Resources in Religion, Violence, and Peacebuilding: An Annotated Bibliography

Photograph by Kate Ter Haar
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The amount of literature that could be included in a bibliography on religion, violence, and peacebuilding is vast and attempting to delineate the nuances between each thinker and theory in our allotted space is an exercise in futility. There are literally hundreds of books that cover these fields and hundreds more academic articles and essays relevant to our endeavor—and the list is growing.1 The purpose of this bibliography, then, is not to be comprehensive, and we inevitably leave out some important contributions. Rather, our purpose is to provide a starting place and road map that, if followed, will provide a solid foundation for engaging any other scholarship on the intersections of religion, violence, and peacebuilding not included in this bibliography. We hope this annotated bibliography serves as a helpful introduction to the literature on this area of study and provides a helpful resource for graduate students putting together comprehensive exam lists and teachers constructing syllabi on these topics.

We have organized this bibliography into seven categories (Theorizing Religious Violence, Girard and His Interpreters, Religious Peacebuilding, Christian Theology, Islam, Buddhism, and Hinduism) that cover theory and specific religious traditions. To begin to understand the complexities and ambiguities of the intersections of religion, violence, and peace one must have a working knowledge of the literature in each of these fields. To understand theories of religious violence, for instance, without any knowledge of the “insider” view of specific religious traditions or familiarity with concrete historical examples will inevitably lead one to an imbalanced and incomplete understanding of the subtle nuances and stark contradictions lying underneath surface explorations of these difficult topics. In this spirit, then, we have included between five and ten key texts in each area that will serve as helpful orienting texts for each category.

Theorizing Religious Violence

The works in this section include the main texts in the young but growing, interdisciplinary field theorizing on the relationship of religion to violence. The authors come from differing disciplines, including history, political science, sociology, and theology. They also focus on different examples of violence, some on terrorism (Juergensmeyer, Stern), some on religious enclaves (Kippenberg), while some theorize on religion and violence more broadly (Lincoln). They share, however, the assumption that there is something about religion that lends itself to create or support violence, understood here as either group violence or violence between states or between states and other actors, such as religious enclaves or terrorist organizations. This assumption William Cavanaugh has recently critiqued; his work, as the major antagonist against the frame of religious violence, is also included here.

Appleby, R. Scott. The Ambivalence of the Sacred. Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield, 2000.

Appleby’s overarching goal is to show that religion is not simply a cause of violent conflict, but that religious peacekeepers—central protagonists of Appleby’s work—are a ready, but still underdeveloped, resource for preventing deadly conflict. This work is theoretical but also directed toward public policy and those engaged in questions of conflict, security, and peacebuilding. It is an accessible, though dense, work. He considers violent religious extremists alongside nonviolent activists, grounding his insights theoretically in the phenomenology of Rudolph Otto. Part one argues for a category of “religious militancy.” Religious militants are passionate but differ on their views of violence. Nonviolent militants try to transform society by disciplined rejection of violent methods, while violent militants, or extremists, view violence as a useful or even necessary means to a just end. The problem, as Appleby sees it, is not religion, or even religious militancy as such, but extremists and extremism. This leads to the second part of the book, which investigates how those on the nonviolent side of the religious militancy spectrum can be engaged in peacebuilding. Appleby pays close attention to the organizations that are central to peacebuilding work, which is critical to any understanding of preventing violent conflict, as well as also being a rare and important addition to any phenomenological approach.

For a critique of this text, which is also an attempt to further theoretically Appleby’s frame of “sacred ambivalence,” see a recent article by Appleby’s colleague at Notre Dame Atalia Omer, who is also a contributor to this journal. See, Omer, Atalia. “The Hermeneutics of Citizenship as a Peacebuilding Process: A Multiperspectival Approach to Justice.” Political Theology 11 5 (2010): 650-673.

Cavanaugh, William. The Myth of Religious Violence: Secular Ideology and the Roots of Modern Conflict. New York: Oxford University, 2009.

William Cavanaugh is one of the major critics of the “religious violence” frame. Although one might not agree with all of his arguments, he does offer critiques that any scholar considering such issues should take seriously. Following Talal Asad, Cavanaugh uses a genealogical approach to deconstruct the “myth” of religious violence. Such a genealogical approach reveals, Cavanaugh argues, that Western history and society creates a false category of “religion” that can be opposed to the “secular,” and it is only in such a context that such a dichotomy can be sustained. Religion becomes the bogey man, taking on negative, illiberal—and violent—characteristics that make a secular framing of society seem not only more rational, but also more secure. The secular, then, becomes the best way to ensure less violence and more peace. Cavanaugh argues that this framing is nothing more than a myth and that, in fact, it is the secular approach, including the modern nation state, which should be critiqued for the violence it has created. Religion as a universal category, then, does not exist except as a way of inscribing and supporting a violent ideology. Therefore, how can “religion” be “violent?” In other words, “religion” is not a descriptive but a normative concept. (It should be noted that Cavanaugh does not argue that particular religions in particular locations have not been involved in bloodletting and war.)

As Cavanaugh argues, those who discuss religion as inherently violent rarely define religion well, if at all. Even if they do, there is little proof presented as to why religion should be considered inherently violent or why religion should be singled out as fatally aggressive. He critiques such key authors as Martin Marty, R. Scott Appleby, Mark Juergensmeyer, as well as Charles Selengut, Charles Kimball and others, as proffering one of three arguments: that religion is either absolutist, divisive, or irrational. Whatever the argument, they reinscribe a reading of history and society that serves a secular agenda that covers up the violence committed on behalf of the secular nation state.

Juergensmeyer, Mark. Terror in the Mind of God: The Global Rise of Religious Violence, Third Edition. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2003.

Juergensmeyer argues that all religions have resources within them that justify, and can even encourage, violence. However, not all—in fact most—religious actors do not engage in violence or, if they do, they do not use their religious teachings to justify their violence. We know, however, that there is no shortage of religious actors who appeal to religious sources to justify their violence, often political, against other persons. Is there a common feature of violent religious actors that links such actors, specifically religious terrorists, across religious traditions? Juergensmeyer believes that there is.

Juergensmeyer’s theory of religious terrorism is multifaceted. He introduces the terms “cosmic war,” “satanization,” “symbolic empowerment” and its relevant stages, and “performance violence” into the lexicon of religion and violence studies. He avers that certain religious actors interpret the world as having gone awry, often because they either find themselves in a culture they perceive as too secular or they find themselves as a religious minority in a relatively monoreligious culture, and they therefore feel marginalized, or will soon become so, in this culture. When an individual or community perceives themselves as marginalized in a world gone awry, it is not uncommon to feel that normal means of working for social change are no longer reasonable options. Thus, religious actors often discover or invent “enemies” who contribute to their marginalization and dehumanization. It is at this point, when religious actors feel that they have been so marginalized in a world that is not structured as they believe it should be, usually for religious or social reasons, that they then interpret history in light of a cosmic, symbolic war between good and evil. Consequently, as participants in a cosmic and symbolic war, these religious actors believe that the state of war justifies their use of violence. According to Juergensmeyer, this violence is not necessarily realistic. Rather it is often symbolic and performative. Religious terrorists, according to Juergensmeyer, perform the cosmic battle between good and evil on earth as a symbolic witness to the ultimate victory of (their understanding of) the good.

Juergensmeyer grounds his theory in several case studies ranging from Evangelical Christians in the United States that have bombed abortion clinics to the members of the Japanese Buddhist offshoot Aum Shinrikyo who released poisonous gas into a Tokyo subway that killed several commuters. The way that Juergensmeyer’s theory grows out of his case studies is a great strength of this book as it is grounded in the actual motivations and actions of modern religious actors. It is a must-read text in the field of religion and violence and serves as a great textbook and resource for scholars.

Kippenberger, Hans. Violence as Worship: Religious Wars in the Age of Globalization. Stanford: Stanford University, 2011.

Hans Kippenberg, a German sociologist, argues that there is no necessary link between religious beliefs and violence. Religious violence comes neither from religions nor from secular government policies. Instead, religious violence comes from tensions between religious communities and “governmental, legal and economic structures” interacting with each other (38). He uses a theory of action that draws on Max Weber, as well as Talcott Parsons, to propose a political sociology of religious violence. This theory of action assists him in his effort to describe this interaction between social structures, to see where relations break down, and to offer remedies to stop violence from occurring. Notably, when speaking of religion or faith communities, he focuses on smaller religious enclaves—specifically the “Abrahamic faiths” and their immigrant enclaves in Europe—that oppose larger society in some fashion.

His proposal is not a “clash of civilizations” thesis, as there is nothing inevitable about these tensions. Instead, modern technology and globalization enables diasporas and immigrant groups to keep in contact with communities in their home country. This empowers them to resist “the moral autonomy of Western individualism.” This resistance, and the resulting networks, develops a “new type of societal power” that competes with the larger nation-state (38-39). There is also a concomitant ethic found among Abrahamic faiths, he argues, that goes along with these transcontinental ties—a communally oriented “ethic of brotherliness” that tends to make community members defend the community, even with violent force, if its autonomy is threatened. Such an ethic, however, is not inherently violent. It requires social and institutional competition from government and society at large. Kippenberg argues that helping groups understand that their reaction to religious communities are not responses to but constitutive of the violence they fear can help societies better manage their internal relationships without stoking the fires of hatred and violence.

