Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name



Josef Korbel School of International Studies

First Advisor

Erica Chenoweth, Ph.D.

Second Advisor

Jack Donnelly

Third Advisor

Nader Hashemi

Fourth Advisor

Monica Duffy Toft


Combating violent extremism, Conflict, International relations, Practice, Religious, Violence


This project explores the puzzle of religious violence variation. Religious actors initiate conflict at a higher rate than their secular counterparts, last longer, are more deadly, and are less prone to negotiated termination. Yet the legacy of religious peacemakers on the reduction of violence is undeniable. Under what conditions does religion contribute to escalated violence and under what conditions does it contribute to peace?

I argue that more intense everyday practices of group members, or high levels of orthopraxy, create dispositional indivisibilities that make violence a natural alternative to bargaining. Subnational armed groups with members whose practices are exclusive and isolating bind together through ritual practice, limit the acceptable decisions of leaders, and have prolonged timeframes, all of which result in higher levels of intensity, intransigence and resolve during violent conflict. The theory challenges both instrumentalist and constructivist understandings of social identity and violence.

To support this argument, I construct an original cross-national data-set that employs ethnographic data on micro-level religious practices for 724 subnational armed groups in both civil wars and terror campaigns. Using this data, I build an explanatory “religious practice index” for each observation and examine its relationship with conflict outcomes. Findings suggest that exclusive practice groups fight significantly longer with more intensity and negotiate less. I also apply the practice model to qualitative cases. Fieldwork in the West Bank and Sierra Leone reveals that groups with more exclusive religious practicing membership are principle contributors to violence, whereas those with inclusive practices can contribute to peace. The project concludes with a discussion about several avenues for future research and identifies the practical policy applications to better identify and combat religious extremism.

Publication Statement

Copyright is held by the author. User is responsible for all copyright compliance.


Received from ProQuest

Rights holder

Joel Kieth Day

File size

395 p.

File format





International Relations, Religion, Peace Studies