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Religion and Violence



This course is designed to provide opportunities to explore and examine the ways in which various religions relate to violence. History and contemporary life display the fact that religious persons, communities, movements, and tenets function to stimulate violence, even as other religious persons, groups, and tenets promote non-violence as a preferred alternative for facing conflicts. Thus, with respect to violence, religions function as both cause and cure.
We will interrogate the ways violence is encouraged, fostered, justified, resisted, and repudiated by religions of the world in a sampling of times and places.
Religiously-sanctioned and religiously-resisted violence are captured in the following concepts: the rules of war, the just war tradition, jihad, the crusades, self-martyrdom, suicide bombers, punishment in the name of religion, defensive violence, preemptive violence, preventive violence, pacifism, revolutionary response to oppression and repression, and non-violent strategies for social change.
We also will examine the social and cultural context in which religious movements and cults with right wing political ideologies and identities emerge, and study the theories relevant to this theme in order to understand and explain rise and development, social function and meaning of these movements for their participants and for society as a whole.

Course goals

Students will be able to explore and analyze cases of religious violence; they will be able to present, orally and in writing, scientific findings and discuss them critically. They are familiar with the academic discussions on the relationship between religion and violence.

Course requirements

Class attendance is mandatory and class participation consists in 10% of the grade. Each student is expected to come to class having done the assigned readings and prepared to discuss them with others. Bring the book or handouts we are working on to each class. If an emergency requires you to miss a class, notify the instructor in time, and be prepared to have another student report on what you missed; you are responsible for class information and announcements whether present or not. This is a personal presence and participative class.

Required common reading/text

M. Juergensmeyer, Terror in the Mind of God. The Global Rise of Religious Violence (Berkeley, 2003)
Additional reading will be announced on Blackboard in due time.


Class attendance (10%), presentation (30%), and end-term paper (60%).