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Journal for the Study of Religion

On-line version ISSN 2413-3027
Print version ISSN 1011-7601


COUNTED, Victor. Attachment theory and religious violence: theorizing adult religious psychopathology. J. Study Relig. [online]. 2017, vol.30, n.1, pp.78-109. ISSN 2413-3027.

This paper explores the ways in which attachment disruptions might increase the risk of adult religious psychopathology by drawing parallels between the possible symbolisms lying behind religious violence and the concept of attachment. It is first argued that the relationship between a religious believer and a religious figure can be explained as an attachment experience. Secondly, it is proposed that when a religious attachment figure becomes a target of slander, or an action is perpetrated to disrupt the bond with such a figure, the religious believer may be predisposed to defensive, adaptive reactions, in the form of protest, despair, or detachment, to protect their attachment bond and resolve the disruptions that threaten their religious attachment identity. Support for this theoretical proposition was obtained through discourse analyses of three case examples (Charlie Hebdo vs al-Qaeda, Boko Haram vs the Nigerian government, and Pastor Terry Jones vs Islamic radicalisation), which position attachment theory as an alternative explanatory framework for conceptualising religious violence as a form of religious attachment-psychopathology-aimed at safeguarding the affectional bond with a religious figure from whom one may have developed a sense of identity and safe haven.

Keywords : attachment theory; defensive responses; adult religious psychopathology; terrorism; al-Qaeda vs Charlie Hebdo; Boko Haram vs Nigerian government; Pastor Terry Jones.

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