In this book I'm making, there is a religious conflict that happens. Here's the base of my plot so far:

Adrian lives in the dragon tribe Sa'fwan. Foreigners came to his land, coming across his tribe first. They befriended him and his tribe. One particular foreigner, an 18 or 20 year old by the name of Gallan, becomes close friends with Adrian. Adrian later casually reveals that He and other members of his tribe (and other tribes on his land) don't believe in any gods. They just believe that things happen, and everyone just exists, then doesn't exist. Gallan is surprised and tells Adrian that where he's from, many believe in gods. Adrian mentioned it because Gallan was wondering what gods Adrian and his fellow tribefolk believed in. This ends up driving their friendship apart, as Gallan and his fellow foreigners try to convert the tribefolk. This ends up in a war.

Now, I'm not going to spoil much, and I am still in the early stages.

So how do I portray a religious conflict?

Edit: Some people have asked questions, so I'll answer each:

I have only done some research on previous conflict. I know that disease can cause of the death of one side more often, but what usually gave people the upper hand was technological advancements such as the steam engine and the Maxine Machine Gun for one part of history that I learned. (forgot which conflict) This conflict will be different (not that much) due to the fact that it is over religion and non-belief.

The conflict is because Adrian and his tribefolk don't believe in any gods. Gallan and his fellow foreigners see this as a bad thing and want to "save them". I will also include other things that atheists, agnostics, and other non-believers have to often face (and I know a lot, being an atheist). Miracles do not exist. The foreigners believe in the gods, and even manage to convert a few of the willing tribefolk. Not that much, but they do convince some.

I'm struggling with how I should specifically portray the religious conflict. How should the foreigners treat the tribefolk before and after? Should there be battles? What else?

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    Firstly, how much research have you done into religious wars/conflicts - the crusader, Jihad, the Syrian civil war, the Israeli-Palestinian war? Secondly, why do you think it would be different from any other conflict? Commented Jun 25, 2020 at 7:50
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    Is the conflict because Adrian's people don't follow Gallan's gods, or is it specifically because they don't follow any gods? That might (but not necessarily) influence how the conflict is portrayed. (Also, consider whether or not miracles occur in the gods' names in your world, and - to a lesser extent - whether or not that indicates that the gods really exist) Commented Jun 25, 2020 at 8:56
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    What specifically are you struggling with? Commented Jun 25, 2020 at 12:11
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    Storytelling question: How do you pull off such a novel without sounding "preachy"? Publishing question: Is a book focusing on religious conflicts marketable? Would a publisher take it on? There is a risk that many religious groups may believe themselves represented even if not intended.
    – marc
    Commented Jun 25, 2020 at 16:09
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    @marc I know you chose writing an answer because you don't have enough rep yet to comment. Since your post really should have been a comment, I converted it to one (and also moved the comments under your answer to here).
    – Cyn
    Commented Jun 25, 2020 at 19:44

2 Answers 2


At heart this is a worldbuilding question. What shape the conflict takes depends on a number of setting and motivation related factors.

For instance, who are these foreigners? Are they explorers, looking for gold in a distant land, and are they the first people to make contact with this tribe? Exploration missions are expensive and dangerous. If a member of the group dies or piece of equipment is destroyed the explorers must continue their mission without them, so they have an incentive to avoid violence. They're more likely to flee and find gold somewhere else than fight.

Are they settlers? What made them come to these lands, and why can't or won't they go back to where they came from? Why do they want to save the tribesmen to begin with? If it's out of genuine compassion rather than a paternalistic drive to bring order to the universe, they might favor religious education over conversion at the tip of a sword. This will inform how the foreigners treat the tribe.

If war breaks out, what concrete, tangible reason drives it? "They believe in gods and we don't" is too abstract and unfocused. It may well be the defining difference between the two groups, but it's impersonal. The reason should ideally be an existential threat not only to the tribe but also the main character. Maybe the foreigners treat the tribesmen as second-class citizens? Maybe they demand a virgin to ritually disembowel on the altar to their gods?

These are a few questions you can and should ask yourself, but don't stop there. Get to know your characters and their cultures in fine detail before you put pen to paper and the conflict will write itself.


There seem to be many different ways that the conflict could work. These are my examples:


  1. War - all-out battle, think crusades and religious persecution - kill all the heretics and convert their children
  2. Missionary activity - think Christian missionaries or the Jewish Chabad movement.
  3. Force - pushing the elders and leaders into teaching the young/brainwashing the children, through blackmail or physical threats (although this could lead to war)

Personal relationships

A) Before

1)Friendly - support them and bring them into the fold

2)Teach - become a leader

3)Hate (British in Africa)

B)After (with no conversion)



Depending on what kind of people there are, it should be quite obvious what the war should be - whether a physical attack or a mental/brainwashing attack.

  • All are very good points. Really good things to have in mind. Thanks! I will mark this as the answer if a better one doesn't come along. Commented Jun 25, 2020 at 16:15
  • I just realized it was you, ArtickokeAndAnchoyPizzaMonica. Lol Commented Jun 25, 2020 at 16:16
  • Hey ArtickokeAndAnchovyPizzaMonica, how do you make the lines that separate the areas of writing? Commented Jun 25, 2020 at 22:06
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    @AcidKritana It looks like they're rows of hyphens - if you have enough reputation, you can click to edit and see how everything's done (and then just cancel if you don't actually want to edit) Commented Jun 25, 2020 at 22:50
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    Checked it, I see now. Thanks! Commented Jun 25, 2020 at 22:58

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