Lincoln, Bruce. Holy Terrors: Thinking About Religion after September 11. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2003.

Lincoln’s work is made up of a series of articles and essays, some written before and some after September 11, which is the occasion for the collection and the source of the title. The essays can be distinguished into two types—analyses, almost case studies, of the rhetoric used by al-Qaeda and its conservative respondents in the United States (George W. Bush and Jerry Falwell, in particular); and theoretical-methodological essays on how to think about religion in what he calls the “current political moment,” now that religion seems to be singularly embroiled in the global conflicts begun in 2001. The case studies provide a lens into the ways his methodology can be employed. This is definitely a work meant to influence scholars, but certain essays provide food for thought for policy makers as well.

In his methodology, he argues for a spectrum—from “maximalist” to “minimalist”—to plot a religion’s, religious leader’s, or religious believer’s ideal location for their tradition in relation to the wider society (59). Thinking about society as an archipelago of overlapping spheres or domains, a maximalist view of religion sees religion’s proper role as inhabiting and dominating all of the spheres in society (economic, political, aesthetic, etc.). A minimalist view would argue for religion to keep to its own sphere or even for religion to be controlled itself by one or more of the other spheres (5). Second, is his fourfold definition of religion as comprising the domains of “discourse, practice, community and institution” (5-8). The second edition ends with “Theses on Religion and Violence,” a spin on his “Theses on Method,” which he published in the 1990s, and which provide truisms, as well as some cause-effect relations, on how religion and violence interact.

Selengut, Charles. Sacred Fury: Understanding Religious Violence, 2nd ed. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2008.

Against scholars and commentators who argue against religion as a cause of violence, Selengut makes a case for taking religion seriously, if not at the total exclusion of other motivations and causes, then certainly as an irreducible one. Although he does not elide the importance of other factors in violence, such as economic and historical, Selengut believes that religion is of a different order and that religious faith “is different than other commitments, and the rules and directives of religion are understood by the faithful to be entirely outside ordinary social rules and interactions” (6). Trained by Peter Berger at the New School, one can see Berger’s influence on Selengut who approaches religion as a social group wherein dynamics of leadership and membership are central to how religion is invoked to create or sustain violence. Here, religion is understood as theodicy, providing meaning and consolation to individuals and groups that allows for the better functioning of society. He also defines violence very broadly to include not just physical injury but also verbal and symbolic harm (e.g., the destruction of a sacred site).

Selengut proposes a case study method for approaching religious violence that includes analyses of the theological, historical, economic, social, and psychological factors involved in a violent conflict. Each chapter focuses on an instance or trope of religious violence read through a certain approach including holy war as understood through its references in sacred texts (what he calls “scriptural violence”); an examination of social-psychological approaches, particularly Freud and Girard; viewing religious violence through the “civilizational perspective,” with violence as a means to protect a group that perceives itself as threatened; through the “apocalyptic perspective” where religious actors see violence as salvific; and finally religious violence as it takes place on the fields of sexuality and the body (11).

Stern, Jessica. Terror in the Name of God: Why Religious Militants Kill. New York: Ecco, 2003.

Not to be confused with Juergensmeyer’s book of nearly the same name, Terror in the Name of God focuses on religiously grounded terrorist networks. Drawn from Stern’s interviews with terrorists of different traditions, both in the United States and abroad, Stern pursues a number of goals for this work, such as understanding how religion can create both good and violent people, how terrorist networks work, the motivations and leadership styles of terrorists, and how the United States can create better policies through this improved understanding. Stern looks at a variety of groups—including US anti-abortion groups—but her main focus is in Islamist terrorist groups, particularly Al-Qaeda, and the work concludes with policy recommendations for moving beyond engaging religious terrorist primarily as military targets. Rather, she suggests we engage religious terrorism on the ideological level by “hold[ing] fast to the best of our principles, by emphasizing tolerance, empathy, and courage (296).”

The first half of the study considers an individual’s motivations for joining a terrorist group while the second half is more institutionally focused and looks at the organizations themselves. One of the major contributions of this work is to demystify holy warriors and religious terrorists, as Stern charts how ordinary terrorists can be. Stern gleans from her interviews that the motivations to stay in a militant religious organization are often different from motivations for joining, including, oddly enough, the increased status it brings to oneself and family, and even a steady, competitive salary. Finally, the strongest element of this book is Stern’s attention to how terrorist organizations, although not state terrorism, as she leaves that area aside, can change drastically over time to meet changing events and circumstances, including victory.

Avalos, Hector. Fighting Words: The Origins of Religious Violence. Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books, 2005.

Avalos argues that religion is inherently violent. Drawing on Regina Schwartz’s The Curse of Cain, he argues that religion creates the conditions for violence by creating scarcity that would not otherwise be there. These constructed, spiritual goods are not empirically verifiable, yet they have a hold on people. Religion creates a demand, through scarcity of supply, for transcendent goods that people are willing to kill over (22).

Avalos does not deny the importance of other factors in the origins of violence. Instead, he makes the methodological move to focus just on those cases where religion is the main causal factor, as he puts it. He is very clear, however, that he focuses on religion as the cause, since religion-based conflict is the most morally egregious. Economic scarcity, for example, is a real scarcity, he argues. There is more leeway to see the complexity in conflict that comes out of scarce natural resources. Scarcity of religiously created goods, however, is scarcity where none existed before and, for Avalos, where none need exist. In this way, such scarcity is morally egregious, because it creates the conditions for unnecessary suffering (29).

Avalos focuses his analysis on the Abrahamic faiths, yet claims his conclusions apply to religion generally. There is a decided anti-religion bent to this writing, and although his idea of scarcity is interesting, Avalos does not see how other realms of human activity or other institutions (government, the nation, etc.) could create similarly constructed scarcity.

Girard and His Interpreters

René Girard is one of the most, if not the most, influential of the writers considered here. Many of the authors in this bibliography build off his work or engage it in some way. Indeed, even William Cavanaugh, who is critical of many of the writers considered here, is not so critical of Girard. Girard’s influence is even more interesting as he is a scholar of literature. His theories, therefore, on religion, sacrifice, scapegoating mimesis, and desire are rooted in his readings of western literature. Girard’s influences do not end there, however, as he is also indebted to psychoanalysis via Sigmund Freud (especially his idea of Oedipal desire) and Victorian era anthropology with its emphasis on sacrifice as the central, even seminal, religious ritual. In this way, Girard is as much a structural anthropologist and a Freudian as he is a literature scholar.

In general, Girard argues that violence, particularly a specific act of sacrificial violence, was the impetus for the birth of “the sacred” in human society. In fact, this original act of violence was the impetus for the birth of both religion and human culture. Religion, then, is the unintended child of the violence of an archaic human community. Since that original act of violence, however, religion has functioned primarily as a deterrent of violence through the use of rituals that reenact the original sacrificial act. Religion operates, then, as a minimizer of violence rather than its source or motivation.

Violence, for Girard, is a natural aspect of human communities. Two defining traits of human beings, according to Girard, are their ability to imitate others (mimesis), and to desire objects individually and collectively as goods. We, therefore, act through mimetic desire or imitate each other’s desires. Of course, goods of nearly any kind are finite, and the increasing desire of certain goods leads to conflict and escalating violence. To quell such violence requires a symbolic act of sacrificing a scapegoat. This symbolic violence is then mimicked and ritualized and, eventually, becomes religion.

The question, then, for Girard, is not whether there will be violence; rather, the questions are what kind and how much violence there will be. According to Girard, religion has historically functioned as a way to answer those questions by answering that thekind of violence should be ritual violence and that it will be executed in a symbolic way or on a relatively small number of people, usually selected because of their marginal or outsider status in the society. Those who suffer this symbolic and ritual violence are relatively innocent victims, or scapegoats. Girard names this phenomenon the “scapegoat mechanism.”

Girard also claims that, historically speaking, Christianity reversed the trend of societies scapegoating innocent victims because in the Christian story, specifically the story of Jesus, we know the innocence of the ultimate innocent victim. The veil is lifted and we are unable to continue scapegoating innocent victims. However, the legacy of this dramatic reversal, especially in western society, is the valorization of the victim. We no longer scapegoat victims, claims Girard. Rather, we valorize them. The dilemma that arises from this modern reversal is the proliferation of victimhood. Nearly every social, political, national, or ethnic group claims to be a victim of some sort or another. This proliferation has even extended to the rise of groups claiming that white men are oppressed in the United States. Everyone claims to be a victim. The moral problem with this phenomenon is that victimhood tends to provide people with moral justification for their use of violence. If one is oppressed and can identify one’s oppressors one is justified in throwing off that oppression “by any means necessary.” This phenomenon, claims Girard and some of his interpreters, helps explain the particular shape of modern violence; namely, genocide, ethnic cleansing, terrorism, and revolutionary movements. Unintuitively, then, the morally justified move of siding with history’s victims rather than victors has led to even more dramatic episodes of violence than occurred in archaic societies. So, paradoxically, the twentieth century was both the century in which more victims were saved as any other and the century in which more victims were killed than any other.

