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PPR.362: Religion and Violence

Tutor: Professor Ian Reader
Term: Lent

Course Description

There are those who claim that religion is little more than a perverse and irrational scar on the modern world, one that invariably causes violence, while others (at times driven by political motivations) claim that religion is 'good' and that violence only occurs when 'religion has been hijacked by other forces'. Others still claim that 'religious violence' is a myth constructed for political purposes, and that one should not therefore speak of religion in such terms.

In disentangling such claims, this course examines the relationship between religion and violence, asking whether one can draw such associations between the two and whether one can develop any broader theoretical understandings about their relationship that enhances our understanding of religion in the modern world. It thus challenges students to think through and develop an understanding of these issues. While examining a variety of theories and perspectives on the topic, including close examination of the arguments outlined above, it continually will refer to empirical data and case studies in which religious movements and religious individuals have been involved in violent activities, as well as examining cases where acts of immense violence (including genocide) have occurred in what appear to be political contexts, but where religious rhetoric may have been used by the perpetrators of violence.

Learning Outcomes

On successful completion of this module students will be able to:

  • Demonstrate an understanding of key positions in the debates over the relationship of religion and violence
  • Demonstrate an understanding of the key notions employed in the debates
  • Understand the dynamics of a variety of examples of different types of religious movement and instances where religion and violence have been associated together
  • Articulate their own position in relation to the issues discussed in the course

Teaching Method

Lecture (2 hours) weekly, and seminar (1 hour) fortnightly.

Introductory Reading

D Benjamin & S Stephen The Age of Sacred Terror

W T Cavanaugh The Myth of Religious Violence

Davis J M Martyrs: Innocence, Vengeance and Despair in the Middle East

S Harris The End of Faith: Religion, Terror and the Future of Reason

M Maaga Hearing the Voices of Jonestown

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