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In this empirical contribution to the Tocqueville Review special issue on multiple collective identities, I explore how Western Europeans and US-Americans make sense of the mobilization of religious convictions and identities in armed conflicts and international terrorism in their respective news media. I analyze a total amount of 460,917 newspaper articles from the liberal and conservative quality press of five Western European countries (Germany, United Kingdom, France, Ireland and Austria) and the United States, dealing with the issue of armed conflicts and terrorism by using innovative techniques of corpus linguistics, machine learning and in-depth content analysis.
The results show that Western publics—for a long time mere observers of the mobilization of religious convictions and identities in international politics—become participants who begin to critically reflect about the way how to address and discuss the “self” and the “other” in debates on religion in armed conflicts and terrorism. Speakers increasingly take stances vis-à-vis religion and conflict and pay attention on how to renegotiate their own identity and to talk about Islam in order not to threaten social cohesion at home or to give further reasons for a “Clash of Civilizations” abroad. The results challenge the negative picture of discursive construction of Islam by Western media and societies that is prevalent in scientific research and therefore provide first empirical evidence for a “post-secular” shift in Western collective self-understandings who become aware of the ongoing vitality of religion both nationally and internationally (Habermas, 2005, 2012).