes place.
If this is the case, the expansive literature on international bargaining may be able
to provide some explanatory assistance. And because the operationalization of level of
religious commitment in this study is a proportion of a states population that purports
to be religious, work on bargaining that affords some sort of role to the general public may
be particularly illuminating. The literature on so-called audience costs could prove a
fruitful place to start.
The basic premise of the audience costs concept initially comes from the seminal
work of James Fearon (1994), which builds upon Schellings (1956) outline of tactics

such as tying ones hands that lock in one sides proposals in international bargaining.
Fearon argues that state leaders who back down in international crises will be punished
by their domestic constituents for being unsuccessful at foreign policy.7 This domestic
political cost, suffered by leaderswhose ultimate aim is to remain in poweris a helpful
tool for avoiding war, accoring to Fearon, as leaders who can generate audience costs can
credibly signal to their international opponents their unwillingness to back down once they
have issued a threat, revealing previously private information about intentions/resolve
and locking into a proposed course of action that eliminates questions of bluffing. States
interacting with states that are able to generate audience costs are therefore theoretically
able to adjust their offers in bargaining based upon more complete information. If an
outcome still exists within the opponents bargaining range with this knowledge, then
they can propose an offer and attempt to avoid costly conflict. For Fearon, audience
costs should be associated with less bellicose interstate behavior because they encourage
deterrence and restraint as actors look ahead to the costs and consequences of costly war.
However, a number of scholars have identified a double-edged nature for audience costs
that could actually link them to conflictual behavior. As Leventoglu and Tarar (2005)
point out, making public demands that thereby generate audience costs is a dominant
strategy for each negotiator in a bargaining situation, making it unlikely that either side
will back down. In an international crisis situation, we might then expect the generation of
audience costs to be associated with conflict. Similarly, Debs and Goemans (2010) argue
that when leaders tenures are less sensitive to the outcomes of international interactions
(when they have fewer audience costs when acting internationally), they are more likely
to offer concessions for peaceful outcomes, pointing to more conflictual expectations for
leaders facing audience costs.8
While much of the audience cost literature has been written in response to the empirical phenomenon
of the democratic peace, the audience costs mechanism has also been expanded to many different kinds
of regimes (e.g.De Mesquita et al. (1999); Weeks (2008)).
Further, we may note that Fearons optimism about audience costs is specified primarily for the
phenomenon of war, which constitutes complete bargaining breakdown. Militarized interstate disputes,
on the other hand, might themselves be part of a greater bargaining process on the road to waror to
a settled negotiation. Peaceful expectations for audience costs rely upon dynamics of deterrence and
restraint associated with the high cost of war, but MIDs may be comparatively less costly and actually
used as demonstrations of resolve and to communicate private information.

If this pessimistic conclusion is in fact applicable, then it is encouraging to note that
according to Slantchev (2006), generating audience costs is actually quite difficult. Lead-
ers condition their behavior on the chance that citizens will find out about policy quality,
making audience costs quite dependent on institutional features and media freedoms.
But perhaps high levels of popular religious commitment supply a condition under which
audience costs can be more effectively generated by leaders, thereby leading to decreased
concessions in international bargaining behavior and a higher probability for conflict. Re-
ligious commitment could, for example, provide a means by which to circumvent some of
the intrinsic difficulties of audience cost-generating process by offering leaders an oppor-
tunity to utilize shared language, symbolism, and values systems to bypass the ambiguity
of institutional structures and media issues, regardless of regime type. By this logic, the
greater the population of a state that is religiously committed, the more that leaders
rhetoric steeped in religious language or references can be used as an effective tool to cue
Religious commitment could also impact the credibility and salience of audience costs.
Smith (1998) attributes the micro-foundations of audience costs to audiences being uncer-
tain of leaders typesi.e. are they competent or incompetent? Whether citizens actually
care about foreign policy or not is not necessarily important; citizens can use leader per-
formance in international crises to form opinions about that leader in other areaseven
domestic policy.
Smith argues that reneging on an international threat, despite it being cheap talk,
signals a leaders incompetence to his domestic audience, allowing them to differentiate
his competence type. Utilizing religious rhetoric to paint policies in terms of particular
salience, such as good versus evil, and appealing not only to citizens but, indeed, to some
kind of higher power to whom they are ultimately accountable, an executive can provide
additional means which a committed public can learn more about his or her true type
not only as an authority figure, but as a religious compatriot. A leader who backs down
under such conditions might then expect to not only be punished for having less resolve
and losing, but also for capitulating to an existential and evil adversary. In the process, a

