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The Crusades were a series of a military campaigns fought mainly between Christian Europe and Muslims. Shown here is a battle scene from the First Crusade.

Religious violence and Extremism (also called Communal violence[1]) is a term that covers all phenomena where religion, in any of its forms, is either the subject or object of individual or collective violent behaviour.[2] Concretely, it covers both violence by religiously motivated individuals or religious institutions of any kind, of the same religion, a different sect, or secular targets. The other case is of violence of any kind against objects that are explicitly religious (such as religious institutions, the persecution of people on the basis of their religion, religious buildings or sites).

Religious violence, like all violence, is an inherently cultural process whose meanings are context-dependent. It may be worth noting that religious violence often tends to place great emphasis on the symbolic aspect of the act. Religious violence is primarily the domain of the violent "actor", which may be distinguished between individual and collective forms of violence.


Christian terrorism

Christian terrorism is religious terrorism by groups or individuals, the motivation of which is typically rooted in an idiosyncratic interpretation of the Bible and other Christian tenets of faith. From the viewpoint of the terrorist, Christian scripture and theology provide justification for violent political activities.

In the beginning, Christianity was terrorized ruthlessly, with members losing their property, citizenship, privileges, tortured and often killed by Roman authorities. When Emperor Constantine became a Christian, it was declared the state religion and the scales had reversed. The pagans were persecuted brutally and forced to convert. A wave of conversions backed up with force spread Christianity across Europe, until Lithuania fell as the last pagan nation. The Crusades pitted Roman Catholics against Muslims. As recounted by many sources, when Jerusalem fell the first time, every Muslim and Jew in the city was killed, except perhaps for a few spared by less ruthless Crusaders. On the way, dissident monks and Eastern Christians had also been attacked, even slaughtered. Heretical Christian sects were stamped out by force, often with followers massacred or forced to give up their beliefs. When the Reformation occurred, the Popes had millions of Protestants tortured and killed.[1]

Ian Gilmour has cited the historical case of the St. Bartholomew's Day massacre as an instance of papal terrorism on par with modern day terrorism, and goes on to write, "That massacre, said Pope Gregory XIII, gave him more pleasure than fifty Battles of Lepanto, and he commissioned Vasari to paint frescoes of it in the Vatican".[3] It is estimated that ten thousand to possibly one-hundred thousand Huguenots (French Protestants) were killed by Catholic mobs, and it has been called "the worst of the century's religious massacres".[4] The massacre led to the start of the fourth war of the French Wars of Religion. Peter Steinfels has cited the historical case of the Gunpowder Plot, when Guy Fawkes and other Catholic revolutionaries attempted to overthrow the Protestant aristocracy of England by blowing up the Houses of Parliament, as a notable case of Christian terrorism.[5]

Islamic terrorism

Islamic terrorism refers to terrorism by Muslim groups or individuals and motivated by either politics, religion or both. Terrorist acts have included airline hijacking, kidnapping, assassination, suicide bombing, and mass murder.[6][7][8]

The hijacking of four passenger jets and the destruction of the World Trade Center on September 11 2001, in the United States of America was a significant attack. The controversies surrounding the subject include whether the terrorist act is self-defense or aggression, national self-determination or Islamic supremacy; whether Islam can ever condone the targeting of noncombatants; whether some attacks described as Islamic terrorism are merely terrorist acts committed by Muslims or motivated by nationalism; whether Zionism and the Arab-Israeli Conflict is the root of Islamic terrorism, or simply one cause; how much support there is in the Muslim world for Islamic terrorism[9] and whether support for terror is a temporary phenomenon, a "bubble", now fading away.[10]

Jewish terrorism

Sikh extremism

Ritual violence

Ritual violence may be directed against victims (human sacrifice/ritual murder) or self-inflicted (religious self-flagellation).

According to hunting hypothesis, created by Walter Burkert in Homo Necans, carnivorous behavior is considered a form of violence. Burkett suggests that the anthropological phenomenon of religion itself grew out of rituals connected with hunting and the feelings of guilt associated with the violence involved.[11]

Collective religious violence

Collective religious violence is what we more commonly picture when we think of religious violence. The term "collective" refers, in effect, to any violent activity that is perpetrated within the context of society, is legitimated by at least a subset of society or religion and always has a political dimension. Note that the term "collective" does not mean that a single individual cannot undertake collective religious violence.