This historical paradox lends credence to the thesis that ritual violence actually limits overall amounts of violence as Girard theorized was its purpose in archaic societies. However, Girard argues, we can no longer return to an era when innocent victims and marginalized persons are scapegoated for the greater good of community peace. Thus, according to Girard, we are still searching for new, preferably nonviolent, rituals to serve the same purpose of minimizing violent mimetic desire and that ritual violence the sacrifice of innocent scapegoats once served.

Girard, René. Violence and the Sacred. Translated by Patrick Gregory. Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1972.

This is Girard’s first book on these themes in which his definitions and explanations of mimesis and mimetic desire, the sacred, myth, ritual, and his read of ancient literature are presented. This volume is the earliest, and most theoretical, of his works on these themes.

———. The Scapegoat. Translated by Yvonne Freccero. Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1986.

Written over a decade after Violence and the Sacred, this volume elaborates Girard’s understanding of the scapegoat mechanism in history and the ways that Jesus transcends and overcomes this previously universal human tendency.

———. Things Hidden Since the Foundation of the World. Translated by Stephen Bann and Michael Metteer. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1987.

A lengthy collection of interviews with two psychiatrists on the themes of Girard’s work on religion and violence, this book demonstrates the further development of Girard’s thinking on his most influential themes. Also, Girard moves beyond the purely literary-historical and theoretical to engage more contemporary issues in the third section of this edited volume.

Girard, René and James G. Williams. The Girard Reader. New York: Crossroad, 1996.

René Girard is not a straightforwardly systematic writer, and his ideas have changed over the course of his writing life. These considerations make The Girard Reader a helpful guide for those wishing for an introduction to Girardian theory, as well as those more immersed who want a helpful reference guide. James Williams, the editor, selected important parts of Girard’s main works, organized around an introduction to mimetic theory with chapters focusing on important Girardian concepts, including scapegoating, triangular desire, sacrifice, Girard’s biblical theology, and concluding chapters engaging Girard with Freud and Nietzsche. He also includes items that update Girard’s ideas or provide needed explanation. For example, he includes an interview in 1992 where Girard clarifies that mimetic desire, in itself, is a good thing, a point that was unclear in his previous, major works. Williams also includes an interview he conducted with Girard, which focuses on Girard’s Christian theology. Williams is a charitable and even supportive reader of Girard. Although one will not find many critiques of Girard, one will receive a solid grounding in Girard’s thought.

Juergensmeyer, Mark, ed. Violence and the Sacred in the Modern World. Portland, OR: Frank Cass, 1992.

The articles in this work explore possible connections between symbolic violence and imagery, and actual religious violence in the modern world. The authors—Juergensmeyer writes two pieces—focus on Islamic movements, including Hezbollah, Sikh militants, and Jewish groups. As the work suggests, the contributors also engage Girardian theory through their consideration of real world violence. The articles are largely sympathetic to Girard’s theory, and though the work is now nearly twenty years old, it is significant in that Juergensmeyer critically engages Girard and puts distance between he and Girard’s theoretical approaches and analyses.

Robert G. Hamerton-Kelly (ed.), Violent Origins: Walter Burkert, Rene Girard, and Jonathan Z. Smith on Ritual Killing and Cultural Formation. Stanford: Stanford University, 1987.

If interviews can be exemplary ways of understanding a thinker’s work, then the discussion set up in Violent Origins is exceedingly helpful for a student of religion and violence. Violent Origins is an introduction into the thought of three influential scholars who are concerned with religion. The first part of the work, over seventy pages, provides a clear summary of the thought of Burkert, Girard, and Smith. The rest of the work is a conversation between these three scholars as well as a number of additional scholars. Particularly interesting is the addition of Smith. Not only is he reluctant to offer a full theory on religion, let alone religion and violence, but he also engages critically with Girard. Although conversations in religious studies may have moved beyond the time and milieu that gave rise to Violent Origins, it remains not only a very helpful introduction but provides more nuance and depth to the thought of three leading scholars.

Religion and Peacebuilding

Although religious actors and leaders have long been involved in local peacebuilding efforts, policy makers, diplomats, and scholars have been late to the game in approaching religion not as, or at least not only as, a source of conflict but also as an important resource in resolving conflict and violence. Although more work is still needed on religions beyond Christianity, Islam, and Judaism, the following works still provide the basis for a needed corrective that has continued to grow in the academy but also in organizations pressing policy makers and diplomats to reach out to religious actors in their work.

Gopin, Marc. Between Eden and Armageddon: The Future of World Religions, Violence and Peacemaking. New York: Oxford University, 2000.

Marc Gopin, a rabbi and religion and peacebuilding researcher who now heads George Mason University’s Center on Religion, Diplomacy and Conflict Resolution, has taught at the Fletcher School at Tufts University and Eastern Mennonite University and has also worked on peacebuilding in Israel. Gopin, then, is able to draw both on his experience of peace work with religious communities and a nuanced theoretical perspective to create Between Eden and Armageddon, one of the best works on the role of religion in violence and peacemaking. Published in 2000, Gopin begins the work by mapping the field of religion and conflict resolution, which even at such a late date, was still a relatively young field of academic study. As his work has focused on conflicts in the Middle East, particularly the Levant, Gopin’s goal is to show how Judaism and Islam have been ignored as paradigms for conflict resolution and peacebuilding, and how this oversight, caused by the Christian cultural assumptions of academics and professional diplomats and foreign policy experts, handicaps peace efforts. He is not, however, a purely naive or optimistic reader of religion. He also offers critiques of current Jewish theologies of interreligious dialogue, while also advocating the strengths of Mennonite Christian approaches developed by such thinker-practitioners as John Paul Lederach. In the end, Gopin argues for peacebuilding and conflict resolution that, although not antithetical to broad theoretical paradigms, takes time to understand the conflict resolution resources in local cultures and how to engage grassroots religious practices to strengthen interreligious peacebuilding.

___________. Holy War, Holy Peace: How Religion can Bring Peace to the Middle East. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2002.

Continuing his work in Between Eden and Armageddon, Gopin grounds his analysis more explicitly in Jewish and Islamic tensions in the Holy Land. In this analysis, he recommends the power of myth, ritual, dialogue, ceremony, shared study, mutual work on behalf of the poor, and the willingness to undergo personal transformation as key peacebuilding tools.

One key development in conflict transformation, peacebuilding, and transitional justice is the inclusion of forgiveness as a potential tool for addressing violent conflict. However, this conversation has been dominated by Christian, especially Protestant, theologians and practitioners. Gopin fills this lacuna by engaging Jewish and Muslim resources for forgiveness and pushes on the often over determined “interior” emphasis of much Protestant talk and practice of forgiveness. This is one example of the importance of this book: it pushes on the Christian assumptions of many scholars and practitioners of peacebuilding. In this way,Holy War, Holy Peace serves as an appropriate complement to the work of John Paul Lederach or Raymond Helmick and Rodney Petersen (see below) in a course on religious peacebuilding. It is also an important resource for practitioners of interreligious dialogue and peacebuilding as well as Jewish and Muslim peacebuilders.

Lederach, John Paul. The Moral Imagination: The Art and Soul of Building Peace. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2005.

John Paul Lederach is one of the premier peacebuilding scholars in the world. His work, grounded in decades of experience, has profoundly shaped both the practice and study of peacebuilding. A Mennonite himself, Lederach is conversant in and draws upon religious resources for his work, but his constructive peacebuilding proposals are not limited to practitioners of any one religious tradition. Drawing on his years of scholarship and experience, Lederach put together a lifetime of reflection on peacebuilding intoThe Moral Imagination.

His question is straightforward, “How do we transcend the cycles of violence that bewitch our human community while still living in them?” His answer to this question is that we “generate, mobilize, and build the moral imagination.” He elaborates on the moral imagination by saying that it “requires the capacity to imagine ourselves in a web of relationships that includes our enemies; the ability to sustain a paradoxical curiosity that embraces complexity without reliance on dualistic polarity; the fundamental belief in and pursuit of the creative act; and the acceptance of the inherent risk of stepping into the mystery of the unknown that lies beyond the far too familiar landscape of violence” (all quotes in this paragraph from p. 5).

Contrary to the political science approach of much peacemaking literature, Lederach suggests such things as poetry, serendipity, and stillness as practices of peacebuilding. However, while understanding peacebuilding primarily as an “art,” Lederach does not completely abandon it as “science.” He also discusses traditional peacemaking tools including peace accords. In sum, this book is an excellent introductory text and handbook on the complex practice of peacebuilding. Those who find it helpful should also consult his earlier works, including: Preparing for Peace: Conflict Transformation Across Cultures (Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 1995), Building Peace: Sustainable Reconciliation in Divided Societies (Washington DC: United States Institute of Peace Press, 1997), and The Little Book of Conflict Transformation (Intercourse, PA: Good Books, 2003).

Smith, Gordon S. and Harold Coward, eds. Religion and Peacebuilding. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 2004.

The authors of Religion and Peacebuilding have attempted to take seriously R. Scott Appleby’s claim about “the ambivalence of the sacred.” This wide-ranging and interdisciplinary set of essays seeks to demonstrate, through an examination of the “spiritual resources” of seven religious traditions and five case studies, the ways that religion both contributes to violence and to peace. The editors describe “religious peacebuilding” as “the range of activities performed by religious actors and institutions for the purpose of resolving and transforming deadly conflict, with the goal of building social relations and political institutions characterized by an ethos of tolerance and nonviolence” (p. 5, emphasis in original).

