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This article concentrates on sectarianism as conflict between groups. For sectarianism as a characteristic of sects, see sect.

Sectarianism, according to one definition, is bigotry, discrimination or hatred arising from attaching importance to perceived differences between subdivisions within a group, such as between different denominations of a religion or factions of a political movement.

The ideological underpinnings of attitudes and behaviors labeled as sectarian are extraordinarily varied. Members of a religious or political group may believe that their own salvation, or the success of their particular objectives, requires aggressively seeking converts from other groups; adherents of a given faction may believe that for the achievement of their own political or religious project their internal opponents must be purged.

Sometimes a group that is under economic or political pressure will kill or attack members of another group which it regards as responsible for its own decline. It may also more rigidly define the definition of "orthodox" belief within its particular group or organisation, and expel or excommunicate those who do not support this newfound clarified definition of political or religious 'orthodoxy.' In other cases, dissenters from this orthodoxy will secede from the orthodox organisation and proclaim themselves as practitioners of a reformed belief system, or holders of a perceived former orthodoxy. At other times, sectarianism may be the expression of a group's nationalistic or cultural ambitions, or exploited by demagogues.

The phrase "sectarian conflict" usually refers to violent conflict along religious or political lines such as the conflicts between Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland (political and class-divisions may play major roles as well; arguably moreso). It may also refer to general philosophical, political disparity between different schools of thought such as that between Shia and Sunni Muslims. Non-sectarians espouse that free association and tolerance of different beliefs are the cornerstone to successful peaceful human interaction. They espouse political and religious pluralism.

Religious sectarianism

Main article: Sectarian violence among Muslims

Sectarianism is present throughout the world. Wherever people of different religions live in close proximity to each other, religious sectarianism can often be found in varying forms and degrees. In some areas, religious sectarians (for example Protestant and Catholic Christians in the United States) nowTemplate:Dated maintenance category exist peacefully side-by-side for the most part. Within Islam, there has been conflict at various periods between Sunnis and Shias; Shi'ites consider Sunnis to be damned, due to their refusal to accept the the first Caliph as Ali and accept all following descendants of him as infallible and divinely guided. Many Sunni religious leaders, including those inspired by Wahhabism and other ideologies have declared Shias to be heretics and/or apostates.[1] Iraq, Bahrain and Pakistan are three notable contemporary examples.


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See also: The Troubles, demographics and politics of Northern Ireland

Since the 14th century there has been sectarian conflict of varying intensity in Ireland. This religious sectarianism is connected to a degree with nationalism. This has been particularly intense in Northern Ireland since the 17th century. Tensions can be found in other regions of the world, including Scotland (with some fans of football clubs such as Celtic and Rangers indulging in sectarian chants) (see: Sectarianism in Glasgow), Liverpool, Birmingham and elsewhere.

Historically, some Catholic countries once persecuted Protestants as heretics. For example, the substantial Protestant population of France (the Huguenots) was expelled from the kingdom in the 1680s following the revocation of the Edict of Nantes. In Spain, the Inquisition sought to root out not only Protestantism but also crypto-Jews and crypto-Muslims (moriscos); elsewhere the Papal Inquisition held similar goals.

In most places where Protestantism is the majority or "official" religion, there have been examples of Catholics being persecuted.[citation needed] In countries where the Reformation was successful, this often lay in the perception that Catholics retained allegiance to a 'foreign' power (the Papacy), causing them to be regarded with suspicion. Sometimes this mistrust manifested itself in Catholics being subjected to restrictions and discrimination, which itself led to further conflict. For example, before Catholic Emancipation in 1829, Catholics were forbidden from voting, becoming MP's or buying land in Ireland.

As of 2010Template:Dated maintenance category, bigotry and discrimination in employment are usually restricted to a few places where extreme forms of religion are the norm, or in areas with a long history of sectarian violence and tension, such as Northern Ireland (especially in terms of employment; however, this is dying out in this jurisdiction, thanks to strictly-enforced legislation. Reverse discrimination now takes place in terms of employment quotas which are now applied). In places where more "moderate" forms of Protestantism (such as Anglicanism/Episcopalianism) prevail, the two traditions do not become polarized against each other, and usually co-exist peacefully. Especially in England, sectarianism is nowadays almost unheard of. However in Western Scotland (where Calvinism and Presbyterianism are the norm) sectarian divisions can still sometimes arise between Catholics and Protestants. Indeed, in the early years following the Scottish Reformation there was actually internal sectarian tension between Church of Scotland Presbyterians and 'High Church' Anglicans, whom they regarded as having retained too many attitudes and practices from the pre-Reformation Catholic era. Northern Ireland has introduced a Private Day of Reflection,[2] since 2007, to mark the transition to a post-[sectarian] conflict society, an initiative of the cross-community Healing through Remembering[3] organisation and research project.

