Increased religious competition worsens armed conflict in Colombia

New research by Dr Guy Tchuente, has found that religious competition substantially increases the probability of conflict-related violence in Colombia.

The study, published by the Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, suggests that the presence of a new religion group makes potential contributors or soldiers in an armed group more scared, which in turn can result in violent action from the latter to deter religion group installations.

Colombia has suffered one of the world’s longest-running internal conflicts, predominantly around land rights and ownership, political exclusion, and weak institutions. The start of the conflict coincided with the founding of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), Colombia’s largest rebel group.

In the last few decades, while suffering from an intense armed conflict, Colombia has also experienced a dramatic change to its religious landscape. Colombia, being a deeply Catholic country, has witnessed an increase in religious competition between the Catholic Church and new non-Catholic churches.

Tchuente, who led the research at Kent alongside Dr Hector Galindo-Silva at the Pontificia Universidad Javeriana in Colombia, discovered that religious competition substantially increases the probability of an attack by a non-state armed group, particularly a guerrilla group.

The increase in guerrilla violence is associated with an expectation among guerrilla groups that their membership will decline as a consequence of more intense competition with religious groups for followers.

Dr Tchuente said: ‘The establishment of the first non-Catholic church in a municipality substantially increases the probability of conflict-related violence. Our results suggest that even when ethnic identities are homogeneous, the religious landscape should be accounted for by policymakers working in conflict violence prevention and mitigation.

‘How religious groups react to the increase in violence, and whether armed conflict influences the evolution of individuals’ religious identities needs further investigation.’

Their research paper ‘Fighting for not-So-Religious souls: The role of religious competition in secular conflicts’ is published by the Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization. doi: 10.1016/j.jebo.2021.08.027