Volume 1. Issue 1, Fall 2007

People Power

There is a certain redundancy in the claim that a book detailing the lives of various individuals and groups dedicated to peace, social justice, and nonviolent social change is tim

Book Reviewed by: 
Jeffrey Epstein, American University

Identity and Violence

Why is a Nobel laureate in economics writing about the “conceptual disarray” in contemporary theories of identity?

Book Reviewed by: 
David M. Craig, Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis

The Significance of Religions for Social Justice and a Culture of Peace

Patricia M. Mische

One of the critical elements for a culture of peace is social justice. Perceptions of injustice lead to discontent, non-cooperation, conflict, civil unrest, and war. Religions have a powerful role in shaping ideas of social justice and legitimacy, and also in responding to perceptions of injustice and illegitimacy—e.g., passively accepting human suffering and injustice as the will of God and a badge of moral merit, or actively opposing them, and if so, whether by violent or nonviolent means. One reason that religions are often so powerful in war or peace is that they carry the archetypes, images, and symbols of meaning and identity that inform people’s thoughts and actions at deep, often unconscious levels. To maximize the potential of religions to contribute to peace and minimize those that breed war requires understanding these deep, unconscious levels of knowing and cultural formation; this is more elusive and difficult than addressing direct or even systemic forms of violence.

The Letter Killeth

Hector Avalos

Reinterpretation of violent biblical texts fails both morally and practically in stemming the use of sacred scriptures to justify violence, argues Hector Avalos. Accordingly, he outlines a case for decanonizing biblical texts, using an explicit theological principle that any portrayal of a loving God as endorsing or committing violence must be understood as false. Although the author is a secular humanist, he demonstrates that a plea for decanonizing violent texts can be made within a Christian theological tradition. Avalos reviews historical examples of how Anabaptist and other Christian traditions have rethought the biblical canon, and he proposes that using nonviolence as a fundamental theological criterion for canonicity would yield a Bible more consistent with Christian pacifistic principles.

Sacrificing the Sacrifices of War

Stanley Hauerwas

Hauerwas plays out William James’ call for a moral equivalent of war. He delves more deeply into the compelling nature of war in the search for a compelling nature of peace. In war we are compelled not by the sacrifice of life but by the sacrifice of our unwillingness to kill. What is the moral equivalent for peacemakers?

Religious and Cultural Dimensions of Peacebuilding

Nathan C. Funk

Contemporary Islamic-Western tensions are challenging scholars and practitioners of conflict resolution to engage more proactively with cultural and religious dimensions of peacebuilding. To be effective, however, responses to politicized religion need to recognize the complex and dynamic nature of contemporary identity conflicts, which are driven by a broad array of factors and not by religious ideas alone. Fundamentalism and religiously justified violence need to be understood as outcomes that have been reinforced by protracted confrontation and rivalry between identity groups, and not as autonomous phenomena abstracted from historical, cultural, political, or economic contexts. When informed by such an analysis, religious and cultural peacebuilding becomes a process through which the identity dynamics of conflict are transformed through dialogical engagement, activation of religious peace resources, and integration of religiously informed rationales for peacemaking with other forms of peace and justice advocacy. The essay concludes with a brief survey of priorities for Islamic-Western peacemaking and a call for heightened Canadian efforts to bridge cultural and religious divides.

Meeting In Exile

Gerald W. Schlabach

The designation “Historic Peace Churches” emerged from the coalition of Mennonites, Friends or Quakers, and Brethren as they advocated for the rights of conscientious objectors in the pre-World War II years. Their shared conviction has been that Jesus’ life and teaching makes the rejection of violence normative for all Christians. Yet other churches believe themselves to be working for peace and sometimes call themselves peace churches too. Mennonites and Catholics exemplify different yet overlapping understandings of what it means to be a peace church. Schlabach argues that as Christians recover a fuller sense of what it means to be a global church, in a globalizing age, a growing sense of identity and identification with a people spread through many nations will make it harder and harder for Christians to kill. Encouraging Christians to recognize themselves as a transnational people that always lives in diaspora will thus do more to create a global peace church than resolving the longstanding impasse between Christian pacifist and just war positions.

Holy War: Toward a Holistic Understanding

Brian A. Victoria

To speak of “holy war” today is, at least in the West, to speak of Islam or Islamic fundamentalism. Yet, even a cursory glance at history reveals that at one time or another all of the world’s major religions have sacralized violence, at least under certain conditions. This article seeks to understand why, despite the great variety in doctrine and praxis, the world’s major religions have, and continue to, support warfare under such guises as “just war,” “jihad,” or “defense of the [Buddha] Dharma.” While recognizing the important role that doctrine, especially competing claims of exclusive truth, plays in religiously endorsed warfare, this article seeks to take a holistic look at the multiple causes of this phenomenon, including anthropological, sociological, economic, psychological and even evolutionary factors. A wide variety of historical examples from multiple faiths compliment the theoretical constructs, revealing that the elimination of holy war challenges believers to live up to the highest tenets of their respective faiths.

From Monastic Ethics to Modern Society

Charles Prebish

In 1964 Winston King asked the then critical question defining studies of Buddhist ethics: “What is the relation of ethics to the total structure of Buddhist doctrine and practice, particularly with regard to the definition of moral values ... and the nature of ultimate sanctions.” Nearly half a century later, this question retains its status for inquiries about Buddhist conduct. This paper examines the critical role of Vinaya, or monastic regulations for the renunciant tradition, in contrast to the code of conduct, known as

__Fighting Words: The Origins of Religious Violence.__ Hector Avalos. Amherst, New York: Prometheus Books, 2005

Believing that religious and academic leaders have tried for too long to minimize, justify, or explain away religion’s violent tendencies, Hector Avalos counters this trend in his book Fighting Words. His theory of religious violence attacks the way religions profess special divine favor for themselves, over and against other groups. Avalos believes this tendency leads to violence because conflicting claims to superiority, based on unverifiable appeals to God, cannot be adjudicated objectively.

Book Reviewed by: 
Joshua Thomas
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Journal of Religion, Conflict, and Peace. Copyright © 2013.
Published by Plowshares: a Peace Studies Collaborative of Earlham and Goshen Colleges and Manchester University. Supported by a grant from the Henry Luce Foundation Initiative on Religion and International Affairs.
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