The first section of the book explores the “spiritual resources”—scriptures, theology, rituals, and history—of seven different religious and cultural traditions. These are: various American Indian traditions, Hinduism, Buddhism, Confucianism, Judaism, Islam, and Christianity. These essays, each focusing on one of the aforementioned traditions, offer an overview of the “spiritual resources” found in these traditions. While these essays do not necessarily break new ground for scholars, and which are at times too general to do the diversity of these traditions justice, they nevertheless may prove to be helpful introductions to these traditions for young students unfamiliar with them or the study of religion. The second section of the book is the strength of this collection. This section of the book contains case studies that explore the relative strengths and weaknesses of religious peacebuilding activities in places as diverse as Cambodia, Bosnia, South Africa, Ireland, the United States, and Israel-Palestine. These case studies clearly demonstrate the potential for religion as a resource for peacebuilding while also being realistic about its limitations.

Helmick, Raymond G., SJ, and Rodney L. Petersen, editors. Forgiveness and Reconciliation: Religion, Public Policy and Conflict Transformation. Radnor, PA: Templeton Foundation, 2001.

Forgiveness and Reconciliation has an all-star cast of authors, including Andrea Bartoli, Donna Hicks, Douglas Johnston, John Paul Lederach, Joseph Montville, Donald Shriver, Miroslav Volf, and Desmond Tutu. Although the articles are broad in their concerns, they are unified by a common interest in the role of forgiveness in conflict resolution, peacebuilding, and post-war reconstruction. The edited volume has four main areas of focus, including theologies emphasizing forgiveness, forgiveness and foreign policy, the role of forgiveness in reconciliation programs, and the role of forgiveness in post-conflict reconstruction. The contributors concern themselves with Christianity, psychology, social theory, and religious practices, and includes often overlooked Christian perspectives, such as those of Orthodox Christian scholars and practitioners. Although many of the contributors present ideas that they develop more fully in other works, it provides a good introduction to a broad array of scholars and theologians who are leaders in the field. Most articles are very accessible and offer profitable reading for scholars, activists, and students.

Johnston, Douglas and Cynthia Sampson, eds. Religion, The Missing Dimension of Statecraft. New York: Oxford University, 1994.

Put out by the Center for Strategic and International Studies, Religion, the Missing Dimension of Statecraft was one of the first works to argue that religion could also be an irreplaceable resource for peacebuilding and foreign policy, thus trying to stem the tide in American diplomatic and policy circles that either wanted to ignore religion or saw it as the problem. It includes several articles on the theory of religion and international affairs, on the implications of including religion in statecraft, as well as a new set of research and case studies. Some of the case study topics include religion’s role in reconciliation in post-World War II France and Germany, and religion’s role in the 1986 revolution in the Philippines, during Apartheid in South Africa, and during the transition from Rhodesia to Zimbabwe.

Smock, David R, editor. Interfaith Dialogue and Peacebuilding. Washington, DC: U.S. Institute of Peace, 2002.

Smock’s edited work offers an overview of the role of interfaith dialogue in peacebuilding. The three parts of the book offer general reflections on interfaith dialogue from leading scholars such as Mohammed Abu-Nimer and Marc Gopin, case studies (Middle East, Former Yugoslavia, Northern Ireland), and reflections on the role of two interfaith organizations (Appeal of Conscience Foundation and The United Religious Initiative) written by the leaders of the respective organizations. This is a short volume with relatively short contributions but does not lack critique, even so. As one would expect, the lion’s share of articles are favorable toward interfaith dialogue. Marc Gopin’s article, however, offers a critical evaluation, focusing on both the limits of dialogue and practices that make dialogue more effective.

Christian Theology

One of the primary questions in the history of Christian theology has been that of theodicy. Traditionally stated, the question of theodicy is, “How do we explain the presence of evil if God is both all-powerful and wholly loving?” In recent years, this traditional question has been asked in response to modern social and political realities. The implications of modern violence (like domestic violence, structural violence, the prospect of nuclear war, and genocide) has also been addressed by Christian theology as it relates to sin, anthropology, soteriology, and the ethics of war and peace. The works below are responses to incidents of modern violence as diverse as the Balkan genocide, the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 and their aftermath, the structural violence of apartheid South Africa, portrayals of violence in popular media, and the implications of modern warfare for the traditionally dichotomous theories of just war criteria and principled pacifism.

The works of Volf, Suchocki, Wink, Sobrino, Brock and Parker, and Kirk-Duggan engage in explicit theological reflections on incidents of violence and propose constructive theologies for combating the proliferation of such violence. Stassen and the edited volume titled Peacebuilding bring Christian theological resources to bear on the practical work of peacemaking and peacebuilding. This list includes Liberationist, Process, Womanist, Feminist, Anabaptist, Catholic, and pastoral reflections on violence as well as more practical suggestions for building peace. This short list is intended to be representative of different approaches contemporary theologians are taking to think theologically about modern manifestations of violence. While not exhaustive, it is a list that includes most of the major approaches and works of the last twenty years that engage violence as a starting point for theological reflection.

Volf, Miroslav. Exclusion and Embrace: A Theological Exploration of Identity, Otherness, and Reconciliation. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1996.

A modern classic in Christian theology, Volf’s Exclusion and Embrace reflects on issues of identity, forgiveness, and reconciliation. Explicitly grounded in Volf’s experiences during the war in the former Yugoslavia (he was detained by state troops for a period of time), he argues that issues of social identity are the root of much evil in the modern world. Thus, he posits “exclusion” as a fundamental contemporary moral, social, and political issue that leads, in extreme cases, to ethnic cleansing and genocide. He proposes “embrace” as the Christian response to “exclusion.” Volf claims that “God’s reception of hostile humanity into divine communion is a model for how human beings should relate to the other,” (p. 100).

Not unlike Girard, Volf sees the proliferation of “victim” and “oppressed/oppressor” language as examples of exclusion rather than embrace. He insists that in most situations of escalating violence each group involved in the conflict has been both victim and victimizer. The rhetorical use of these categories too easily reifies social groups as “other” and morally justifies continued violence on both sides. Rather, he suggests an embrace that is so intimate that an actual victim “guided by the narrative of the triune God, is ready to receive the other into itself and undertake a re-adjustment of its identity in light of the other’s alterity,” (p. 110). In other words, people on both sides of a conflict must be willing to experience an embrace so intimate that all parties experience a re-adjustment of their identities and, thus, create new identities dependent upon who were once enemies. Easily the most controversial part of this proposal is his insistence that, even though eschatological, eventually all “remembering wrongly” of such events must be forgotten. Heaven cannot bear Auschwitz, he claims, and so Auschwitz must be forgotten, or “remembered rightly.” To remember Auschwitz rightly, and any other grave injustice or instance of extreme violence, requires one to remember it in the context of God’s redemptive work in the world through Jesus Christ.

This work has become an influential starting place for many political theologies that address issues of social identity, political forgiveness and reconciliation, and Christian responses to extreme violence. The chapter titled “Exclusion” is especially insightful, and Volf’s constructive proposal of “embrace” and forgetting demands close attention.

Sobrino, Jon. Where Is God? Earthquake, Terrorism, Barbarity, and Hope. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2004.

Reflecting on the 2001 El Salvadoran earthquake, the attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City and the Pentagon in Washington, DC, and the American wars in Iraq and Afghanistan from a Liberationist perspective, Sobrino engages the classic question of theodicy from a fresh perspective. Never shying from the difficulty of making sense of the presence of evil in the world and its disproportionate effects on the poor and oppressed, Sobrino advances a Christological answer to the perennial question: Jesus Christ is the God who suffers with the poor. Those interested in an answer to the question of theodicy that moves beyond philosophical abstraction will find this book a refreshing resource.

Williams, Rowan. Writing in the Dust: After September 11. Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans, 2002.

Unlike most works included in this bibliography, Writing in the Dust is a pastoral and moral reflection on violence, written by a global religious leader with a unique perspective on violence. Writing in the Dust is a series of essays by Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury, who was in New York City, a few blocks away from the World Trade Center when they were destroyed on September 11, 2001. In this short work, Williams, a noted theologian, reflects on the difficulty language poses to people of faith during atrocity. He reflects on modernity and the role of meaning and meaninglessness, and how they have played into the conflict, as well as how violent tragedy, however painful, can also be a moment to open our eyes to the pains of globalization and economic structures that many of us have been privileged not to experience. Williams calls on individuals and communities to grieve “humanly” without propagating ideology, resentment or drama against others. Although dearly purchased, Williams argues that September 11 has also opened a space and provided an opportunity to ask how we should respond, how we should speak about tragedy, and how we should look at ourselves and others.

Stassen, Glen H. Just Peacemaking: Transforming Initiatives for Justice and Peace. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 1992. And Stassen, Glen, ed. Just Peacemaking: Ten Practices for Abolishing War, Second edition. Cleveland, OH: The Pilgrim Press, 2004.

