Field of Science

Fear of terrorism makes Pakistani students turn to religion

Going by media reports, you'd be forgiven for thinking that terrorism was something inflicted on Westerners by middle-eastern Muslims. It's not. By far the largest group of victims are those same middle-eastern Muslims, and Pakistan is currently bearing the brunt of the violence.

The causes of terrorist violence in Pakistan are complex - conflict between locals and immigrants from India after partition (the Mohajir), friction between the centre and the periphery, and of course, being a border state in the 'Great Game' of Western vs Russian power politics. Although I don't pretend to understand it in any detail, religion is clearly caught up in it all - although not in any straightforward way.

One possible connection may be that religion is encouraged when people feel threatened. You can see this clearly in some new research from a team at the Aga Khan University in Karachi, Pakistan.

They interviewed 291 students from 4 different universities in Karachi. Almost all (90%) had been exposed to terrorist violence on the television or in conversation with their parents. A staggering 46% knew someone who had been injured or killed in a terrorist attack, and 26% had actually been personally exposed to such an attack.

When asked what strategies they used to cope with the stress, the most popular answer was that they increased their faith in religion (the table shows average scores on a 0-4 scale).

Given that so much of the violence has religious overtones, such a response may seem paradoxical. On the other hand, it may help to explain why such violence perpetuates.

ResearchBlogging.orgAhmed AE, Masood K, Dean SV, Shakir T, Kardar AA, Barlass U, Imam SH, Mohmand MG, Ibrahim H, Khan IS, Akram U, & Hasnain F (2011). The constant threat of terrorism: stress levels and coping strategies amongst university students of Karachi. JPMA. The Journal of the Pakistan Medical Association, 61 (4), 410-4 PMID: 21465991

Creative Commons License This article by Tom Rees was first published on Epiphenom. It is licensed under Creative Commons.


  1. How do these numbers about personal exposure (or exposure to an immediate other person) to terrorist attacks compare to societies where terror is more likely known through popular media? Pakistan seems like the place to look, unfortunately, for personal exposure to terror attacks, but how much does the intensity of religious belief rise from such personal exposure compared to exposure through media? Lots more work to be done here... thanks, Tom!

  2. There was a study that correlated a country's social safety net to the religiosity of its populace. Unsurprisingly the smaller the social safety net the more religious a country is.

    In my opinion,Pakistan is in a low grade civil war. I'm not suprised that such a high percentage of students have been exposed to terrorism.

  3. is pakistan in the "middle-east" on that side of the pond?

  4. Well, nearly ;) I was thinking of the wider terrorist problem in the belt from Morocco to Pakistan.


Markup Key:
- <b>bold</b> = bold
- <i>italic</i> = italic
- <a href="">FoS</a> = FoS