Religions and Violence

Issue 1906

10 June 2019

After the attacks of September 11, 2001, the world – and not just the West – is living in a time of Islamic-inspired terrorism. After New York, there was Madrid, London, Paris, Nice, not to mention the punishing series of attacks and massacres in Syria, Pakistan, Nigeria and Sri Lanka.

This phenomenon has contributed to associating religion and violence in the minds of many of our contemporaries. But this connection was formulated a long time ago, and Pope John Paul II, at the interreligious encounter in Assisi in 1986, wished to oppose vigorously such an idea and to show the support for peace in the great religions of the world.

The desire to oppose decidedly the prejudice that associates religion and conflict is also expressed in the recent declaration signed in Abu Dhabi, on February 4, 2019, by Pope Francis and the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar, Ahmad el-Tayeb, which states: “We resolutely declare that religions must never incite war, hateful attitudes, hostility and extremism, nor must they incite violence or the shedding of blood.”[1]

The problem of such a connection, in fact, has cultural and intellectual sources that arose long before the beginning of the 21st century. It is enough to remember the famous “wars of religion” in 16th and 17th century Europe and the way in which a tradition of political philosophy is built upon a particular reading of such events. And one could research even further back with the crusades and the expansion of Islam.

The question therefore is not new. But does this cliched prejudice have a basis in reality? A necessarily multi-disciplinary investigation is required.

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