Culture or contiguity: Ethnic conflict, the similarity of states, and the onset of war, 1820-1989

Errol Anthony Henderson

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142 Scopus citations


This study examines the relationships among cultural factors, contiguity, and the onset of interstate war These concerns are nested within a larger debate about "ethnic conflict" that assumes the salience of cultural variables in interstate conflict. Arguing that much of the research on ethnic conflict assumes rather than demonstrates the salience of cultural factors on conflict, the analysis is grounded in a compariion of the relative weight of ethnic and religious similarity among state dyads in predicting the frequency of interstate war. A logit regression is specified and tested for pairs of states in the system from 1820 to 1989. Controlling for contiguity, ethnic similarity has a direct association with war, whereas religious dissimilarity in inversely correlated with war. Cultural variables are neither monolithic nor unidirectional in their impact on conflict. Scholars should eschew the promulgation of problematic categories such as ethnic conflict and instead move toward systematically determining the salience of ethnic and religious factors in international conflict.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)649-668
Number of pages20
JournalJournal of Conflict Resolution
Issue number5
StatePublished - Jan 1 1997

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Business, Management and Accounting
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Political Science and International Relations


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