Understanding conflict

3 February 2011

Security is a broad concept, operating at many levels from the individual to the global. New research will examine the causes of insecurity which include criminal and terrorist activities in order to better understand how security can be enhanced.  The Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) is pleased to announce the successful funding of a project on Ritual, Community and Conflict under the Large Grant Open Competition 2009/10.

Researchers at Oxford University will lead an interdisciplinary team of global experts in carrying out field studies and controlled experiments on exploring how ritual contributes to intergroup conflict and violence. The research will be conducted in a number of conflict and post-conflict regions including Northern Ireland, the Middle East, Nepal, and Colombia.  

Professor Harvey Whitehouse comments: "In order to better understand and address the threat of terrorism, civil war, and genocide, it is necessary to understand the forces that bind and drive human groups. This five-year programme of research investigates one of the most powerful mechanisms by which groups are formed, inspired, and coordinated: ritual".

The project will investigate why people perform rituals together and how this affects their willingness to put the group first - even, in extreme cases, to die for the group. Professor Whitehouse explains: "A fuller understanding of the mechanisms involved in the formation of warring groups is urgently needed to advance conflict prevention, conflict resolution, and peace-building efforts. We will work closely with policy makers and international actors like the UN to ensure that the research contributes directly to public policy and international practice".

For further information contact

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Notes for editors

  1. The ESRC funds a range of schemes, competitions and initiatives. Our schemes enable individuals and groups to pursue world-class research in academic institutions and independent research centres. More can be found at funding and guidance.

  2. Professor Harvey Whitehouse, Institute of Social and Cultural Anthropology, University of Oxford. Project title: Ritual, Community, and Conflict (RES-060-25-0085)

  3. The Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) is the UK's largest organisation for funding research on economic and social issues. It supports independent, high quality research which has an impact on business, the public sector and the third sector. The ESRC’s total budget for 2010/11 is £218 million. At any one time the ESRC supports over 4,000 researchers and postgraduate students in academic institutions and independent research institutes. 

  4. The project Ritual, Community and Conflict will be accredited to the Global Uncertainties Programme. Global Uncertainties brings together the activities of the UK Research Councils in response to global security challenges. The programme will help governments, businesses and societies to better predict, detect, prevent and mitigate threats to security.