Beginning in the early 1990’s Glen Stassen, in collaboration with many other scholars, has worked toward finding a middle way between just war theory and principled pacifism as the only moral stances available regarding political violence. Drawing deeply on Christian theological resources—the earlier book includes two chapters devoted to Christian biblical exegesis and theological analysis—Stassen proposed “just peacemaking theory.” Just peacemaking theory is intended to be one that both just war theorists and pacifists can agree to as a set of criteria, not unlike the criteria of just war theory, which limits and prevents the occurrence of war.

After a close exegesis of the Sermon on the Mount, in the first book, Stassen suggested seven steps of just peacemaking. Several years later, in an edited volume, Stassen, in collaboration with sixteen other scholars, proposed ten practices of just peacemaking that, if implemented, would greatly reduce the occurrence of war. These practices are: supporting nonviolent direct action; taking independent initiatives to reduce threats; using cooperative conflict resolution tactics; being willing to acknowledge responsibility for conflicts and injustice as well as being willing to seek forgiveness and do repentance; working toward the advance of democracy, human rights, and religious liberty; fostering just and sustainable economic development; work with the emerging cooperative forces in the international system; strengthen the United Nations and other international efforts for the promotion of human rights; reducing the production and trade of offensive weapons; and encouraging grassroots peacemaking groups and voluntary associations.

Just peacemaking theory has proven to be quite influential among scholars since its proposal, and it continues to undergo closer analysis and development. However, it has not yet joined just war theory as a default tool for moral reasoning regarding warfare. Its influence is growing, but it is not yet clear how often it will be used in the hands of those who actually make and engage in war. These two volumes are important contributions to the conversation about peacemaking and peacebuilding and should be required reading in peace studies programs, especially those located in Christian universities and seminaries.

Suchocki, Marjorie Hewitt. The Fall to Violence: Original Sin in Relational Theology. New York: Continuum, 1995.

Several of the most influential theologians in the Christian tradition—St. Augustine, Sören Kierkegaard, and Reinhold Niebuhr, for example—have gotten the doctrine of original sin wrong, claims Marjorie Suchocki. In The Fall to Violence, Suchocki rejects the tradition, going back at least to Augustine, that the root of all sin is pride. Rather, she proposes that the source of all sin is violence. Sin, therefore, is not primarily an offense against God; rather, it is the violation of the well-being of creation and its inhabitants.

The Fall to Violence is a work of constructive theology that reconstructs one of the primary Christian doctrines using the methods of process-relational and feminist theologies. Original sin is not passed on biologically, as in Augustine, or through anxiety about human finitude, as in Niebuhr, but through three interlocking mechanisms that give humans a proclivity toward violence: the heritage of the survival needs of our evolutionary physiology, our living within social structures that continue cycles of violence, and the interrelatedness of human and natural existence that entangles us in each other’s violence and sinfulness. This process reworking of the doctrine of sin is important, for Suchocki, because it makes better sense of the relational effects of sin than traditional doctrines which emphasize the divine-human relationship and individual actions. This model is a helpful resource for those seeking a constructive theology of violence as well as an introduction to and critique of several traditional answers to the problem of violence.

Wink, Walter. The Powers that Be: Theology for a New Millennium. New York: Doubleday, 1998.

A summary of his influential “powers trilogy” (Naming the Powers: The Language of Power in the New Testament (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 1984), Unmasking the Powers: The Invisible Forces that Determine Human Existence (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 1986), and Engaging the Powers: Discernment and Resistance in a World of Domination (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 1992), The Powers that Be is a theology of social change grounded in a biblical interpretation of social and political structures and Jesus’s teachings about nonviolence. Wink identifies “the myth of redemptive violence” as one of the most harmful social-cultural-political lies that influence human existence. Jesus, claims Wink, teaches us the way out of this cyclical myth through his teaching in the Sermon on the Mount and his lived example.

Wink’s theology begins with the claim that all of creation, including “the powers,” was created good but is now fallen and in need of redemption. The work of Jesus is the work of redeeming all of creation—nonviolently. Perhaps the most influential portion of this work is his exegesis of Jesus’s teaching in the Sermon on the Mount to “resist not evil” and to “turn the other cheek.” Often interpreted as a teaching for passive pacifism (see Leo Tolstoy), Wink claims, through appeal to a socio-historical analysis of Roman imperialism and Jewish customs, that Jesus was in fact teaching active and creative nonviolent civil resistance. This, in combination with his interpretation of “spiritual powers” as relating to social and political structures, provides a robust Christian theology of nonviolent social change. His work has not avoided critique, but it is quite influential among progressive Christian social activists. Any study of Christian theology and social change would do well to include Wink’s provocative proposal.

Schreiter, Robert J., R. Scott Appleby, and Gerard F. Powers, eds. Peacebuilding: Catholic Theology, Ethics, and Praxis. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2010.

The result of a four-year research project sponsored by the Catholic Peacebuilding Network, this wide-ranging and interdisciplinary collection of essays is a helpful tool for both “insiders” and “outsiders” of Roman Catholicism. It is helpful for insiders of the Roman Catholic tradition in understanding recent developments in Catholic Social Thought, specifically Roman Catholic theological reasons for engagement in peacebuilding work, and the way new realities are leading to developments of, and revisions to, traditional Catholic ethics of war and peace. It is helpful for outsiders of the Roman Catholic tradition in understanding those unique features of the Catholic motivations for and practical expressions of peacebuilding. In a like manner, this book is helpful for insiders to the world of peacebuilding in understanding what makes Catholic peacebuilding unique and what those unique features can contribute to the wider field of peacebuilding. Also, this book is helpful for outsiders to the world of peacebuilding as an introduction to the field. Peacebuilding is well-suited to serve as a resource and textbook for scholars and students of Catholic ethics and the place of religion, specifically the Roman Catholic tradition and generally Christianity, in the work of peacebuilding.

Kirk-Duggan, Cheryl. Violence and Theology. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2006.

This small book (84 pages) is intended to be a brief introductory text for students engaging the intersection of Christian theology and violence for the first time. It draws on and summarizes Kirk-Duggan’s earlier work on this theme in Misbegotten Anguish: A Theology and Ethics of Violence (St. Louis, MO: Chalice Press, 2001), and Refiner’s Fire: A Religious Engagement with Violence(Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2001). This work is an exercise in Womanist Theology and, therefore, approaches the question by examining the presence and nature of violence in both the broad history of Christian theology as well as cultural expressions such as opera, literature and fairy tales, television, and video games. She approaches scripture using a “hermeneutic of suspicion” that brings into the light those portions of Christian scripture and theology that can and have encouraged violence, even accusing God of excessive violence. She also takes the lived experiences of black women as a serious starting point for theological reflection and highlights the ways in which religion and culture violently work against the well-being of black women.

Kirk-Duggan’s earlier books on this topic are more extensive and will be of greater interests to theologians and scholars of violence than Violence and Theology. However, they both fall into some of the same traps that plague her shorter volume: surface engagement with theory (she uses Girard’s notion of scapegoating, for instance, without sufficient explanation or qualification) and sweeping statements and broad generalizations, (for instance, she defines violence as “that which harms” (p. 2) and concludes the book by saying, “If we fail to make some changes … we will destroy each other, desecrate the planet, and the world will cease to be as we know it,” (p. 84). The great value of Violence and Theology, as well as Kirk-Duggan’s other work on this theme, then, is not for its theoretical or constructive work. Rather, its value is in its comparative methodology that highlights the overwhelming presence and glorification of violence in our social and cultural traditions, from religion to fairy tales.

Yoder, John Howard. The Politics of Jesus: Vicit Agnus Noster, 2nd Edition. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1994.

Originally published in the 1970’s, Yoder’s The Politics of Jesus has become a classic text in Christian theologies of nonviolence. Grounded in a theological reading of the Gospel of Luke, and engaging seriously with the most contemporary biblical scholarship of the time, Yoder proposes an updated version of traditional Anabaptist ethics of Christian pacifism grounded in the example of Jesus and an ethic of discipleship. The second edition, published in 1994, includes updated biblical scholarship and his responses to critics of the first edition on key points. The Politics of Jesus is the best biblical theology of nonviolence that exists and helped move the conversation about the place of Anabaptist ethics in scholarly circles beyond the “church-sect” dichotomy first proposed by Ernst Troeltsch and solidified by H. Richard Niebuhr.

Hauerwas, Stanley. The Peaceable Kingdom: A Primer in Christian Ethics. Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1983.

Hauerwas is the most influential disciple of Yoder, and his Peaceable Kingdom is his most extensive contribution to the reclamation of Anabaptist models of Christian pacifism. A practicing Methodist, Hauerwas combines Yoder’s biblical exegesis and ethics of discipleship with a robust account of the place of the virtues and narrative in the Christian moral life to argue that nonviolence is a central part of the Church’s witness in the world. Hauerwas has written extensively on the topic of Christian nonviolence, but this “primer” serves as the appropriate starting place for understanding his contribution to principled Christian pacifism.

Brock, Rita Nakashima and Rebecca Ann Parker. Proverbs of Ashes: Violence, Redemptive Suffering, and the Search for what Saves Us. Boston: Beacon Press, 2001.