leader could also sacrifice the trust relationship with his or her committed public, cutting
into any ability to cue public opinion. The incentives to maintain resolve and avoid
backing down would then only ratchet up when leaders preside over publics with high
levels of religious commitment. And if both sides have a dominant strategy to generate
such costs if they are able, then it would follow that we should expect more frequent
conflict in dyads where both states with higher levels of religious commitmentand this
is exactly what the results of this project convey.
Future work will provide opportunities to test the applicability of audience cost logics
to this topic, or to apply other causal pathways and theoretical proposals. The primary
takeaway of the present work, however, is that there at least exists an empirical connec-
tion between increasing levels of religious commitment within states and their propensity
to initiate conflict with other states. This is an interesting finding both for scholars in-
terested in interrogating religions connections to international processes as well as those
who study the foundations of and conditions for international conflict behaviors, more
generally. This project has also taken a step toward refining the conceptualization and
measurement of religious variables for thick scholarship utilizing quantitative method-
ologies. Religion as an amorphous concept may be difficult to successfully link to
international processes, but more concrete operationalizations of factors such as religious
commitment can offer useful insights into how the beliefs and practices of people around
the world are connected to how states interact.

Appendix A: Coding Procedures for Generating level

of religious commitment Variable

For questions of how important religion was to life of respondent:

Very important = Very religious

Somewhat important = Somewhat religious

Not too (or not very) important = Not very religious

Not at all important = Not at all religious

For questions of how religious the respondent would consider him/herself:

Very religious = Very religious

Moderately (or somewhat) religious = Somewhat religious

Lightly (or not very) religious = Not very religious

Not religious at all = Not at all religious

For questions of how often the respondent practiced religious behaviors:

More than once a week = Very religious

A few time a month/Once a month/Once a week = Somewhat religious

At least once a year/A few times a year = Not very religious

Not at all = Not at all religious

Appendix B: Point Estimates of Cross-Sectional Mod-

Table 1: Monadic Cross-Sectional

Estimate Std. Error z value Pr(>|z|)

(Intercept) -1.7584 0.6597 -2.67 0.0077 **
Level of Religious Commitment 0.7100 0.6501 1.09 0.2748
Muslim Majority State 0.2304 0.3667 0.63 0.5298
No Majority Religion/Indigenous Majority 0.1124 0.4115 0.27 0.7847
Buddhist Majority State 0.5549 0.5868 0.95 0.3444
Hindu Majority State 1.2693 0.5115 2.48 0.0131
Jewish Majority State 2.1477 0.4883 4.40 0.0000 ***
Major Power 1.2553 0.3327 3.77 0.0002 ***
Polity 0.0813 0.0306 2.66 0.0078 **
CINC Score -0.1924 0.5145 -0.37 0.7085
Number of Neighbors 0.0813 0.0239 3.40 0.0007 ***

Table 2: Dyadic Cross-Sectional 1 (State A Religious Commitment and Same Majority


Estimate Std. Error z value Pr(>|z|)

