Nonviolent Perspectives Within the Abrahamic Religions

  • Daniel M. MaytonII
Part of the Peace Psychology Book Series book series (PPBS)


While Allport (1950) noted that empirical psychology and religion separated early in the history of psychology, he recognized that “there is inherent absurdity in supposing that psychology and religion, both dealing with the outward reaching of man’s mind, must be permanently and hopelessly at odds” (p. x). Religion is a significant aspect in the lives of billions of people. As was shown in Chap. 4, Eastern religions have much to offer in our understanding of intrapersonal nonviolence. Over half of the world’s population follow one of the four Abrahamic religions of Judaism, Christianity, Islam and Bahá’í so these faiths can undoubtedly assist us in our grasp of nonviolence and peace psychology.

This chapter looks carefully at the religious texts of Judaism, Christianity, Islam and Bahá’í to better understand the views on nonviolence of these four Abrahamic faiths. In addition to looking at the holy texts the discussion includes remarkable members of each faith that championed and used nonviolence in their writings and in their life works. Both historically important and contemporary proponents of nonviolence will be highlighted. An annotated bibliography of classic and recent books on this topic as well as websites will be provided at the end.

Judaism, Christianity, Islam, and Bahá’í are monotheistic religions that have their origins in the cradle of western civilization or what is generally referred to today as the Middle East. All four religions share the story of Abraham and his sons Isaac and Ishmael (Solomon, Harries, & Winter, 2005). In fact much of the early writings and prophets in each faith are shared. Because the dates of the beginning of each religion are sequential, Judaism overlaps the least with the other three and Bahá’í overlaps the most with the other three in terms of common stories.


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Recommended Readings

  1. Abu-Nimer, M. (2003). Nonviolence and peace building in Islam: Theory and practice. Gainesville, FL: University of Florida Press.Google Scholar
  2. Mohammed Abu-Nimer presents a strong case for nonviolence and peacebuilding from an Islamic base. As the title implies, Abu-Nimer provides a theoretical framework for nonviolence in Islamic religion and culture. He then carefully analyzes the social, political, and cultural applications of nonviolent methods in Muslim communities. He devotes considerable time to the analysis of the Palestinian Intifada as a case study. The scholarship in this book reflects the many awards (e.g., 2005 Morton Deutsch Conflict Resolution Award) that this author has received for his work on peace and conflict resolution. This book presents an important perspective that is not regularly heard in either the popular or academic press.Google Scholar
  3. Easwaran, E. (1984). A man to match his mountains: Badshah Khan, nonviolent soldier of Islam. Petaluma, CA: Nilgiri Press.Google Scholar
  4. This is a biography of Abdul Ghaffar Khan, from what is today Pakistan, and known as the “Frontier Gandhi” and as Badshan Kahn or the “king of kahns.” This devout Muslim Pashtun man, who grew up near the Khyber Pass, was able to build an army of nonviolent soldiers to work to end the tyranny of British occupation in the first half of the twentieth century and his story is captivating. The author not only brings the nonviolent activism of Badshah Kahn alive to the reader but the historical context for this man’s life is also informative. This is an excellent biography of the life of a great man.Google Scholar
  5. Hatcher, W. S., & Martin, J. D. (1984). The Bahá’í Faith. The emerging global religion. San Francisco: Harper & Row.Google Scholar
  6. This book is written somewhat like a textbook on the Bahá’í religion by two well-respected Bahá’í s. Hatcher and Martin provide the historical context for the development of the Bahá’í faith and explain the historical events and people that influenced the beliefs of the religion, as we know it today. The basic teachings, administration, and laws of the Bahá’í religion are presented clearly, along with the changes in the world order called for by the founder, Bahá’u’lláh. This is a good starting book for someone unfamiliar with the Bahá’í faith.Google Scholar
  7. Lerner, M. (2006). The left hand of God: Taking back our country from the religious right. San Francisco: Harper Collins.Google Scholar
  8. In this book Rabbi Michael Lerner presents his prescription for spiritual people who are progressive in their political views to assert themselves in politics without having to join the religious right. Rabbi Lerner makes the case that spirituality is an important human need and it must be valued and acknowledged. He draws out a Spiritual Covenant with America based upon religious values of a loving God who is merciful, compassionate, and kind. His covenant calls for people to become committed to the “traditional spiritual values of love, generosity, kindness, responsibility, respect, gratitude, humility, awe, and wonder at the grandeur of the world” (p. 229) whether they are secular or non-secular. Rabbi Lerner also discusses the Global Marshall Plan.Google Scholar
  9. Solomon, N., Harries, R., & Winter, T. (Eds.) (2005). Abraham’s children: Jews, Christians, and Muslims in conversation. New York: T & T Clark.Google Scholar
  10. This edited book presents the writings of religious scholars and theologians as they discuss the great prophets that Judaism, Christianity, and Islam have. Jewish, Christian, and Muslim perspectives are presented on Abraham, Moses, Jesus, and Mohammad, along with a summative essay by the editors. The images and views of God, pluralism, gender, the environment and life after death are also explored.Google Scholar
  11. Wallis, J. (2006). God’s politics: Why the right gets it wrong and the left doesn’t get it. New York: Harper Collins.Google Scholar
  12. Jim Wallis describes himself as a progressive evangelical Christian minister and in this book he clearly explains how this label is not as outrageous as it might sound. Wallis outlines how he thinks religion and politics should relate to each other in an easily understood fashion with numerous examples. His premise is that God is neither a Republican nor a Democrat and that neither party in the United States has integrated the Christian values expressed in the Bible into their platforms or agenda accurately or effectively. His writing does not directly address cultures of peace from a Christian perspective but it does so indirectly by discussing Christian values and the priorities presented in the Bible.Google Scholar
  13. Wink, W. (2003). Jesus and nonviolence: A third way. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press.Google Scholar
  14. This little book analyzes several of the stories Jesus told about nonviolent solutions to problems and also relates them to problems in today’s world. Wink presents a series of nonviolent strategies that can be extrapolated from the parables and statements of Jesus. In addition to this analysis of what he calls Jesus’ third way, Wink also makes connections with contemporary nonviolent actions and demonstrations over the last few decades.Google Scholar

