Persecution: Definition & Examples

Instructor: Christopher Prokes

Chris is an instructional designer and college faculty member. He has a Master's Degree in Education and also umpires baseball.

Persecution is a specific bias or treatment of a person or group based on some qualifying factor, such as religion, race, or gender. It has existed for centuries, and in this lesson you will learn all about it.

What is Persecution?

Have you ever seen someone negatively treated? Was it because of some trait they embodied? Perhaps it was their race, maybe their religion, or even their gender. No matter what the trait, such treatment is all too common. Known as persecution, it is the unfair and cruel treatment of a group or groups because of a specific trait or criteria they possess.

The criteria or traits could include but aren't limited to: race, gender, religion, customs, sexual orientation or preference, body type (i.e. height and weight), and social standing. In each case, you could refer to one more specifically by adding an adjective, such as 'gender persecution' or 'religious persecution.' Some of the specific types have even more descriptive terms underneath them. The persecution of those who are Jewish is called anti-Semitism.

What constitutes unfair treatment? Bullying, harassment, policies or restrictions that target a group or groups, institutional attitudes (it is considered acceptable to treat someone or a group poorly), and segregation are some of the more mainstream examples.

Persecution Examples: Historical

Such a concept is not a new one; persecution has taken place for centuries. Many times, ethnic, racial, and religious reasons have dominated the landscape. Here are some historical examples:

  • Persecution of the Jews by the Egyptian Pharaohs.
  • Christians treated poorly by the Roman Empire for believing in what Rome called a 'superstitious' religion. They were commonly fed to lions at the Colosseum.

Romans often fed Christians to the lions during their persecution
feeding to the lions

  • Treatment of opposing religions by Jews, Christians, and Muslims during the Crusades.
  • Feudalism in the Middle Ages where individuals were born into a specific class or role, such as lord or peasant, and were treated based on that standing.
  • Religious persecution during the European Reformation of those who went against the Catholic Church by forming new religions, such as Calvinism.
  • Harassment, trial, and execution of scientifically minded thinkers during the Enlightenment. One example, Galileo, opposed the accepted belief at the time that the Earth was the center of the universe.

Galileo was constantly persecuted for his scientific beliefs about the Earth
Galileo

  • Religious persecution in Europe causing pilgrims to leave and establish the American colonies.
  • The slave trade and slavery around the word, such as in the United States through 1865.
  • The Trail of Tears and other policies against Native Americans; they were viewed as savage and inferior and forced onto reservations.
  • Turkey's ethnic persecution of Armenians during World War I.
  • The Holocaust in Germany during World War II. Millions of Jewish people were confined to restricted housing areas (ghettos) and then murdered in concentration camps.
  • Various laws that placed quotas on immigration to America due to perceived bias against people from certain parts of the world.
  • Japanese internment camps during World War II given Japan's role both as an evil power and their attack on Pearl Harbor.

During WWII, many Japanese were held in internment camps
Japanese internment

  • Show trials during McCarthyism in the 1950s which sought to blacklist Americans suspected of being communists.
  • Attitudes of East Germany vs. West Germany during the era of the Berlin Wall.
  • The execution of various members of ethnic opposition groups in the Soviet Union under Joseph Stalin.

Persecution Examples: More Recent

Clearly, you can see an historical pattern of persecution. It continues into more recent times as well:

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