Which religion is the most peaceful?
It seems that, historically, Indian religions (Hinduism, Jainism, Buddhism) are clearly less belligerent. Although Buddhism was born in India, it would lose later its influence in this country, but would spread through other areas from Asia.
Because they are non-monotheistic and generally non-missionary religions - or if being, never tried to convert by force - their followers are less likely to become radicalized in comparison to members of monotheistic and missionary religions.
Their most peaceful character is obvious as they show a more ethical treatment to animals as they believe that both humans and animals are connected to each other by the laws of karma and reincarnation.
Hinduism venerates cows and consider them sacred.
One of Jainism´s main teachings is ahimsa or non-violence towards all living beings (even different species). Jain monks ensure they don't crush any insects while walking.
A peaceful religion does not mean a religion that preaches passivity. We can cite how Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr incorporated the character of non-violence in their campaigns of civil disobedience for the independence of India and the civil rights of African Americans in the USA.
Two studies from authors Lewis Fry Richardson and Naveed Sheikh sought to measure the degrees of belligerency of religions and their results seem to confirm that Hindus, Jain and Buddhists are less likely to go to war.
I - Lewis Fry Richardson ´s study
Richardson published a study called Statistics of Deadly Quarrels (1960), where he tried to analyze the causes of war using statistical methods, assessing economical, linguistical and religious factors with data on conflicts between 1815 and 1945.
He developed theoretical models involving pairs of population groups of a defined size, where he evaluated the minimum and maximum limits for the expected numbers of pairs of opposing belligerents.
Pairs of belligerent groups from different or same religions were counted, with the religious groups being classified as:
- CTB (Chinese Religions: Confucianism - Taoism - Buddhism)
- Bolsheviks (Communism is treated as a religion)
- BS (Japanese Religions: Buddhism and Shintoism)
- All others
The following results were obtained:
Wars between groups from the same religion
Between 93 to 128 pairs of belligerent groups from the same religion, 87 to 119 were Christians (no less than 90.6%).
Other religions are much more peaceful: 4 to 8 pairs were Muslim, 1 was CTB, 1 primitive. No pair was Buddhist.
Wars between groups from different religions
Between 111 to 134 pairs of belligerent groups from different religions, 96 to 105 had a Christian member.
Betweeen 65 to 80 pairs of different religions, at least 54.6% had a Muslim member.
The CTB group had a maximum participation of 18% in 111 pairs.
Between 111 to 134 pairs from different religions, 56 to 63 pairs were of Christians versus Muslims.
Only 7 to 12 pairs did not have a Christian or Muslim member (about 10.3%).
That makes think that Christianity and Islam incite its members to go to war against members of other religions.
From 204 to 262 pairs analyzed by Richardson, if each religion is assigned a score of one for each interreligious pair and a score of two for each coreligious pair where it participates, the result will be as following:
- Christians - 270 to 343
- Muslims - 73 to 96
- CTB - 22
- Hindus - 5 to 16
- Bolsheviks - 11
- BS - 10 to 11
- Buddhists - 4 to 5
- All others - 13 to 20
- Total - 408 to 491
As we can see, Hinduism and Buddhism have a considerably low share. Communism doesn´t rank too high because of its much more recent origin.
According to Richardson, the figures "suggest but do not prove" that Christianity incited war between its adherents and that the Muslim religion prevented war between its adherents.
He also believed that "it seems probable that the comparative peacefulness of China, prior to 1911, was the result of instruction, and in particular of Confucian instruction."
Richardson also analyzed pairs of belligerent groups according to their languages. He concluded that groups that share Spanish language are more likely to conflict than those who speak Chinese.
II - Naveed Sheikh ´s study
This study was published by the Royal Aal al-Bayt Institute for Islamic Thought – Jordan and covers the conflicts during the period from 0 to 2008 CE.
Taking into account the most important wars, its analysis shows the following data.
Participation of the main religious groups
a) In the 321 main events
- Christian: 166 of the 321 main events (including 14 of genocidal character)
- Muslim: 81 of the 321 main events ( including 9 of genocidal character)
- Antitheist: 19 of the 321 main events ( including 3 of genocidal character)
- Sinic: 17 of the 321 main events (including 2 of genocidal character)
- Buddhist: 15 of the 321 main events (including 1 of genocidal character)
- Primal-Indigenous: 14 of the 321 main events (including 1 of genocidal character)
- Indian civilization: 7 of the 321 major events (none of genocidal character)
b) In percentage of the number of deaths
- Christian - 30.73
- Anti-Theist (Atheists) - 21.64
- Sinic - 18.64
- Buddhist - 15.19
- Primal-Indigenous - 7.87
- Islamic - 5.52
- Indic - 0.41
Indian civilization appears as the least bloody group.
This study should be viewed with caution, as it might not have followed a methodology as careful as that of Richardson.
Many ancients conflicts do not have reliable data and as it was written by someone of Muslim origin, he may have unconsciously underestimated Muslim clashes and overestimated the death toll of Christian and other religious groups.
Buddhist civilization appears with a significant weight, but it should be noted that an important part was originated by Japan (Japanese tend to adopt two religions together: Buddhism and Shintoism. The latter had a more nationalistic character, until being reformed after the Second World War).
III - Summary
The two studies clearly show the most peaceful character of Hinduism and Buddhism.
We can say that the belligerence of Buddhism was greatly exaggerated in the Naveed Sheikh´s study. It has an obvious flaw for not having differentiated the Japanese religions (Buddhism-Shinto) from other Buddhist countries, as Lewis Fry Richardson did.
Human losses provoked by Japan in World War II were very heavy and include the Rape of Nanking, the only Buddhist genocide in the study.
Another very controversial detail in this study is to have considered the bloody An Shi Rebellion (755-763), with a death toll estimated at a maximum of 36 millions, as of Buddhist origin and not as Sinic (this conflict occured in China).
Otherwise, Buddhism would rank very low along with Hinduism (as in Richardson's study).
Other religions such as Judaism and Sikkhism were not considered in the two studies. These religions are scattered through minorities or mainly distributed in a very limited area.
Both studies conclude that Christian nations are the most bellicose.
But I think we should relativize that point of view. Europe is a smaller continent including smaller states, which triggered more concurrency (thus more clashes). Africa and Asia are bigger lands, with countries that have greater territorial extension, inciting less rivalry.
Update: Despite the positive view those two studies display on Buddhism, we should be aware of the current bloody persecution the Myanmar government is exercising on the Muslim minority (Rohingyas), whith a death toll estimated to be larger than 10.000 people up in late 2018.
Deadly Quarrels: Lewis F. Richardson and the Statistical Study of War