The civil wars in the Balkans which followed the breakup of Yugoslavia in the 1990s have been heavily tinged with sectarianism. Croats and Slovenes have traditionally been Catholic, Serbs and Macedonians Eastern Orthodox, and Bosniaks and most Albanians Muslim. Religious affiliation served as a marker of group identity in this conflict, despite relatively low rates of religious practice and belief among these various groups after decades of communism.


Main article: Sectarianism in Australia

Sectarianism in Australia is an historical legacy from the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries, between Catholics of mainly Irish background and Protestants of mainly British heritage.


Main article: Sectarian violence in Pakistan

Pakistan, one of the largest Muslim countries the world, has seen serious Shia-Sunni sectarian violence. Almost 70% of Pakistan's Muslim population is Sunni, and another 30% are Shia. However, this Shia minority forms the second largest Shia population of any country,[4] larger than the Shia majority in Iraq.

In the last two decades, as many as 4,000 people are estimated to have died in sectarian fighting in Pakistan, 300 in 2006.[5] Among the culprits blamed for the killing are Al Qaeda working "with local sectarian groups" to kill what they perceive as Shi'a apostates, and "foreign powers ... trying to sow discord."[5]

Middle East and Asia


Main article: Sectarian violence in Iraq

Iraq's Shia population was persecuted during the presidency (1979–2003) of Saddam Hussein, and certain elements of the Iraqi insurgency have made a point of targeting Shias in sectarian attacks. In turn, the Sunnis have complained of discrimination and human rights abuses by Iraq's Shia majority government, which is bolstered by the fact that Sunni detainees were allegedly discovered to have been tortured in a compound used by government forces on November 15, 2005.[6] This sectarianism has fueled a giant level of emigration and internal displacement.

Some people advocate an independent nation for the Shias of Iraq. One possible scenario envisages splitting Iraq into three: Kurdistan in the north, Iraq in the center and Basra in the south. The thinking is that if each community is busy nation-building, they would not be attacking each other as they would be within a single country where the communities may be striving for political dominance at expense of other communities instead of working together. British India split into Hindu-dominant India and Muslim-dominant Pakistan in 1947. After a two year trial, Malaysia split into Malay-dominant Malaysia and Chinese-dominant Singapore in 1965.


See also: Lebanese civil war

Lebanon's religious divisions are extremely complicated, with Lebanese society made of a multitude of religious groupings. Sectarianism in Lebanon was caused because of the political sharing of power.[citation needed] The 1943 National Pact gave the Maronite Christians, the then majority, more power than the other groups. Although the Taif agreement (1989) ended the Lebanese Civil War (1975–1990), power remains divided among different groups.

The political system gives no room for intersectarian marriages, and gives no room for civil non-religious marriages.

Political sectarianism

In the political realm, to describe a group as "sectarian" (or as practicising "sectarianism"), is to accuse them of prioritizing differences and rivalries with politically close groups. An example might be a communist group who are accused of devoting an excessive amount of time and energy to denouncing other communist groups rather than their common foes. However, separatist fundamentalist Protestant political parties have proliferated (and regularly denounce one another[citation needed])in New Zealand, as can be seen from the entries on United Future New Zealand and Future New Zealand. Libertarianism is similarly susceptible to fissiparous tendencies of its own. The Boston Tea Party splintered off from the Libertarian Party, due to the former being completely opposed to all government. Also, geo-libertarians are often disliked by other libertarians.

See also

  • Communalism (South Asia)
  • Ethnic cleansing
  • Religious segregation
  • Sectarian violence
  • Sect
  • Cybersectarianism


  1. includeonly>"Lahore bomb raises sectarian questions", BBC News, January 10, 2008. Retrieved on May 23, 2010.
  2. Private Day of Reflection : Ireland
  3. Healing through Remembering : Ireland
  4. Nasr, Vali, The Shia Revival (Norton), 2006, p.160
  5. 5.0 5.1 "Shiite-Sunni conflict rises in Pakistan," by David Montero, February 02, 2007
  6. includeonly>"Iraqi Sunnis demand abuse inquiry", BBC News, November 16, 2005. Retrieved on 2007-05-12.


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