The phrase "religious violence" often brings to mind dramatic events: the September 11 attack on the World Trade Center, riots in India between Muslims and Hindus, or, farther back in history, the Crusades and the Thirty Years War. But as this anthropologist shows in his illuminating, in-depth study, violence in connection with religion is a very broad-based phenomenon encompassing all cultures and including a wide variety of activities and complex motives. He presents a wealth of case material, demonstrating the many manifestations of religious violence—not just war and terrorism, which are the focus of so many discussions of religiously motivated violence—but also more prevalent forms. He devotes separate chapters to:
• sacrifice (both animal and human);
• self-mortification (including self-injury, asceticism, and martyrdom);
• religious persecution (from anti-Semitic pogroms to witchhunts);
• ethno-religious conflict (including such hotspots as Sri Lanka, Northern Ireland, and the former Yugoslavia);
• religious wars (from the ancient Hebrews’ wars and the Christian Crusades to Islamic jihad and Hindu righteous wars);
• and religious homicide and abuse (spousal abuse, genital mutilation, and "dowry death," among other manifestations).
In the final chapter, "Religion and Nonviolence," the author examines nonviolent and low-conflict societies and considers various methods of managing conflict. Taking a scrupulously objective approach, the author neither accuses nor exonerates religion in regard to violence. Rather, he presents the evidence revealing which kinds of religious ideas and practices contribute to certain kinds of violence and why. In so doing, he goes a long way toward helping us understand the nature of violence generally, its complicated connections with religion, and how society in the future might avoid being blindsided by the worst aspects of human nature.
"This is an important contribution to understanding both the attraction and repulsion that religion conjures up among human beings. The author painstakingly and objectively covers the full spectrum of personal and mass violence associated with the whole gamut of the world’s religions, past and present."
–Barry A. Kosmin, director, Institute for the Study of Secularism in Society & Culture
"You don't have to agree with every word of the author's argument to appreciate the complex and often troubling questions that Dr. Eller raises about the nature of religion, and the potential of so many faith traditions to produce violence, abuse and exploitation. Passionately written, Cruel Creeds, Virtuous Violence is a wide-ranging and obviously timely, text."
–Philip Jenkins, author and Edwin Erle Sparks Professor of Humanities, Pennsylvania State University