Religion, inseparable from warfare throughout human history, has changed in significance over time, between contemporary cultures, or even within a nation or culture.
Religion, inseparable from warfare throughout human history, has changed in significance over time, between contemporary cultures, or even within a nation or culture. War has at times been a ritual process of religious significance, without any competition between dogmas or beliefs. Religion has been a source of inspiration to soldiers, without war having a particular religious purpose. In certain periods, religious conversion or competition has become the very reason for wars to be fought.
As wars are fought by human beings, who are often motivated by religious beliefs, religion can impact warfare as either an arbiter or actual cause for taking up arms. Many wars have been fought, and continue to be fought, in the name of religion, to impose a revealed truth or to resist encroachment.
Ancient warfare was religious in nature. Peoples, nations, or empires generally had their own tribal or national gods, presumed to fight for their devoted worshippers. It was rare for any conqueror to seek mass conversion from one faith to another. Worship of the suzerain’s gods might be demanded as an act of submission or to promote imperial unity, but practice of preconquest cults was generally not questioned. The aid of lesser deities, worshiped by conquered subjects, might even be enlisted at times. Alternatively, a conquered people might transfer loyalty to the victor’s gods, which had proved to be the more powerful deities. Ancient cultures did not question the existence of one another’s gods but competed for favor and power of any god available.
The major exception was the twelve tribes of
In most of the American continents, ancient warfare, endemic on a low-intensity scale, had less religious character, except for that of the
Aryan invaders of the Indian subcontinent celebrated war in their sacred epics, particularly praising “the all out-stripping chariot wheel,” which conquered the previous inhabitants, destroying the Harrapān civilization in the Indus Valley. Division of the population into hereditary varna and jats was an essential part of the
Christianity in the
There is evidence of Christians serving in the Roman armies after 170
Christianity and Islam introduced the first wars motivated by advance of religious doctrine.
Initially disfavored or persecuted by the Roman emperors, Christianity achieved imperial recognition, and then status as official religion, between the reigns of Constantine the Great (r. 312-337) and Theodosius the Great (r. 379-395). Open state
A relatively small army, inspired by Islam, based on the temporary political unification of the Arabian Peninsula, fell upon both the Byzantine and Persian empires at an opportune moment. The two long-dominant empires had exhausted themselves with thirty years of warfare. Each had burned the other’s temples, including the fire temple near Ganzak and the Church of the Resurrection in Jerusalem. Persecution of
Christianity in Western Europe survived the fall of the Roman Empire by conversion of the invading
Godfrey of Bouillon, holding a poleax. Leader of the First Crusade in 1095, he became king of Jerusalem.
Religiously motivated wars known as the
One feature of the
One demarcation of the medieval from the modern world, at least in western and central Europe, was the
Since 1700, religion has seldom been the motivator for wars, but it has commonly served as an ideological rationale. The American War of Independence was framed, in part, as an “Appeal to Heaven” from the rule of British monarch George III. Expansion of European colonial empires, in the Americas, Africa, and Asia, was given a veneer of moral purpose by calls to spread the Gospel to the heathen of those continents. Armies, governments, and civilians of almost any belligerent power have invoked prayers for victory and divine protection for those serving in the armed forces. In a world dominated by monotheistic faiths, this means, as Abraham Lincoln said in his second inaugural address, that both sides generally pray to the some God, who cannot answer the prayers of both, and may not answer the prayers of either.
An American Bible Society poster designed to solicit public support for a program of providing World War I servicemen with copies of the New Testament.
Most modern armies make extensive provision for
A prominent feature of religion in the modern world has been the rise of
Early Christian writers Justin Martyr, Tertullian, Origen, Maximilian, Hippolytus, and Martin of Tours all denounced participation in war as inconsistent with the promise of Christianity, as did Pelagius. The order founded and named after Saint Francis of Assisi was in part pacifist but did not oppose the contemporary Crusades or demand pacifism of the leaders of the Roman church. Humanists such as Thomas More and Desiderius Erasmus also provided some precedent for pacifist thinking, but More, for example, served as chancellor in England, and Erasmus served the Counter-Reformation. Modern religious denominations opposed to war include the Society of Friends (Quakers), Church of the Brethren, and Seventh-day Adventists–but individual members of these churches have served in the military. Among the religiously motivated pacifist organizations of the twentieth century are the Fellowship of Reconciliation, the American Friends Service Committee, the Catholic Worker Movement, and the Catholic Peace Fellowship.
Barber, John. The Road from Eden: Studies in Christianity and Culture. Bethesda, Md.: Academica Press, 2008. A study of the influence of Reform Theology on Western culture, including warfare. Fahey, Joseph J. War and the Christian Conscience. Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis Books, 2005. Presents a scenario in which the U.S. draft is reinstated. Examines the resulting moral and ethical decisions weighed by a female student called for military duty, from four historical perspectives: pacifism/nonviolence, just/limited war, total/holy war, and global citizenship. Nolan, Cathal J. The Age of Wars of Religion, 1000-1650: An Encyclopedia of Global Warfare and Civilization. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 2006. More than three thousand entries in one thousand pages cover religion and warfare from a global perspective. Parker, Geoffrey. The Thirty Years’ War. 2d ed. New York: Barnes and Noble, 1993. An update of a classic work that synthesizes the most important scholarship on the war that has been called Europe’s civil war, from politics and major figures to the warfare itself. Maps, chronology, genealogies, and index. Randsborg, Klavs. Hjortspring: Warfare and Sacrifice in Early Europe. Oakville, Conn.: Aarhus University Press, 1995. Examines the ancient Scandinavian ship Hjortspring as an artifact of a defeated raid from the Hamburg region. Looks at this archaological treasure in the context of European pagan religions and warfare, as well as modern nationalism and archaeological theory. Rao, Aparna, Michael Bollig, and Monika Böck, eds. The Practice of War: Production, Reproduction, and Communication of Armed Violence. Oxford, England: Berghahn Books, 2007. Examines warfare from the perspective of ethnographry and anthropology: “The fact is that war comes in many guises and its effects continue to be felt long after peace is proclaimed. . . . It is only over the long view that one can begin to see the commonalities that emerge from the different forms of conflict and can begin to generalize.” Richardson, Glenn. Renaissance Monarchy: The Reigns of Henry VIII, Francis I, and Charles V. New York: Oxford University Press, 2002. Compares the most important Western leaders of the Renaissance while asking the question of why warfare was endemic in early sixteenth century Europe. Riley-Smith, Jonathan. The Crusades: A Short History. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1987. A classic, hailed as the most authoritative work on the Crusades, as well as counterpart movements in the modern world. Excellent starting point for students. Soustelle, Jacques. Daily Life of the Aztecs, on the Eve of the Spanish Conquest. Translation by Patrick O’Brian. Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1961. Soustelle, an authority on Mexican archaeology and sociology, uses the pictographic system and archaeological artifacts of the Aztecs to present the history of this religious warrior society, from daily life to rituals to conflict and conquest. Illustrated. Wood, James B. The King’s Army: Warfare, Soldiers, and Society During the Wars of Religion in France, 1562-76. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1996. Wood brings attention to the military side of the French wars of religion with this analysis of the King’s Army.
European Wars of Religion
Armies of Christendom and the Age of Chivalry
Crusading Armies of the West
Armies of Muḥammad and the Caliphate
The War on Terror
Art and Warfare
Commemoration of War
Film and Warfare
Ideology and War
Literature and Warfare
Music and Warfare
Television and Warfare