The importance of protecting religious buildings in war

It has been a long and violent conflict, but the parties have finally come to an agreement to put down their weapons – now it’s time for peace to settle in society. Unfortunately, there are a limited number of peace keepers in the area. Where should you station them to give peace its best chance to persist?

Data from almost 2 000 attacks on temples, synagogues, mosques and churches show that religious buildings are risk zones where violence might escalate and a conflict reignite if they are attacked. Religious buildings are often an important part of people’s identity since they’re not only a part of everyday life but also an important part of all life’s big occasions: baptisms, weddings, holidays, funerals and so on. This makes religious buildings different from other buildings that are commonly found in cities, for example museums.

The data shows that Immediately after an attack on a religious building there is a burst of violence in the area that surrounds it. It’s not the organized violence that increases but a general unrest which leads to a more violent environment. This effect lingers for about two weeks and after that the level of violence regress to the levels before the attack. However, this connection is only found if the attack is “unexpected”. If it’s known that the group responsible for the attack is of a different religion and it’s thus “expected” that they will chose to attack religious buildings then there is no outburst of violence.

The knowledge that attacks against religious buildings has a different aftermath than attacks against non-religious buildings helps peace keeping organizations to use their resources efficiently. By identifying “hot-spots” and prevent short outbursts of violence that would jeopardize peace it becomes possible to give peace a fair chance to persist.

This is one of the things that Joakim Kreutz presented during the  workshop "Cultural heritage, law and war" that was held at the Institute for Futures Studies earlier this September. You can see his presentation here:


If you are more interested in the case of cultural heritage and war, you can take part of the following presentations, also from the workshop:

The legal challenges of protecting cultural property in military operations med Martin Hamilton (video)

War and cultural property in the era of identity wars med Frederik Rosén (audio)

The duty to compensate for injustice as applied to reconstruction av Derek Matravers (audio)