“Is religious radicalization really religious?  »

“Is religious radicalization really religious? »

On December 2, 2023, Armand Rajabpour-Miyandoab committed an attack near the Bir-Hakeim bridge, in Paris. The protest video that he published on social networks leaves little doubt about the nature of the attack: glorification of Daesh, eulogies addressed to the prophet of Islam, threats against “unbelievers”, etc. The point seems clear.

However, several analysts and commentators on the news have hastened to qualify motivations which seemed obvious. Some have thus highlighted the psychiatric profile of the terrorist, which is clearly extraordinary. Others have warned against “religious reading” of the attack which would eclipse the “militant nature”. In short, the religious nature of this attack has not been fully established.

Here we fall back into a now classic debate: is religion (in its deadly form) the driving force behind terrorist acts or is it just a pretext? Political scientists and sociologists all give their explanation. We will therefore speak, for example, of “radicalization of Islam” or “Islamization of radicalism,” to use the two positions that have received the most media coverage.

Defining religiosity

We may be intrigued by the way the debate seems to be unfolding. Even among seasoned scholars, little time is devoted to in-depth reflection on what is meant by “religion” and “religious.” Everything happens as if recourse to a notion of “religion” was sufficient to analyze dynamics relating to terrorism or violent radicalization.

However, the way in which we define “religion” and “religiosity” will have a decisive impact on the type of analysis that we will propose. To take a concrete example, if we define “religiosity” primarily (or even exclusively) by “religious practice”, we will quickly infer that the absence of religious practice is equivalent, at best, to weak religiosity. .

But if, conversely, we consider that “religiosity” is primarily a matter of belief, the absence of religious practice in no way allows us to infer an absence of religiosity (one can be strongly religious, but not practicing ). The same goes for the community dimension: if we define “religiosity” first of all as a collective dynamic or if, on the contrary, we consider it as something eminently individual, we will obtain very different analyses.

Thus, a proponent of the “lone wolf” theory of religious radicalization will have every interest in adopting, if only tacitly, a definition of “religiosity” that is more centered on the individual than on the community.

Trapped terms

This means that “religion” and its corollary “religiosity” are trapped terms, for those who are not paying attention. Already in 1912, psychologist James Leuba counted no less than 50 different definitions for “religion”. This doesn’t mean we don’t know what we’re talking about, but, to paraphrase Jonathan Z. Smith (1), it means there are 50 different ways to talk about it.

In fact, any analysis which proposes to evaluate the “religious dimension” of a phenomenon without rigorously developing a precise theory of religions would condemn itself to a partial analysis and to inevitably biased conclusions. To avoid such a pitfall, we could For example fuel reflections on radicalism through what is done in the psychology of religion. “Religiosity” is reduced to a system of four strongly correlated parameters: belief, ritual, morality, community (2).

In the case of the Bir-Hakeim attack, taking these four dimensions into account in a systemic analysis would make it possible to avoid considering a particular aspect (for example the ritual) as “properly religious”, implying by- where the other aspects would not be, or would be less so.

This is obviously just a suggestion. The rich literature available in the science of religions in fact offers a plethora of approaches for understanding “religion” in its dimension of human activity. Whether we opt for an essentially psychological, socio-anthropological or other approach is not decisive. Above all, it is a question of not underestimating in analyzes relating to religious radicalism what nearly two centuries of research and reflection in the science of religions have brought – since the founding father of the discipline, Max Müller (1823-1900). ), nowadays.

(1) Jonathan Z. Smith (1938-2017), leading figure in the modern approach to comparative religions.

(2) The famous “4Bs”: “Believing, bonding, being having, belonging”. cf. Vassilis Saroglou, “Believing, bonding, behaving, and belonging. The big four religious dimensions and cultural variation »In Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychologyvol.42, n°8, 2011, p.1320–1340.

Similar Posts