In most instances, serious religious violence is perpetrated by individuals belonging to social groups whose religious zeal and conviction exceed that of an average member of the wider society, although milder forms, such as verbal abuse or ostracism, can be habitually practiced by larger communities. The range of religious violence is varied, and in its more serious forms it often involves illegal means (although in some instances, the use of religious violence can be sanctioned and even undertaken by the government), such as physical abuse and vandalism, and in more extreme cases, torture or murder. Religious terrorism is one form of religious violence; the September 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center are thus an extreme example of religious violence. Human sacrifice and animal sacrifice are also forms of collective religious violence.

Even though religion is used to justify violent behavior, the immediate motivations of the individuals involved may not be religious as such, and the goals of such behavior may be cultural, personal or even economical.

Some contrast religious violence with sectarian violence, conflict between different sects of a single religion. However, the difference between a sect and an independent religion is not well defined.

See also


  1. ^ Horowitz, D.L. (2000) The Deadly Ethnic Riot. University of California Press, Berkeley and Los Angeles, CA
  2. ^ Wellman, James; Tokuno, Kyoko (2004). Is Religious Violence Inevitable?. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion. doi:10.1111/j.1468-5906.2004.00234.x. 
  3. ^ Ian Gilmour, Andrew Gilmour (1988). "Terrorism review". Journal of Palestine Studies (University of California Press) 17 (2): 136. doi:10.1525/jps.1988.17.3.00p0024k. 
  4. ^ H.G. Koenigsberger, George L.Mosse, G.Q. Bowler (1989). Europe in the Sixteenth Century, Second Edition. Longman. ISBN 0582493900. 
  5. ^ Peter Steinfels (2005-11-05). "A Day to Think About a Case of Faith-Based Terrorism". New York Times. 
  6. ^ Captured Iraqi Terrorist Ramzi Hashem Abed: Zarqawi Participated in the Plot to Assassinate Baqer Al-Hakim. We Bombed Jalal Talabani's Headquarters, the Turkish Embassy, and the Red Cross, Took Drugs, Raped University Students Who "Collaborated with the Americans"
  7. ^ Human Rights Watch - Afghanistan - ABDUCTIONS OF AND ASSAULTS ON WOMEN
  8. ^ Algeria to Permit Abortions for Rape Victims
  9. ^ Tony Blair, "Speech to the Los Angeles World Affairs Council",
  10. ^ The Third Bubble. THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN. April 20, 2003
  11. ^ Burkert, Walter. 1983. Homo Necans: The Anthropology of Ancient Greek Sacrificial Ritual and Myth. Berkley: University of California press.

Further reading

  • Appleby, R. Scott (2000) The Ambivalence of the Sacred: Religion, Violence, and Reconciliation. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.
  • Avalos, Hector (2005) Fighting Words: The Origins of Religious Violence. New York: Prometheus.
  • Burkert, Walter. (1983. Homo Necans: The Anthropology of Ancient Greek Sacrificial Ritual and Myth. Berkley: University of California press
  • Crocket, Clayton (ed.) (2006) Religion and Violence in a Secular World: Toward a New Political Theology. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press.
  • Girard, René. (1977) Violence et le Sacré (eng. Violence and the Sacred). Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.
  • Hamerton-Kelly, Robert G. (ed.) (1987) Violent Origins: Walter Burkert, René Girard and Jonathan Z. Smith on Ritual Killing and Cultural Formation. Stanford: Stanford University Press.
  • Juergensmeyer, Mark. (2000) Terror in the Mind of God: The Global Rise of Religious Violence. Berkley: University of California Press.
  • Pedahzur, Ami and Weinberg, Leonard (eds.) (2004) Religious Fundamentalism and Political Extremism. New York: Routledge.
  • Selengut, C. (2003) Sacred Fury: Understanding Religious Violence. Walnut Creek, CA: Altamira
  • Steffen, Lloyd. (2007) Holy War, Just War: Exploring the Moral Meaning of Religious Violence. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.
  • Nelson-Pallmeyer, Jack (2003) Is Religion Killing Us? Harrisburg:Trinity Press International ISBN 1-56338-408-6
  • Stern, Jessica. (2004) Terror in the Name of God: Why Religious Militants Kill. New York: Harper Perennial.


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