Recommended Web Sites

  1. The Bahá’í Chair for World Peace: Scholarship and Spirituality in Service to Peace,
  2. The Bahá’í Chair for World Peace is housed at the University of Maryland and is dedicated to developing and applying material and spiritual knowledge in cooperative pursuits of peace, social justice, economic justice, and security. This is accomplished through empirical study, objective presentation, reflective analysis, and pragmatic application of ethical and spiritual principles.Google Scholar
  3. Fellowship of Reconciliation for a World of Peace, Justice, and Nonviolence,
  4. The Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR) is a Christian interfaith organization founded in 1914 in Switzerland and has worked to replace a culture of violence (violence, war, racism, and economic injustice) with a culture of peace (nonviolence, peace, and justice). The FOR website links you to descriptions of many peace activist initiatives including Interfaith Initiatives in Israel and Palestine, the Campaign of conscience for Iraqi People, Peace and Disarmament, and Nonviolence Training. A wide range of articles and resources that can be downloaded and books and peace related gifts may be purchased through the website.Google Scholar
  5. Jewish Voices for Peace,
  6. Jewish Voices for Peace (JVP) is a diverse community of activists that supports peace activists in Palestine and Israel, and works in broad coalition with other Jewish, Arab-American, faith-based, peace and social justice organizations to bring peace to the Middle East. The JVP efforts are guided by the Jewish tradition to work together for peace, social justice, and human rights.Google Scholar
  7. This organization was founded in 1994 and was the first Muslim group specifically focused on Islamic nonviolence. Its goals include the exploring and deepening of the understanding of peace and nonviolence within Islamic teachings, plus working against injustice and for peace from an intrapersonal through a global level. The Muslim Peace Fellowship also has an outreach function to other religious traditions.Google Scholar
  8. Sojourners: Faith, Politics, and Culture,
  9. Sojourners was founded in 1971 by Jim Wallis as an organization devoted to social justice from a biblical perspective. The specific pursuits were intended to build hope by transforming individuals, communities, the church and the world. Sojourners uses its website, an email newsletter, and a hard copy magazine to get its message out to interested people. While primarily Christian, this Washington DC based organization is open to all who are interested in furthering the stated mission. Good resource links are on the website for community activists and Sunday school teachers to subscribe and download discussion topics and lesson ideas. This is a great site to visit.Google Scholar
  10. Tikkun (to heal, repair, and transform the world),
  11. Tikkun (pronounced tick-coon) is an international community, a magazine, and a website designed to heal, repair, and transform the world. Established and led by Rabbi Michael Lerner, the Tikkun community includes people of many faiths who are concerned about social justice and political freedom. The website and magazine provides current information and in depth analyses about world events that impact people in their homes and communities. The vision of Tikkun is to influence public dialogue and to influence policy “in order to inspire compassion, generosity, non-violence and recognition of the spiritual dimensions of life.” The website links to position papers on many pressing issues of the day, the Global Marshall Plan, and the Network of Spiritual Progressives. This is another excellent site worth visiting for good and timely information.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  • Daniel M. MaytonII
    • 1
  1. 1.Lewis-Clark State CollegeLewistonUSA

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