Is religion violent?
Islam in particular is branded as a violent faith, but others argue Christianity deserves the same assessment.
As a scholar of religion, I also question whether calling oneself “religious” really says anything meaningful about one’s identity. Given the diversity of religious groups, the term “religion” is not only extremely general, but it has a long history.
Learning about the origins of the word can help us understand better the myriad social groups that come together around shared histories, texts, traditions and experiences.
According to the scholarly work of theologian Daniel Boyarin and historian Carlin Barton, in ancient Rome the term “religion” was not at all separate from everyday experiences such as “eating, sleeping, defecating, having sexual intercourse, making revolts and wars, cursing, blessing, exalting, degrading, judging, punishing, buying, selling, raiding, revolting, building bridges, collecting rents and taxes.”
Religion alone does not explain violence
Today, the term “religion” gets separated from political, social, economic and cultural life. And so if we’re pondering whether religion is inherently violent, then we’re probably interested in why an individual or group acts violently. So is religion really something we can compartmentalize and blame for the violent actions of individuals or groups?
Not at all, argues William Cavanaugh in his 2009 book The Myth of Religious Violence. While society often makes clear distinctions between religion and secularity, Cavanaugh argues religion is a poor category to use when trying to understand why individuals or groups act violently.