Buc, “Holy War, Martyrdom, and Terror: Christianity, Violence, and the West”

In March, the University of Pennsylvania Press will release “Holy War, Martyrdom, and Terror: Christianity, Violence, and the West” by Philippe Buc (University of Vienna).  The publisher’s description follows:

Holy War, Martyrdom, and Terror examines the ways that Christian theology has shaped centuries of conflict from the Jewish-Roman War of late antiquity through the First Crusade, the French Revolution, and up to the Iraq War. By isolating one factor among the many forces that converge in war—the essential tenets of Christian theology—Philippe Buc locates continuities in major episodes of violence perpetrated over the course of two millennia. Even in secularized societies or explicitly non-Christian societies, such as the Soviet Union of the Stalinist purges, social and political projects are tied to religious violence, and religious conceptual structures have influenced the ways violence is imagined, inhibited, perceived, and perpetrated.

The patterns that emerge from this sweeping history upend commonplace assumptions about historical violence, while contextualizing and explaining some of its peculiarities. Buc addresses the culturally sanctioned logic that might lead a sane person to kill or die on principle, traces the circuitous reasoning that permits contradictory political actions such as coercing freedom or pardoning war atrocities, and locates religious faith at the backbone of nationalist conflict. He reflects on the contemporary American ideology of war—one that wages violence in the name of abstract notions such as liberty and world peace and that he reveals to be deeply rooted in biblical notions. A work of extraordinary breadth, Holy War, Martyrdom, and Terror connects the ancient past to the troubled present, showing how religious ideals of sacrifice and purification made violence meaningful throughout history.

Janes & Houen (eds.), “Martyrdom and Terrorism: Pre-Modern to Contemporary Perspectives”

9780199959853This June, Oxford University Press will publish Martyrdom and Terrorism: Pre-Modern to Contemporary Perspectives edited by Dominic Janes (University of London) and Alex Houen (University of Cambridge). The publisher’s description follows.

In recent years, terrorism has become closely associated with martyrdom in the minds of many terrorists and in the view of nations around the world. In Islam, martyrdom is mostly conceived as “bearing witness” to faith and God. Martyrdom is also central to the Christian tradition, not only in the form of Christ’s Passion or saints faced with persecution and death, but in the duty to lead a good and charitable life. In both religions, the association of religious martyrdom with political terror has a long and difficult history. The essays of this volume illuminate this history-following, for example, Christian martyrdom from its origins in the Roman world, to the experience of the deaths of “terrorist” leaders of the French Revolution, to parallels in the contemporary world-and explore historical parallels among Islamic, Christian, and secular traditions. Featuring essays from eminent scholars in a wide range of disciplines, Martyrdom and Terrorism provides a timely comparative history of the practices and discourses of terrorism and martyrdom from antiquity to the twenty-first century.

Martyrs’ Mirror: The Paradoxical Road from Persecution to Tolerance

Last month, Adrian Chastain Weimer, assistant professor of history at Providence College, published Martyrs’ Mirror: Persecution and Holiness in Early New England (Oxford).  The book studies seventeenth-century colonial conceptions of martyrdom and religious persecution and the ways in which these conceptions unexpectedly shaped American civil rights landscape, especially in the areas of religious liberty and tolerance.

Weimer explores the power of martyrdom in the religious imagination in the early New England colonies.  The Puritans were subject to a variety of persecutions in England.  In the colonies, the memory of such persecution was fresh, informing the Puritans’ self conception as martyrs; so, as early as 1641, the Massachusetts Body of Liberties already outlawed the practices employed by the English to persecute them like oath ordeals before ecclesiastical courts under threat of torture, imprisonment, and death.  (It was this memory that would eventually develop, for example, into the constitutional prohibition against forcing persons to incriminate themselves.  See R. Carter Pittman, The Colonial and Constitutional History of the Privilege Against Self-Incrimination in America, 21 Va. L. Rev. 763 (1935) for a full discussion of this development.)

Complicating the picture, however, Professor Weimer adds the fact of religious persecution by Puritans in the colonies.  New England Congregationalists, Separatists, Quakers, Baptists, and Antinomians all suffered for their beliefs in England and also conceived of themselves as martyrs, a perception that only deepened when the Puritans, in turn, targeted them in the New World.  This passing on of persecution from Puritans to other dissenting religionists created a form of competition amongst early Americans to cast themselves in the narrative role of the persecuted martyr.

Weimer argues that, through this narratological competition, these ugly conflicts gave rise to paradoxical notions of religious tolerance.  The coveted narrative of persecuted martyr, which suggested divine favor, actually led to colonists’ looking askance at persecution.  Ultimately, what these diverse groups shared were memories of persecution.  And eventually, these memories and the competition for the role of martyr gave rise to legally enshrined rights of religious freedom that have developed until today.

Please see Oxford University Press’s description of the text after the jump. Continue reading

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