Christian Martyrdom as a Pervasive Phenomenon
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Historians have undertaken the study of Christian martyrdom primarily to understand its impact on the growth of the religion since its inception. This article takes a different perspective on the study of martyrdom, instead examining how many Christians around the world have died in situations of witness every year. Included is a comparative analysis of twentieth- and twenty-first-century trends regarding the phenomenon, highlighting both qualitative and quantitative differences between the two periods. Measuring Christian martyrdom is not without controversy, however. Here, the number of martyrs per year is determined by a specific set of criteria that takes into consideration historical, sociological, and theological arguments. This article will present a definition of martyrdom highlighting two important aspects: (1) the motivation of the killed rather than the killer, and (2) the inclusion of Christians who have died as a result of mass killings and genocides. Drawing on historical and contemporary descriptions of martyrdom situations, we argue that martyrdom is a broad-based phenomenon not limited to state persecution that is profoundly affecting thousands of Christians in the context of civil war, genocide, and other conflicts.