The Myth of Religious Violence: Secular Ideology and the Roots of Modern Conflict

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Vol: 53, Issue: 4

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Whether or not religion is essentially prone to violence is not a new debate within academia. While many scholars argue religion creates more violence in the world than any other institution, others argue that secular movements are by far the greater culprit, and the remainder struggle to find a middle ground. Despite disagreements, the scholarly discussion has largely hinged on the formation of a religious versus secular dichotomy. Does this paradigm damage our appraisal of religious violence, and are there alternative paradigms to consider?William Cavanaugh's work, The Myth of Religious Violence, answers in the affirmative. Cavanaugh, a professor of Catholic Studies at DePaul University in Chicago, Illinois, is not a newcomer to the discussion of religion in public life. He has dealt with issues such as religion and economics, religion and nationalism, and the Christian reaction to torture. In this recent work, Cavanaugh analyzes so-called religious violence to indicate how this myth is tied up in a secular-religious dichotomy, which has hindered religious violence studies and productive international relations. It is important to note that Cavanaugh does not argue that religion is immune from violence or that secular institutions are just as violent as religion. Cavanaugh's work is interested rather in how the terms "religion" and "secular" were originally constructed and how that knowledge aids in the study of violence. Although published a few years ago, this foundational study has only become more relevant and more needed as violent events in the name of religion continue to escalate in various parts of the world.