Publication on understanding religious violence wins 2003 Grawemeyer Award
Louisville Seminary | Jan 08, 2003
December 6, 2002, Louisville, Ky. – “Why do religious people commit violent acts in the name of their god, taking the lives of innocent victims and terrorizing entire populations?” “How can religion serve as a force against terror in our present context?” Mark Juergensmeyer, a University of California professor, asks these questions in his book, Terror in the Mind of God: The Global Rise of Religious Violence (University of California Press 2000), which has won the 2003 Louisville Grawemeyer Award in Religion.
In his book, Juergensmeyer offers a timely study of religious terrorism and the “cultures of violence” that give rise to it. He uses fascinating interviews with the organizers (and, in some cases, perpetrators) of acts of terrorism to help us understand the logic of terrorism, and how and why those who support it often use religion to rationalize their words and deeds. Subjects include, for example, the Reverend Michael Bray (linked to attacks on abortion clinics and doctors), Baruch Goldstein (killed and injured scores of worshippers praying at a Muslim shrine), and Takeshi Nakamura (member of Aum Shinrikyo, sect linked to the Tokyo subway gas attack).
Following the interviews, Juergensmeyer engages in analytical study of “the logic of religious violence.” He covers such topics such as the “theater of terror”—how terrorists sometimes use religious violence as symbolic empowerment and a means to force the attention of opponents—and the “cosmic war” motif that pervades the thinking of many religious terrorists.
“Although it is not my purpose to be sympathetic to people who have done terrible things,” he writes, “I do want to understand them and their world views well enough to know how they and their supporters can morally justify what they have done.”
Juergensmeyer’s use of case studies from such an array of religious traditions challenges the popular view that some religions are by nature peaceful and others prone to violence. Thus religious violence is a problem not only for “those other religions” but also for all of them. Nor is violence in the name of religion simply the bizarre perversion of otherwise peace-loving religious systems: often, terrorist rationalizations draw on images and symbols that lie at the very heart of particular traditions.
“Terror in the Mind of God raises urgent questions about the role of religion in public life at a critical moment in history, and offers first-hand evidence of a sort never assembled before,” states Susan R. Garrett, coordinator of the Grawemeyer Religion Award. “For its originality, clarity, and power this book exemplifies the criteria of this Grawemeyer Award.”
The annual Religion Award, which includes a cash prize of $200,000, is given jointly by Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary and the University of Louisville to the originators of creative works that contribute significantly to an understanding of “the relationship between human beings and the divine and ways in which this relationship may inspire or empower human beings to attain wholeness, integrity, or meaning, either individually or in community.”
Juergensmeyer indicated that funds from this prize would be directed toward continued research in religion and violence in the contemporary world. He will present his ideas on the award winning publication a free lecture, April 2, 2003, on the Louisville Seminary campus at 7 p.m.
Grawemeyer awards were given also by the University of Louisville in the fields of musical composition, education, psychology, and world order.