This symposium is designed to interrogate the category of religious violence and its salience as a descriptive and analytical term. From the Iranian Revolution, to the 9/11 attacks, to the War in Iraq, the connections between religion(s) and violence have increasingly come to dominate a segment of thinking about the dangers and challenges of the new global order. Yet, if the empirical reality of violent events and conflicts is not adequately accounted for in their descriptive and analytical renderings then subsequent responses and attempts at amelioration will be insufficient at a fundamental level. The uncritical public acceptance of “religious violence” as a descriptive category makes its scrutiny in both news media and scholarly analyses increasingly urgent.
In light of these dynamics, we think there is a critical need to explore more deeply the theoretical justifications, historical dimensions, and implications of calling something religious violence. What elements within a given instance of violence make it religious as opposed to secular or criminal? What are the consequences of describing instances of violence as religious versus political or social? What are some of the strategic interests and implications on policy formation that emerge in labeling certain acts of violence religious? Who benefits? Who loses? Exploring these and related questions, we aim through this symposium to deepen our understanding of the use of the religious violence category, its justifications, history, and consequences.