Religious war

A religious war is a war caused by religious differences. It can involve one state with an established religion against another state with a different religion or a different sect within the same religion, or a religiously motivated group attempting to spread its faith by violence, or to suppress another group because of its religious beliefs or practices. The Muslim Conquests, the French Wars of Religion, the Crusades, and the Reconquista are frequently cited historical examples.

The Muslim concept of Jihad, or Holy War was set down in the 7th Century. Saint Augustine is credited as being the first to detail a "Just War" theory within Christianity, whereby war is justifiable on religious grounds. Saint Thomas Aquinas elaborated on these criteria and his writings were used by the Roman Catholic Church to regulate the actions of European countries.

Many wars that are not "religious wars" often still include elements of religion, such as priests blessing battleships. Differences in religion can further inflame a war being fought for other reasons. Historically, temples have been destroyed to weaken the morale of the opponent, even when the war itself is not being waged over religious ideals.

In modern times religious designations are sometimes used as shorthand for cultural and historical differences between combatants, giving the impression that the conflict is primarily about religious differences. For example, The Troubles in Northern Ireland are frequently seen as a conflict between Catholic and Protestant. However, the more fundamental cause is the attachment of Northern Ireland to either the Republic of Ireland or the United Kingdom. As the native Irish were mostly Catholic, and the later English-sponsored immigrants mainly Protestant, the terms become shorthand for the two cultures. It cannot be denied that religion does play a part in the conflict, since churches are used as organizing points for demonstrations, and Protestants are far more likely to oppose union with the Catholic-dominated Republic.


Religion and warfare, during this time period, seemed to mutually coincide. The cross, for example, has been illustrated quite often upon crests of shields, in the plating of armor or even as engravings upon weapons. [ Backman, R. Clifford: The World of Medieval Europe, Oxford University Press, New York, 2003, Pp. 79.]

Those who fought in the name of God were recognized as "Milites Christi", warriors or knights of Christ. [Tyerman, Christopher. The Crusades: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford University Press, London, 2004. PP. 63.] Christian fighters believed that victory was achieved through divine intervention or aid from God, and took great pride in their beliefs. These blessed warriors pursued opposing armies and the heretic religions and cults of the time, and were highly admired by the Church and the State. [Tyerman, Christopher. The Invention of the Crusades. Oxford University Press, Basingstoke, Hampshire. PP.15] Often, these enemies would be one and the same, such as the Lombard Legions, which were portrayed as a common enemy of Rome and a satanic Pagan tribe as well.

The ideals and duties of religion were used as tools to legitimize warfare. Religion essentially gave the armies an excuse for their conquests under the guise of "Christianization", but their holy conquests turned out to be a long, violent series of raids for territorial expansion, trade and world-wide dominance, in the name of God.


The Crusades were a series of military campaigns—usually sanctioned by the Papacy—that took place during the 11th through 13th centuries in response to the Muslim Conquests. Originally, the goal was to recapture Jerusalem and the Holy Land from the Muslims, and support the besieged Christian Byzantine Empire against the Muslim Seljuq expansion into Asia Minor and Europe proper. Later, Crusades were launched against other targets, either for religious reasons, such as the Albigensian Crusade, the Northern Crusades, or because of political conflict, such as the Aragonese Crusade. In 1095, at the Council of Clermont, Pope Urban II raised the level of war from "bellum iustum" ("just war"), to "bellum sacrum". [ [ Christian Jihad: The Crusades and Killing in the Name of Christ] ]

French Wars of Religion

In 16th Century France there was a succession of wars between Roman Catholics and Protestants (Hugenots primarily). This series of wars is known as the Wars of Religion.

Thirty Years War

In the first half of the 17th century, the German states, Scandinavia (Sweden, primarily) and Poland were beset by religious warfare. Roman Catholicism and Calvinism figured in the opposing sides of this conflict, though Catholic France did take the side of the Protestants but purely for political reasons.


Jihad means "to strive or struggle" in the way of God, and is sometimes referred to as the sixth pillar of Islam, although it has no official status.John Esposito(2005), Islam: The Straight Path, pp.93] In the West, Jihad is often understood as "Holy War", but it has a broader meaning in Islamic theology. It can be striving to lead a good Muslim life, praying and fasting regularly, being an attentive and faithful spouse and parent or working hard to spread the message of Islam. [John Esposito(2002). "Unholy war: terror in the name of Islam", Oxford University Press, US. ISBN 0-19-515435-5. pp.26] While there have been "mujtahids" (Islamic scholars) who have argued that Jihad is not supposed to include aggressive warfare, they have written their treatises in places such as Syria, Eastern Anatolia and Mesopotamia, all of which were wrenched violently from the Persian or Byzantine Empires.

Islamic scholars have different opinions on Jihad, but there is a consensus that armed struggle against persecution and oppression, defined as the rule of any authority counter to the principles of Islam, will always continue.


In the Jewish religion, the expression "Milhemet Mitzvah" (Hebrew: מלחמת מצווה, "commandment war") refers to a war that is both obligatory for all Jews (men and women) and limited to within the borders of the land of Israel. The geographical limits of Israel, and therefore of this religious war, are detailed in the Tanakh, the Hebrew Bible, especially Numbers 34:1-15 and Ezekiel 47:13-20. The relevance of this concept to the contemporary State of Israel is debated. There is no reference to Milhemet Mitzvah in official documents from the Israeli government or defense forces.


During the first part of the Showa era, imperial propaganda, turning to the Empire of Japan's spiritual capital and to maintain fighting spirit, called the Second Sino-Japanese War a holy war ("Seisen"). This propaganda was based on hakko ichiu, the traditional belief that imperial rule had been divinely ordained to expand until it united the "eight corners of the world".

Saxon Wars

The Saxon Wars have been described as a religious war. [Cite book
first=Michael F.
editor=Terrie Waddell (editor)
title=Cultural Expressions of Evil and Wickedness: Wrath, Sex, Crime
publisher=Editions Rodopi B.V.
chapter=The Evils of Christianization: A Pagan Perspective on European History


During the period of the explicitly statist Zoroastrianism of the Sassanid era, it was political custom for wars to be proclaimed for the faith rather than the state. In this sense, ALL wars which the Sassanid Persian Empire engaged in were religious wars. [Cite book
editor=John Terrence
title=Zoroastrianism and War
publisher=Oxford University Press
chapter=Zoroastrianism's role in motiviating the state


*cite book
last= Taylor
first= Christopher
title= Zoroastrianism and War
publisher= Oxford University Press
location= London
year= 1980

*cite book
last= Pryor
first= Fancis
title= Britain A.D. : A Quest for Arthur, England and the Anglo Saxons
publisher= HarperCollins
location= London
year= 2004

*cite book
last= Tyerman
first= Christopher
title= The Crusades : a very short Introduction
publisher= Oxford University Press
location= London
year= 2004

*cite book
last= Tyerman
first= Christopher
title= The Invention of the Crusades
publisher= Oxford University Press
location= Basingstoke, Hampshire
year= 1998

*cite book
last= Backman
first= Clifford
title= The Worlds of Medieval Europe
publisher= Oxford University Press
location= New York
year= 2003

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