Daniel Philpott, University of Notre Dame du Lac

Under Caesar's Sword

How do Christians respond to persecution? While a number of analysts have documented the global persecution of Christians, few have asked what Christians actually do when their human right to religious freedom is egregiously violated.

A Collaborative Global Research Project

Christians around the world suffer persecution at the hands of both state and non-state actors. Among the state actors are Islamist, Communist, religious nationalist, and secular regimes, while non-state actors include violent religious extremists. “Under Caesar’s Sword” was a three-year, collaborative global research project that investigated how Christian communities respond when their religious freedom is severely violated. Research centered around three core questions:

  1. How do Christian communities respond to repression?
  2. Why do they choose the responses they do?
  3. What are the results of these responses?

The team of 14 scholars, representing the world’s leading scholars of Christianity in their respective regions, traveled around the world to study some 100 beleaguered Christian communities in over 30 countries including China, Indonesia, Nigeria, Syria, Egypt, Iraq, Pakistan, and India.  

Grant Title
Under Caesar’s Sword: How Christian Communities Respond to Repression
Legal Organization
University of Notre Dame du Lac
Project Dates
Start Date: 01 September 2014
End Date: 31 August 2018
Grant Amount
Area of Focus
Covenantal Pluralism

Strategies of Response

Christians’ responses to this persecution fall into three broad categories: first, strategies of survival, through which they aim to preserve the life and basic activities of their communities; second, strategies of association, through which they build ties with others that strengthen their resilience in the face of persecution; and third, strategies of confrontation, through which they openly challenge the persecution levied against them or live out their faith such that they accept the possibility of martyrdom as a mode of witness. These responses are not mutually exclusive.

Christian communities most commonly adopt survival strategies. While these strategies are defined as the least proactive form of resistance to persecution, they often involve creativity, determination, and courage. These strategies include going underground, flight, and accommodation to or support for repressive regimes. These strategies constitute 43 percent of total responses. This is hardly surprising. In the face of persecution, many Christian communities seek to ensure their survival first and foremost. Apart from this, they may believe they can do little else.

Strategies of association are the second most common response. In these cases, Christian communities seek to secure their religious freedom by developing ties with other actors, including other Christian communities, non-Christian religions and secular figures. Strategies of association can be found at all levels of persecution, but they are most robust in “semi-open” settings, that is, environments where persecution is strong but where significant opportunities for action and expression exist, such as Pakistan, India, Sri Lanka, Nigeria, Kenya, and Indonesia. These strategies amount to 38 percent of total responses. 

Strategies of confrontation are the least common response. They serve to bear witness to the faith, expose and end injustice, mobilize others to oppose injustice, and replace it with religious freedom. 

Click to read the full report>>

under caesar's sword conference

In addition to the full report, outputs from this project included:


Learn more