Proverbs of Ashes is an excellent book. Beginning with feminist commitments and methodology, Brock and Parker provide a powerful challenge to traditional Christian theologies of “redemptive suffering” by using the experiences of women as a starting place. Recounting sometimes horrific stories of domestic abuse, even leading to death, brushed away or condoned by pastors by appealing to the example of the suffering Jesus, and the power of enduring violence and suffering to achieve redemption, Brock and Parker reject the doctrine as fundamentally incompatible with a God of love and necessarily harmful to the well-being of women. Many of the stories told come from Parker’s experience as a Methodist pastor and this dynamic adds much power to the argument of the book. While not without its weaknesses, Proverbs of Ashes is a must-read text for those taking the lived effects of Christian theology seriously.


Given major world events, from the Soviet-Afghan War, the Iranian Revolution, September 11th and the American invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as activities included under the now outdated rubric of “The War on Terror,” writings on the relationship between Islam and violence have become something of a cottage industry, and for this reason, finding works that clarify instead of further mystify are ever harder to find. While works on Islam and peacemaking receive even less coverage, they are needed more than ever to provide a more robust discussion of religion, violence, and peace. The works below include volumes that provide a clearer sense of the history of Islamist organizations and ideology and try to dispel the notion of Islam as a violent religion (Esposito, Lawrence); discuss the rich tradition of and debates concerning the appropriate use of force and the justification for war in Islam (Johnson); and provide examples, histories, and resources on Islamic peacebuilding and conflict resolution (Abu Nimer, Said et al).

Esposito, John L. Unholy War: Terror in the Name of Islam. New York: Oxford University, 2002.

Esposito is one of the leading voices, not only in Islamic studies, but also in interreligious relations. He leads Georgetown University’s Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding, and this fact permeates the pages of Unholy War. This work does not aim to forward any theoretical project; instead, it provides an expert primer on modern Muslim extremism, as well as its history and ideological and theological influences and positions. This is an excellent overview of Islamism, providing complex histories and theological debates and lineages in clear, easily accessible language. It is also a great work for teachers who want to engage modern Muslim terrorism and militancy.

The importance of Esposito’s work is that it provides a detailed history and analysis of what has come to be called “Islamism”—the recent extremist approach to Islam that lies, as Esposito shows us, behind religious violence and political engagement across the globe. Another strength of this text is that Although Esposito pays appropriate attention to the Arab sources of “Unholy War,” he also surveys extremist groups in areas that have been more neglected, including Central, South, and Southeast Asia. Esposito further focuses on the Islamist reinterpretation of “jihad.” Two tropes, drawing on the early years of Islamic history, are central in Islamic thinking around political engagement: retreat (hijra) and engagement or fighting (jihad), taken from the Prophet’s retreat to Medina in the earliest years of the Islamic movement, but also his military struggle against Mecca that resulted in victory. Esposito shows how jihad, has been reinterpreted by Islamist thinkers, to be less the internal, personal struggle to be a good Muslim (traditionally referred to as the “greater jihad”) than a duty to either overthrow dictatorships in the Muslim world, restore an intercontinental Caliphate, or fight against non-Muslim lands. Esposito finishes with a long chapter trying to discuss and dispel certain beliefs about Islam in America, looking at issues of Islam and democracy, arguing against a clash of civilizations interpretation, and looking at other individuals and streams of Islamic thought and politics that can be engaged successfully to foster future peace.

Lawrence, Bruce B. Shattering the Myth: Islam Beyond Violence. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1998.

Published before September 2001, Lawrence argues against the conception of Islam as a violent religion. Even so, he wants to make this argument not by simply positing it as such—that is, it is not an apologetics—but rather by looking at the modern history of Islamic populations and countries in a global context. Lawrence, then, makes a helpful move, not just stating that Islam is not inherently violent but by describing various iterations of Islam throughout the world to show what exactly Islam is and how it is not violent.

He spends several chapters placing the recent history of Islamic geographies, institutions, and believers within the larger European colonial history. He breaks this history down into a number of stages, starting with anti-colonial revolt and ending with religious nationalism, which is still a debated framework among scholars of nationalism. Each stage represents different, general strategies of Muslims and Europeans interacting within the frame of colonialism. His analysis, however, is balanced, as he takes insights from Subaltern Studies to show that modern Muslims were not just changed but were active agents in history, and also to show how Muslims engaged with and changed those Europeans and European institutions that colonized their countries; he also focuses on the role of women, aiming to challenge the perspective of Muslim women as benighted members of a fundamentalist religion, but also to show the real violence that has and can be done to women. He sets all of this within a cross-cultural framework, looking across the expanses of Africa and Asia, comparing different Islamic cultures and histories, though with an eye not to totalize modern Muslim experience. In this way, Lawrence’s method takes colonial history as central to his project, yet in a way that rejects postcolonial critiques against cross-cultural study. In the end, he argues for a view of Islam as a religion, but not just as a religion—in the sense of a sphere of social life set apart from politics—but also as a view of life and ideology that has interacted and competed with nationalisms. Lawrence’s audience is primarily academic, yet his argument and style are approachable by a wider audience.

Johnson, James Turner, and John Kelsay, eds. Cross, Crescent, and Sword: The Justification and Limitation of War in Western and Islamic Tradition. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1990.

This collection of essays is an excellent example of comparative and religious ethics as well as an important resource for philosophers, theologians, and others interested in the ways that Christians and Muslims think about the morality of warfare. The book clearly delineates multiple ways that Christian theology, Islamic law, and the history of both religions both justify the resort to and use of violence and limits that violence by appealing to robust notions of justice.

Cross, Crescent, and Sword is organized into three sections. The first includes two essays tracing the diversity of stances by Christian theologians regarding just war theory and its dual function of justifying and limiting warfare. This section also includes two essays that trace the historical development of jihad and justifications for war in Islamic history. The second section takes “irregular warfare” and terrorism head on and highlights the ambiguity found in both Christian and Islamic history regarding the justness of revolution and the use of terrorism. We learn that both traditions, while generally skeptical of such actions, contain resources upon which their adherents can and have drawn upon to justify their “irregular” activity. The third section of the book contains two essays exploring the roles that combatancy, noncombatancy, and noncombatant immunity play to limit the scope of warfare in these traditions. Overall, the book does a very good job explaining the various theological-legal strands of these traditions that serve to both justify and limit the violence of war. It serves as an excellent resource for students and scholars of comparative religious ethics and the ethics of war, and several of the essays can prove useful in both undergraduate and graduate courses on the ethics of war from Christian and/or Muslim perspectives.

Abu-Nimer, Mohammed. Nonviolence and Peace Building in Islam: Theory and Practice. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2003.

Abu-Nimer begins his work saying that there is a conception, including with policymakers, that Islam is incapable of being tolerant, let alone be a resource for peacebuilding. Abu-Nimer shows resources in the Islamic tradition for peace, and counters this lopsided take, analyzing misconceptions and putting forward counter arguments to show Islam not as a religion of war but also as a resource for progressive society and peace. Abu-Nimer’s work is like Gopin’s in that they look at both religious and cultural—particularly local—strategies and practices for dispute resolution and peacebuilding. In particular, he tries to make up for a lack in research and scholarship that has ignored Islam as a source of nonviolence and peace creation in society.

This book is decidedly for academics, and its style is more technical. Abu-Nimer sets forth a new research project that, first, critiques the way Islam has been approached both by Muslim and non-Muslim researchers, and then proposes research definitions and frames that can move past paradigms that reify the, as he says, Orientalist frame. He argues that researchers previously employed this frame and definitions as either one to counter or support (indirectly or not). His method, then, is to move beyond Islam as good or bad, violent or nonviolent, or as superior or inferior. The work also considers research projects that could focus on local and indigenous ways and resources for peacebuilding, as well as showing the conflict management and nonviolent practices going on in Muslim communities.

Said, Abdul Aziz, Nathan C. Funk, and Ayse S. Kadayifci, eds. Peace and Conflict Resolution in Islam: Precept and Practice. Washington, DC: Lanham MD: University Press of America, 2001.

Whereas Abu-Nimer, who is also a contributor to this volume, focuses on an Islamic understanding of peace as nonviolence, the editors of Peace and Conflict Resolution in Islam broaden the discussion to consider differing conceptions of peace. Drawing from frameworks developed in peace studies, they identify six peace paradigms in Islam around which they organize this edited volume. This typology includes not only peace understood as nonviolence but also understood more in a Weberian sense, as peace enforced through legal, organized, political force. This approach helps transcend the question of whether Islam violent or not, and replaces it with an exanimation of Islamic thought and practice that shows variable and various approaches to peace, including uses of political force.


It may surprise some readers that half of the works below focus on the role of Buddhism in violent conflict, whether it be a historical survey of Buddhism (Jerryman), a look at Buddhism and violent ethnonationalism (Tambiah), or the role of Zen Buddhism in Japanese militarism during World War II (Victoria). Why this emphasis? In much the same way that Islam has received an undeserved reputation as a violent religion, Buddhism, because of its reception and use in Europe and North America, has been incorrectly termed a religion of peace and nonviolence. The works below critique this view, while also acknowledging the many resources of Buddhism for peace and peacebuilding. For example, David Chappell’s edited volume below provides a survey of Buddhist thought and action toward peace and nonviolence that helpfully includes voices from across the world. And Kraft’s work focuses on scholarly engagement with Buddhism as a nonviolent tradition, which some of the contributors also qualify or question.

