Reading Religious Violence in Terms of Theories of Social Action

  • Hans G. Kippenberg


Religious violence is a challenge to students of religions. Do we need categories like “cult,” “fundamentalism,” or “terrorism” in order to distinguish it from religion? Or do monotheistic religions claiming exclusiveness necessarily generate intolerance? The study of spectacular cases of religious violence in the United States shows that violence occurs at the end of a conflict rather than at the beginning. Reading religious violence in terms of theory of action, this contribution takes a closer look at the link between religion and violence. For a religious actor, like all others, every action is based on a definition of the situation: he selects from a stock of divergent traditions the particular norm or example that he regards as fitting the situation and justifying his action. Jews, Muslims, and American Protestants involved in the conflict over Jerusalem and Palestine select and revise transmitted religious scenarios in order to justify their use of violence. The paper presents the main religious metaphors, explains why and when religious actors have encouraged violent actions, and traces the ethical debates within these communities.


Jewish Community Religious Community Geneva Convention Faith Community Charitable Organization 
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© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Humanities and Social Sciences, Jacobs UniversityBremenGermany

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