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Radicalisation, Secularism and the Governance of Religion: Bringing together European and Asian Perspectives

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Analysing cultural factors to raise resilience and reduce radicalisation

Global inequalities are on the rise and religion is sometimes weaponised to address grievances through religiously-attributed violent radicalisation. Positive engagement with religious minority groups and culturally-sensitive strategies that create trust instead of securitisation can curb violent radicalisation.

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The previous decade has been marked by important violent radicalisation trends in European cities, indicating that policies aiming to integrate religious diversity into the mainstream are failing. The question has arisen whether secularism offers the right approach to accommodating religious minority claims. The EU-funded GREASE project brought together researchers from around the globe, particularly Muslim majority countries, to investigate alternatives and to shed light on best practices for addressing violent radicalisation dynamics. “GREASE sought to better understand the connection between state-religion relations, governance of religious diversity and violent radicalisation processes, in order to inform European efforts to prevent and counter religious radicalisation,” noted Anna Triandafyllidou, Scientific Coordinator of the project.

A spotlight on indicators

In order to investigate religious governance, researchers reviewed societal norms, laws and practices from diverse regions. A major outcome of the GREASE project was the development of a set of State-Religion Governance Indicators that allowed researchers to create an in-depth analysis of 24 countries across eight regions, including 13 countries in Europe. The State Indicators are a useful and accessible tool and are available for use by any country. The indicators, which included topics such as state recognition of religious freedom and the existence of religiously based parties in the political arena, allowed for quantitative as well as qualitative assessment and enabled a clear analysis of trends within each country and region. Researchers explored best practices in the responses of 12 countries where acts of violent religious extremism had taken place. These results are presented in the 2020 publication ‘An International Handbook of Good Practices for Building Resilience Against Violent Religious Radicalisation’. Further, the project’s research on different models of religious governance became chapters in the ‘Routledge Handbook on the Governance of Religious Diversity’, published in January 2021.

Amplifying the results

A major objective of the GREASE project was disseminating results to a wider audience and delivering key information to policymakers. In addition to creating and contributing to the handbooks, GREASE conducted two free online courses using the MOOC platform. They hosted meetings and workshops, and they uploaded blog posts about the governance of religious diversity and building resilience against violent radicalisation in the openDemocracy platform. The GREASE team also produced two high-quality documentary films featuring first-hand experiences of religious and national identity. The film Countering Religious Extremism explores specific examples of how to build resilience against radicalisation in six countries. In Italy, for example, having an imam fluent in Italian and Arabic lead prayers for Muslim inmates was instrumental in building community and reducing incidences of prison-born radicalisation. The films are available through the project website as well as YouTube. There are many factors contributing to the growth of violent radicalisation in the modern world. The work of GREASE to establish highly applicable indicators for analysing religious governance is an important step in understanding and addressing religiously-inspired violent radicalisation. When it comes to identifying best practices, Triandafyllidou stated: “Efforts aimed at preventing religiously motivated violent radicalisation should avoid restrictive interference and securitisation and instead focus on promoting democratic engagement and political participation of religious groups.” The project’s in-depth analysis of the governance of religious diversity and their efforts to disseminate results are helping to promote an inclusive understanding of citizenship across Europe.

Keywords

GREASE, inequalities, violent radicalisation, securitisation, religious diversity, religious governance, extremism, religious extremism, resilience, religion, cultural identity, citizenship

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