Because of the partial emphasis here on showing works that look at Buddhism and violence, many other works that examine the relationship between Buddhism and peace are not reviewed. One obvious lacuna is work done on socially engaged Buddhism (though Chappell does include an essay by the creator of that term Thich Nhat Hanh). Christopher Queen and Sallie King have provided edited volumes that survey that work both in the United States (Engaged Buddhism in the West, edited by Christopher Queen) and Asia (Engaged Buddhism: Buddhist Liberation Movements in Asia, edited by Christopher Queen and Sallie King). Sallie King has also written a new work, Being Benevolence: The Social Ethics of Engaged Buddhism, that presents a systematic, socially engaged ethic, which is a great theoretical contribution that will hopefully further the field.

Chappell, David W., ed. Buddhist Peacework: Creating Cultures of Peace. Somerville, MA: Wisdom Publications, 1999.

We included this work because it is not theoretical in nature, but allows Buddhist practitioners and leaders from around the world to speak about the social and political challenges of their countries and how Buddhism could, should, or is not playing a role in solving them. As the editor, David Chappell, states in the introduction, Buddhism is known, at least in Europe and North America, as a religion of inner peace. What could it have to offer social peace, however? Chappell puts forward social justice as the main challenge that Buddhism must address, citing Burma’s fall into military dictatorship as a key, problematic example of how Buddhist nations, if you will, could create such violent and oppressive cultures. How can modern Buddhism create cultures of peace? Chappell organizes the work around UNESCO’s 1994 Declaration on the Role of Religion in the Promotion of a Culture of Peace. The eighteen authors in the volume are in effect responding to this Declaration by reflecting on how Buddhism, both generally and locally, can promote cultures that promote and sustain peace. It is this framing that both limits the discussion and allows a wide variety of thinkers and practitioners to focus their reflections.

This work is part of a range of thought called Socially Engaged Buddhism, coined by the Vietnamese Zen monk and peace activist Thich Nhat Hanh. Engaged Buddhism is an orientation which calls on Buddhist teachers, practitioners, and institutions to make social justice central to Buddhist practice and thinking. In this way, Buddhist Peacework is not new. Writings by Thich Nhat Hanh, Ken Jones (The Social Face of Buddhism), and the aforementioned works by Christopher Queen and Sally King, among others, have made contributions to this orientation. Buddhist Peacework does, however, make a contribution by gathering voices of Buddhists and Buddhist leaders from countries throughout Asia, including voices and political challenges not well known to European and North American audiences, such as Mongolian Buddhism.

Most of the authors in this book are not academics, though there are reflections by noted Buddhist scholars, such as Jose Cabezon. It is, however, interesting just for this fact, and although a work older than most of those included in this bibliography, it continues to be relevant as a resource that adds more voices to engaged Buddhist discussion around peace and social justice. Each essay includes a bibliography for further reading as well as contact information for some of the contributors and relevant organizations.

Jerryson, Michael and Mark Juergensmeyer, eds. Buddhist Warfare. New York: Oxford University, 2010.

This edited volume, with the provocative cover picture of a young monk with pistol in hand, was created to disabuse the perception of Buddhism as a peace religion. It is a needed work that sets out Buddhism’s role in a number of conflicts, including those in Thailand, Sri Lanka, Japan, Korea, and Mongolia. The work has an introduction by Jerryson laying out the need for this volume followed by an overview of Buddhism and war by Paul Demieville, a noted French Buddhologist. The remaining articles focus on Buddhism in different countries and its relationships to various conflicts or situations of violence. This provides a helpful range of cases, and is also a very useful layout for teaching. For example, it includes an article by Brian Victoria, who wrote Zen at War, which is a useful summary of that larger work, if the full Zen at War is too long for a class reading assignment.

Kenneth Kraft, ed. Inner Peace, World Peace: Essays on Buddhism and Nonviolence. Albany: SUNY, 1992.

Inner Peace, World Peace was one of the first works by Buddhist scholars, some of them also practitioners, to explore the links, or lack of links, between Buddhism and nonviolence. Although twenty years old as of this publishing, and though a slim volume, this edited work contains considerations that are still relevant today by scholars and practitioners such as Robert Thurman, Donald Swearer, and Sulak Sivaraksa. Such authors look at Buddhist individuals and history to see connections and exemplars of Buddhist nonviolence. The work, however, also includes scholars who are not necessarily Buddhologists, that is, academic scholars of Buddhist history, thought, and practice. They include Gene Sharp, as well as Cynthia Eller, who examine the Christian impact on notions of Buddhist nonviolence in the West, which is still a fascinating area requiring more research and reflection. These essays are not fawning or triumphalistic. Some essays express doubt about how central nonviolence is to Buddhism while another argues that Buddhist nonviolence needs serious updating and expansion, if it is to meet the needs of individuals and societies in modernity. At its heart is a discussion, still conducted today, about whether Buddhism has been more focused on inner transformation and abstention from certain action, and, therefore, is a primarily renunciatory tradition, or whether this is a meager account of a much more engaged tradition that has offered and continues to offer examples and resources for social action and living responsibly in the world. Kenneth Kraft’s introduction remains a valuable articulation of the varying perspectives, questions, and issues that arise when one considers Buddhism and the question of social engagement.

Tambiah, Stanley. Buddhism Betrayed? Religion, Politics and Violence in Sri Lanka. Chicago: University of Chicago, 1992.

Tambiah’s title betrays a general assumption of Buddhism, at least in North America and Europe, as a religion of peace, putting it in a category not unlike the historical Christian peace churches. Tambiah’s is also one of the first works to examine the role of Buddhist practices, texts, traditions and leaders in promoting nationalism and siding with government forces in a protracted war. This text is written for general readers who want an introduction to or more general framing for the ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka. He focuses not so much on the canonical texts of Sinhalese Buddhism but on monks and laity who, in championing “Buddhist” causes as Buddhist actors, have helped create and sustain ethnic violence. It also raises questions pertinent to Buddhists around the world of how to engage in political conflict and how to approach the needs of national groups, of which they are a part, and how to respond to calls to committed nonviolence, which is central to Buddhist teaching, especially when their communities and even sacred sites are put in danger.

Tambiah’s work focuses on the conflict in Sri Lanka, specifically the role of Buddhism in supporting Sinhalese nationalism and the majority Sinhalese nationalist cause in the conflict against Tamil separatist supporters in the north of the country, as well as intra-Sinhalese civil conflict. He provides an overview of the history going back to the mid-nineteenth century, as well as the debates in Sri Lanka around whether or not monks could be directly involved in politics, an historically contentious issue throughout Buddhist cultures. His main concern is to see if and how Buddhism has contributed to the conflict, and if so, how this contribution may have changed over time, as well as how Buddhism in Sri Lanka may have changed. In Tambiah’s words, he is interested in “… how Buddhism as a collective and public religion was interwoven with the changing politics of the island and how that meshing contributed to ethnic conflicts, especially to various violent episodes such as civilian riots and insurrections” (p. 3, from the introduction).

Victoria, Brian. Zen at War. Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefied, 2006.

As Zen Buddhism has had a strong influence on American culture, from the Beat Poets to modern design, and since it has been received in the West as a peaceful alternative to other traditions, such as Christianity, Victoria’s work, Zen at War, is an important corrective to the romanticization of Buddhism in the West. (For example, D.T. Suzuki, a key interpreter of Zen in the United States, was also an apologist for Japanese militarism.) The text is also an important work for Buddhists in other countries, such as Japan, to reflect on the role of Buddhism, particularly Zen, and state violence. Victoria shows how involved Zen leaders and institutions were in Japanese militarism, beginning with the Meiji Restoration, continuing throughout Japanese imperial expansion throughout East Asia, and culminating in World War II. This is a balanced work, showing the pressures that the fall of the Tokugawa Shogunate and the imperial renewal in the nineteenth century put on Zen Buddhism, as well as Buddhist objectors to Japanese imperialism. Yet, Victoria also displays forcefully how officially enlightened masters, and even foot soldiers, could also be proponents in the service of a violent, militarist statism and nationalism. This is an important work for making more complex the role of Buddhism in modern history, yet also is an important reflection on Buddhism’s capacity for violence and violent collaboration by a religion scholar who is also a Zen priest.

Hinduism/South Asia

When discussing religious violence in South Asia two areas are usually implied. The first is Hindu-Muslim conflicts, usually in the form of sporadic riots that, while devastating with enduring effects, are short lived. The second is a field—religious nationalism or even ethnonationalism—that is relevant to questions of religious violence yet does not necessarily focus on violence, per se. (For an interesting typology of different methodological approaches to religion and nationalism, see sociologist Rogers Brubaker’s paper outlining four main approaches Brubaker, Rogers. “Religion and Nationalism: Four Approaches.” Nations and Nationalism18:1 (2012): 2-20). The works selected below follow this division providing works that explore the role of religion and violence in South Asia and works focusing on Hindu nationalism. By including works about Hindu nationalism, we are not implying that there is a necessary correlation between religious nationalism, a still contested category, and violence. Instead, we included these works to provide the necessary political background against which and even within which such violence takes place. The relationship of religious nationalism, if one accepts that term, and group violence remains a controversial topic that requires further study. Again, although violence in South Asia is broader than Hindu-Muslim antagonisms, we chose the works below as an introduction to South Asian religious violence, and so, focused on its major examples.

