Why the “Sacred” Is a Better Resource Than “Religion” for Understanding Terrorism

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25 Citations (Scopus)


The popular media and many in academia often overstate the role that religion, and its supposedly unique qualities, has played in recent acts of terror. In this article, I argue that the notion of religious violence is unhelpful and that there is a more useful concept that we can utilize to draw out the values and ideas that play a role in the move to violence in both religious and secular groups. From a series of case studies on religious and non-religious groups, I have drawn out an alternative framework for investigating and learning from the role that beliefs play in motivations and justifications for terrorism. This framework uses the concept of non-negotiable (or “sacred”) beliefs. It is as applicable to secular as it is to religious groups, and can show us much more about how such beliefs can contribute to violence.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)912-927
Number of pages16
JournalTerrorism and Political Violence
Issue number5
Early online date22 Jan 2015
Publication statusPublished - May 2016
Externally publishedYes


  • beliefs
  • ideology
  • religion
  • sacred
  • terrorism
  • violence


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