Religious violence is a term that covers phenomena where religion is either the subject or the object of violent behavior. Religious violence is, specifically, violence that is motivated by or in reaction to religious precepts, texts, or doctrines. This includes violence against religious institutions, people, objects, or events when the violence is motivated to some degree by some religious aspect of the target or by the precepts of the attacker. Religious violence does not refer exclusively to acts committed by religious groups, but includes acts committed by secular groups against religious groups.
Violence is a very broad concept and it is also difficult to define since it can be used against non-human objects. Furthermore, the term can denote a wide variety of experiences such as blood shedding, physical harm, forcing against personal freedom, passionate conduct or language, or emotions such as fury and passion.
Religion is a complex and problematic concept. It is a modern western-compartmentalized concept that was not found anywhere before the 1500s and despite it being recently invented, there is no scholarly consensus over what a religion is. In general, religion is conceived as an abstraction which entails beliefs, doctrines, and sacred places even though the ancient cultures that wrote Holy Scriptures (e.g. Bible, Quran, etc) did not have such a concept in their holy scriptures, language, or history. Decades of anthropological, sociological, and psychological research have shown that the assumption that religious beliefs and values are tightly integrated in an individual's mind or that religious practices and behaviors follow directly from religious beliefs, is actually rare. People’s religious ideas are fragmented, loosely connected, and context-dependent just like in all other domains of culture and life.
In general, religions, ethical systems, and societies rarely promote violence as an end in itself since violence is universally undesirable. At the same time, there is a universal tension between the general desire to avoid violence and the acceptance of justifiable uses of violence to prevent a "greater evil" that permeates all cultures. Religious violence, like all violence, is a cultural process that is context-dependent and very complex. Oversimplifications of religion and violence often lead to misguided understandings and exaggerations of causes for why some people commit violence and why most do not commit violence. Religious violence is primarily the domain of the violent "actor", which may be distinguished between individual and collective forms of violence. Overall, religious violence is perpetrated for a wide variety of ideological reasons and is generally only one of the contributing social and political factors that leads to unrest.
Studies of supposed cases of religious violence often conclude that violence is strongly driven by ethnic animosities rather than by religious worldviews. Recently, scholars have questioned the very concept of "religious violence" and the extent to which religious, political, economic, or ethnic aspects of a conflict are even meaningful. Some observe that the very concept of "religion" is a modern invention and not something that is universal across cultures or historical and thereby makes "religious violence" a myth. Since all cases of violence and war include social, political, and economic dimensions and since there is no consensus on definitions of "religion" among scholars and no way to isolate "religion" from the rest of the more likely motivational dimensions, it is incorrect to label any violent event as "religious". Numerous cases of supposed acts of religious violence such as the Thirty Years War, the French Wars of Religion, the Protestant-Catholic conflict in Ireland, the Sri Lankan Civil War, 9/11 and other terrorist attacks, the Bosnian War, and the Rwandan Civil War were all primarily motivated by social, political, and economic issues rather than religion.