Bhatt, Chetan. Hindu Nationalism: Origins, Ideologies and Modern Myths. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2001.

Bhatt’s study of the origins of Hindu nationalism—historical, cultural, mythological, and religious—is a helpful case study that supports claims that modern episodes of political violence cannot be explained by simple and reductionist claims like “religion causes violence,” or “all religions teach peace,” or “religion is just manipulated by politicians to justify their violence.” Rather, political violence in the name of Hindu nationalism is rooted in western influences on the very terms “Hindu,” “religion,” and “secular.” While the primary shapers of the philosophy of Hindu nationalism draw explicitly on ancient Indian sources, the birth and development of modern Hindu nationalism cannot be understood outside of India’s recent history, specifically its interaction with western influences. Hindu nationalism and its mythological claims about the sacred nature of the “Hindu nation” are direct responses to the legacy of British colonialism, India’s secular government, and a particular interpretation of the centuries of Muslim-Hindu interactions on the subcontinent. The argument of this book is helpful in combination with William Cavanaugh’s work in highlighting the western and secular ideological biases that undergird much of the literature on “religion and violence.” It is quite difficult, especially in India, Bhatt argues, to separate “religion” as an independent causal factor in episodes of political violence, even when explicitly framed as motivated by “Hinduism.”

Hinnells, John and Richard King, eds. Religion and Violence in South Asia: Theory and Practice. London and New York: Routledge, 2007.

Hinnells and King have compiled an excellent set of essays in this volume. The eleven essays in the book are divided into three sections. The first section includes essays exploring classical approaches to violence in key Indian-Hindu, Jain, Buddhist, Sikh, and Islamic authoritative sources. Section two includes three case studies of violence in South Asia, and section three contains three theoretical essays that engage the larger debate over “religion and violence” drawing on the earlier works in the volume and the context of South Asia more generally.

The final two essays in the collection—Arvind Mandair’s “The Global Fiduciary: Mediating the Violence of ‘Religion’” and Richard King’s “The Association of ‘Religion’ with Violence: Reflections on a Modern Trope”—are especially helpful essays. Mandair carefully demonstrates the untranslatability of the word ‘religion’ into Indian languages and the ways that it functions as a western, and Christian, imposition of a category that muddles more than clarifies the political situation in India. King’s essay is a historical and theoretical critique of much of the “religion and violence” literature making a similar claim about the inadequacy of the category of ‘religion’ for understanding violence in South Asia. Like Cavanaugh, he sees strong, and untenable, western biases about ‘secularity’ that inform and distort much of the literature. Specifically, he critiques Juergensmeyer and Lincoln for the predominance of these assumptions in their work, and how these assumptions improperly color their treatment of Asian religions. These essays are helpful complements to Cavanaugh’s work in that they ground their theoretical arguments in the South Asian, rather than western, context.

Kakar, Sudhir. The Colors of Violence: Cultural Identities, Religion and Conflict. Chicago: University of Chicago, 1996.

Kakar, a practicing psychoanalyst from Delhi, is also a university teacher of psychology. He was a fellow at Harvard’s Center for the Study of World Religions and has been a visiting professor at cities around the world, including the University of Chicago. He takes his professional, as well as scholarly, tools and analyzes Hindu-Muslim violence. The Colors of Violence, then, is a psychoanalytic take on religious violence, yet accomplished through ethnographic work in Hyderabad, the location of some of the most serious Hindu-Muslim riots. This creates a very insightful analysis grounded in the concrete experience of those who lived through the riots and continue to live with divided communities. This work includes some analysis one might expect, following the psychoanalytic worldview, but also takes into account important institutions that play into the violence, including the importance of wrestling clubs and culture to both Hindus and Muslims in Hyderabad, and from which come many of the riot leaders. He also spends many chapters looking not only at those committing or leading the violence but also looks at the victims, as Kakar calls them. In addition, Kakar highlights the ways that new Hindu and Muslim identities, as well as hardened divisions in daily life, have been created through the riots over time. This work, then, focuses on the change of communal identity over time through the deployment of violence (in the shape of riots) and the simmering conflict and tensions between communities. It remains a very accessible and valuable commentary on communal religious violence.

Sharma, Jyotirmaya. Hindutva: Exploring the Idea of Hindu Nationalism. New York: Penguin Books, 2003.

Sharma, a professor of political science at the University of Hyderabad, provides an analysis, focusing on four major Indian thinkers, of the development of Hindu political identity over the last two centuries. These thinkers are varied, and two of them, Vivekananda and Sri Aurobindo, are usually not included as major influences on Hindu nationalism. Yet, both they, and the other thinkers included (Dayananda Saraswati and Vinayak Damodar Savarkar) show the various ideological streams that have informed modern Hindu nationalist identity.

Hindutva, a term coined by Savarkar, is basically the name for Hindu nationalism with an emphasis on racial identity. Some thinkers think it synonymous with Hinduism, while others think it very distinct, again, emphasizing Hindu identity as a racial, historical identity. Sharma, however, draws six features common to ideas of Hindutva, which arose in response to British colonization of India and orientalist conceptions of the Hindu man as weak, effeminate, and non-confrontational. Opposed to this is Hindutva ideology, which codified Hinduism into a rigid tradition (often focusing on one set of texts, such as the Vedas, as canonical); views Hinduism as a macho, aggressive faith; views Hinduism as the most ancient and also most authentic faith among world religions, which have tried to oppress it unjustly; thinks Hinduism needs to identify its detractors and fight aggressively against its foes to reverse its recent history of Muslim and British victimization; believes there is a cap on Hindu theology, as it were, and that all answers can be found in canonical texts, after which, there is mostly aberration (that is, prizing the Vedas and, for some, Upanishads over, say, more devotional traditions); and an emphasis on invective polemic. One can certainly argue against Sharma’s choice of thinkers, or even think of omissions, but this is a helpful and accessible approach to Hindu nationalism that is made even more profitable by comparison with other books on the same subject.

Tambiah, Stanley. Leveling Crowds: Ethno-Nationalist Conflicts and Collective Violence in South Asia. (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1997).

Tambiah’s focus is on civilian riots, and he frames them not as religious riots, as Kakar might, but instead as ethnic riots. Even so, this is an excellent analysis of the dynamics of riots, which by their very nature involve religion intimately in the creation, maintenance, and rationalization of their violent dynamics.

Tambiah writes to explain why there is ethnic conflict in the so-called Third World and post-Communist countries after the Cold War. His answer is a dense, impressive work. A key part of his thesis is that ethnic riots are caused by contention and competition within and against the “unitary” nation -ideal that was an inheritance of colonial occupation, and in the case of Eastern Europe, the result of the fall of Communism. These countries have given rise to regional “ethnic collectivities” that question the unitary nation-state ideology and resist the centralization and homogenization, as Tambiah calls it, of the nation-state. This “politics of ethnicity” comes from the engagement of two global phenomena: what is, basically, corporate globalization, on the one hand, and post-colonial nation-state building, on the other. Sub-groups within the nation-state have responded against the post-colonial elites who champion the nationalistic ideal with their own competing, ethnically centered ideologies. It is the struggle between two types of nationalism, that of the nation state and that of ethnonationalism in the midst of a rapidly changing world, global dynamics, and the contestation of competitive institutions and rival elites, that drives such violence.

For most of the work, however, Tambiah investigates in detail the characteristics of ethnic riots, how they begin, swell, and eventually ebb. Such riots last usually two weeks or less, though they can spark longer conflicts, such as in Northern Ireland and Lebanon. He looks at the power of rumor during riots, in the absence of any other source of news; the uses of religious time and symbols, even when inverting them, to create the power of the mob; the role of elites and national discourses interacting with the locality of the riot; and how the cordoning off of ethnic groups after a riot can help cement new, more rigid identities. These various characteristics help describe mob mentality and rioting. Tambiah shows how mobs inculcate the identities of “us” and “them” and how riots create the freedom, by the individual being subsumed into a de-individualized, murderous group, and through the routinization and ritualization of violence, to kill those perceived as an enemy without fear of accountability and without need of remorse. Such groups “level down,” Tambiah argues, the perceived, immoral privilege of the enemy group both through the use of violence and also through a homogeneity and anonymity that the riot group provides.

Photograph by Kate Ter Haar.



  1. For an extensive bibliography listing many more volumes than is included here see Charles K. Bellinger, “Religion and Violence: A Bibliography,” Wabash Center for Teaching and Learning in Theology and Religion, accessed February 17, 2012. See also the interactive “Religion and Violence” section in the Wabash Center for Teaching and Learning in Theology and Religion Internet Guide to Religion, accessed February 17, 2012.


By James W. McCarty, III and Joseph Wiinikka-Lydon
James W. McCarty, III is a doctoral candidate in Religion (Ethics and Society) at Emory University. Joseph Wiinikka-Lydon is a doctoral student in the Ethics and Society course of study at Emory University.