Salome with the Head of Saint John the Baptist, Andrea Solario

On Religious Violence

Instructor: Suzanne Schneider

Judging by government statements and media reports, the world today is awash in something called religious violence. More often invoked than defined, “religious violence” nonetheless appears to our collective imagination as something exceptional, and essentially different from the everyday violence of the state. While ISIS beheadings generate uproar and outrage worldwide, the 151 individuals beheaded in 2015 alone by the government of Saudi Arabia, supposedly one of America’s chief allies in the Middle East, generates little more than a collective sigh. Why is this the case?

This course will offer students a framework for confronting such questions. We will begin by examining the construction of “religious violence” as a unique concept against the background of classic liberal political thought. Featuring readings from prominent theorists like John Locke and John Stuart Mill alongside contemporary reflections by thinkers such as Talal Asad, Charles Taylor, Jürgen Habarmas, and William Cavanaugh, we will ask questions such as: How do we define religious violence and what do we presume as its aim? Is there a moral distinction between religious and secular violence? Is “religious violence” a timeless feature of human societies or a modern phenomenon? Is the division between religious and secular violence useful in either historical or sociological terms? In short, what makes a particular act of violence “religious” in nature, and what are the consequences, both in rhetorical and material terms, of this designation?

Course Schedule

Monday, 6:30-9:30pm
February 22 — March 14, 2016
4 weeks


Registration Closed

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