God Rests in Rwanda: The Role of Religion in the 1994 Genocide in Rwanda

  • Date:
  • Location: Geijersalen, Thunbergsvägen 3P, Uppsala
  • Doctoral student: Simonsson, Olov
  • About the dissertation
  • Organiser: Historiska institutionen
  • Contact person: Simonsson, Olov
  • Disputation

Disputation

This study analyses the role of religion in the Rwandan genocide, providing new explanations to the complex dynamics of devaluation and victimisation processes in genocidal violence. The thesis explains how religion was used in different contexts prior to, during, and after the 1994 genocide. The following questions guide this study: What kinds of religious concepts and arguments were used in the context of the Rwandan genocide, and how? Why were they used and what did these concepts and arguments mean? Finally, did the meanings of the religious arguments change over time and between different contexts, and if so why?

Texts from three sources were analysed: the Hutu extremist propaganda in Kanguramagazine and in RTLM broadcasts, and testimonies from the ICTR trials. The analysis was guided by Roger Dale Petersen’s theory on Fear, Hatred, and Resentment, as well as theories on devaluation, social identity, self-victimisation, and competitive victimhood. This thesis utilises the computer software MAXQDA to search for concepts and arguments, which are analysed through the contextual approach developed by Quentin Skinner.   

This thesis demonstrates that the Hutu propagandists used religious mythology to argue that the Tutsis were not of Rwandan origin and therefore had no rights in Rwanda. The devaluation of the Tutsi was not only or even primarily done through downgrading animalistic epithets, but through the elevation of Tutsis with emphasis on the historical, and allegedly divine, superiority of the Tutsi. This devaluation allowed the Hutu extremists to claim victimhood, a necessary conviction to argue that violence committed by the Hutus were acts of self-defence. In the deeply Christian context of Rwanda, the extremist Hutu propagandists constructed a Hutu God, while claiming that the Tutsis were non-Christian, irreligious, or atheists, in order to create different religious identities for the two groups.

This study also assesses the judicial aftermath, and argues that religious concepts were used in similar ways in ICTR testimonies to claim innocence, credibility, and victimhood. This thesis thus sheds new light on the importance of religious belief systems in genocidal violence, highlighting the crucial role of religion prior to, during, and after the genocide in Rwanda.