NYU-CIC Roundtable Explores Nexus between Religious Identity and Violent Extremism

What is the relationship between religious identity, belonging and violent extremism? This was the question discussed at the July 12th NYU-CIC Roundtable on religious identity, belonging and radicalization: Implications for International CT/C-PVE programs.

Hosted at the Global Center on Cooperative Security in New York, the roundtable brought together academics, policy analysts, diplomats and representatives of civil society organizations to discuss the links between religious identity, belonging and radicalization.

The roundtable concept note argued that since religious identity is tied to transcendental regimes of meanings and belonging, it acquires far greater normative influence on ‘believers’ than other systems or modes of self-identity. While there is clearly an international consensus and well thought-out approaches to preventing violent extremism, there have been no high level discussions of Religious Identity and Belonging as a problematique or key variable in radicalization. The Roundtable sought to initiate discussions and research on this important topic.

Presentations and discussions in the first session, explored the conceptual differences between religious identity and other forms of identity (such as ethnic, gender or racial identities); factors that influence the formation/construction and strength of religious identity over time; theories and research evidence on how religious identities are acquired and transmitted. It also explored the concept of group identity and belonging and how dissimilar or religious Others are categorized, labelled, stigmatized and dehumanized.

Participants noted that conceptually, religious identity is quite different from religiosity or religion as a whole. It is the sense of self or self-concept that one derives from a religious group membership irrespective of level of participation or devotion to religious rites and practices. Aside from providing the basis for

meaning, religious identity also provides the worldview or the lenses with which the world, religious Others or non-members are viewed and interacted with. The roundtable discussed why a more nuanced understanding of these dynamics is important in preventing violent extremism.

Participants from religious communities discussed the need to encourage a more globalized identity, derived from a common sense of humanity and oneness. Participants also discussed the patriarchal nature of religion that creates conditions for a hierarchical system and an Othering system that they argued is more gender than religious based.

The second session featured case studies and discussions of projects undertaken in the field that seek to transcend rigid religious identities. The session also explored recent UN frameworks to counter extremist narratives and action plans to prevent violent extremism. Participants at the roundtable agreed that there is need for more research and work on the identity-based drivers of violent extremism. Attention should be focused, not only on religious beliefs or the religious roots of violent extremism but also on the sense of self and meaning that extremists derive from membership of extremist groups.

The roundtable was convened by CIC visiting scholar Dr. Jacob Udo-Udo Jacob, with Senior Fellow Hanny Megally and Visiting Scholar Antonio Garcia.  It is the first part of a broader project on religious identity and violent extremism. 

The Concept Note and Event Schedule can be found here.

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