(Intercept) -4.0493 0.5863 -6.91 0.0000 ***
Level of Religious Commitment, State A 1.6866 0.5405 3.12 0.0018 **
Same Majority Religion -0.4863 0.3950 -1.23 0.2183
Major Power, State A 1.5932 0.3338 4.77 0.0000 ***
Major Power, State B -0.5809 0.3497 -1.66 0.0967 .
Contiguous 4.0362 0.1943 20.78 0.0000 ***
Polity, State A -0.0111 0.0176 -0.63 0.5275
Polity, State B -0.0364 0.0125 -2.91 0.0036 **
CINC, State A -2.3772 0.9272 -2.56 0.0104 *
CINC, State B -2.2744 0.7349 -3.09 0.0020 **
Level of Religious Commitment, State A*
Same Majority Religion 0.2460 0.7427 0.33 0.7405

Table 3: Dyadic Cross-Sectional 2 (Interaction: Religious Commitment [State A], Reli-
gious Commitment [State B])

Estimate Std. Error z value Pr(>|z|)

(Intercept) -3.1377 0.9280 -3.38 0.0007 ***
Level of Religious Commitment, State A -0.7895 1.5234 -0.52 0.6043
Level of Religious Commitment, State B -0.9482 0.9746 -0.97 0.3306
Same Majority Religion -0.2902 0.2639 -1.10 0.2714
Major Power, State A 0.6500 0.4408 1.47 0.1403
Major Power, State B -0.4881 0.3540 -1.38 0.1680
Contiguous 4.9205 0.4356 11.29 0.0000 ***
Polity, State A -0.0636 0.0239 -2.66 0.0077 **
Polity, State B -0.0114 0.0243 -0.47 0.6384
CINC, State A -3.4323 1.2048 -2.85 0.0044 **
CINC, State B -2.8206 1.0022 -2.81 0.0049 **
Level of Religious Commitment, State A*
Level of Religious Commitment, State B 4.3629 1.9363 2.25 0.0242 *

Table 4: Dyadic Cross-Sectional 3 (3-Way Interaction: Religious Commitment [State A],

Religious Commitment [State B], Same Majority Religion)

Estimate Std. Error z value Pr(>|z|)

(Intercept) -3.8327 1.0486 -3.66 0.0003 ***
Level of Religious Commitment, State A 1.4417 1.8909 0.76 0.4458
Level of Religious Commitment, State B -0.7243 1.1135 -0.65 0.5154
Same Majority Religion -0.4368 1.3869 -0.31 0.7528
Major Power, State A 0.6776 0.4528 1.50 0.1345
Major Power, State B -0.4789 0.3565 -1.34 0.1792
Contiguous 4.9169 0.4536 10.84 0.0000 ***
Polity, State A -0.1215 0.0289 -4.20 0.0000 ***
Polity, State B -0.0067 0.0244 -0.27 0.7840
CINC, State A -3.4458 1.2166 -2.83 0.0046 **
CINC, State B -3.2019 1.0555 -3.03 0.0024 **
Level of Religious Commitment, State A*
Level of Religious Commitment, State B 3.8991 2.2704 1.72 0.0859 .
Level of Religious Commitment, State A*
Same Majority Religion 1.5035 3.2207 0.47 0.6406
Level of Religious Commitment, State B*
Same Majority Religion 4.1658 2.5492 1.63 0.1022
Level of Religious Commitment, State A*
Level of Religious Commitment, State B*
Same Majority Religion -10.8111 5.8038 -1.86 0.0625 .

Appendix C: Additional Scenario Plots for Question

Substantive Impact of Initiating

State's Religious Commitment:
Target Has Low Religious Commitment
Predicted Count: MID Initiations





0.0 0.2 0.4 0.6 0.8

Proportion of Population Religiously
Committed, Initiating State

Figure 8

Substantive Impact of Initiating
State's Religious Commitment:
Target Has Average Religious Commitment
Predicted Count: MID Initiations





0.0 0.2 0.4 0.6 0.8

Proportion of Population Religiously
Committed, Initiating State

Figure 9

Substantive Impact of Initiating
State's Religious Commitment:
Target Has Maximum Religious Commitment
Predicted Count: MID Initiations





0.0 0.2 0.4 0.6 0.8

Proportion of Population Religiously
Committed, Initiating State

Figure 10

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