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1. Journal of Religion and Violence: Volume > 1 > Issue: 3
Beatriz Reyes-Foster The Devil Made Her Do it: Understanding Suicide, Demonic Discourse, and the Social Construction of ‘Health’ in Yucatan, Mexico
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In the state of Yucatan, Mexico, the suicide rate more than doubles the Mexican national average. This article uses ethnographic data to argue that 1) local understandings of suicide in Yucatán reflect a logic of health among Yucatec Maya people hinging on the belief that spiritual, bodily, and spatial balance must be maintained in order to prevent “illness,” understood as bodily and spiritual suffering; and 2) that Yucatec Maya users of Mexico’s public health system readily adapt the biomedical model to existing paradigms that comingle spiritual, mental, and bodily health due in great part to the inherent contradictions in bothsystems that simultaneously attribute responsibility for suicide and take it away. This apparent contradiction is thus a sympathetic template on which biomedical discourse and its imperfect application can map itself.
2. Journal of Religion and Violence: Volume > 1 > Issue: 3
Rebecca Moore Rhetoric, Revolution and Resistance in Jonestown, Guyana
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Initial reports of the deaths that occurred in Jonestown, Guyana in November 1978 characterized them as mass suicides. As accounts of the deaths of children and old people emerged, however, the events began to be described as murder, especially by conspiracy theorists. But scholarship in New Religions studies over the last three decades has begun to claim that at least some of the deaths for some of the people were a type of martyrdom. A narrative of martyrdom pervaded life in Jonestown, as well as life within Peoples Temple, the group sponsoring the agricultural commune. Jim Jones, the group’s leader, appropriated and re-interpreted the Black Panther Party rhetoric of revolutionary suicide, calling upon residents to lay down their lives to protest capitalism. This act of protest was rehearsed many times in Jonestown, and in the Temple in the U.S. Some survivors who lived in Jonestown challenge the assertion that residents took these rehearsals seriously, although a number of audiotapes have parents providing the justification for killing their children to save them from torture; others on tape state that they are taking their own lives as a rejection of capitalism. In any event, by killing the children first, the mass suicides of the parents seemed virtually assured.
3. Journal of Religion and Violence: Volume > 1 > Issue: 3
Lynn S. Neal Suicide and Cultural Memory in Functional Television
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As the central storyteller in and of American life, television has played a profound role in the maintenance and dissemination of the cult stereotype. By emphasizing these stereotypical features, television shows firmly situate cults as abnormal and dangerous entities on the American religious landscape. Many of these televised portrayals include issues of cult violence, specifically suicide. This article analyzes how fictional American television shows from South Park to CSI have depicted the relationship between cults and suicide. In addition to episode analysis, this article addresses the role that popular culture plays in perpetuating anti-cult ideas and attitudes.
4. Journal of Religion and Violence: Volume > 1 > Issue: 3
Christopher Hartney Why Muslims Kill Themselves on Film: From Girard’s Victimage Mechanism to a Radical Constructivist Explanation
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In this article a methodological approach to representations of suicide on film is developed, sited between the Girardian victimage approach on one side, and a radical constructivist approach on the other. The argument does not start by considering Muslim suicide as a thing in and of itself; rather it contextualises suicide on film through examples ranging from adaptations of Romeo and Juliette by Zeffirelli and Luhrmann, to Ashby's Harold and Maude, Coppola's The Virgin Suicides, and Sono's Suicide Club. With thematics on cinema and suicide identified in this section of the article, the second half of the work demonstrateshow such thematics are developed or distorted when Muslim characters are introduced to the screen. The four case studies in this section include analysis on recent film examples. These include the Hollywood produced The Kingdom (directed by Peter Berg) and Gaghan's Syriana. It is clearly established that where Hollywood pays attention to white people who may be considering suicide and dedicates significant screen time to them, Hollywood presents Muslims as inherently suicidal. This fits into Jack Shaheen's work on racist stereotypes in the presentation of Arabs by Hollywood. To confirm this, the article concludes byanalyzing the place of suicide in Kiarostami's Taste of Cherry, and Abu-Assad's Paradise Now. The article concludes with an examination not of suicide per se, but of how suicide is represented generally in film, how layers of Arab and Muslim stereotypes in Hollywood have, almost criminally, distorted representations of Muslims on screen, and how serious and considered work by Muslim directors are not so much redressing this balance, but rather highlighting how impervious the Hollywood system is to redressing its long held biases.
5. Journal of Religion and Violence: Volume > 1 > Issue: 3
Helen Farley Self-Harm and Falun Gong: Karmic Release, Martyrdom or Suicide
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The teachings of Falun Gong explicitly forbid suicide, yet in 2001, five protesters set themselves ablaze in Tiananmen Square resulting in the death of two. Allegedly, their stated aim was to bring the world’s focus onto the repression of the movement by the Chinese government. Falun Gong spokespeople were quick to speak out in defence of founder Li Hongzhi, saying that the movement strictly forbids suicide in line with the traditional Chinese belief that says that suicide is an affront to the ancestors. They further claimed that the Chinese government had staged the suicides in order to stir up public opinion against the movement andindeed the tide of public opinion did turn against Falun Gong and its founder (Bell and Boas 2003, 285).Even given Falun Gong’s stated opposition to suicide, the movement does encourage its adherents to refuse to take medicine or accept medical treatment and some consider this refusal of treatment could be considered to be suicidal. Chinese state media seized upon Li's writing in which he expressed that illnesses are caused by karma, and claimed that in excess of 1000 deaths were the direct result of adherents following Li’s teachings. Authorities also maintain that several hundred practitioners had cut their stomachs open looking for the Dharma Wheel that turns in response to the practice of the five meditative exercises characteristic of the movement. Indeed, many of their fellow followers had been arrested in Tianjin, following condemnation of their movement by physicist He Zouxiu of the Chinese Academy of the Sciences. He had claimed that Falun Gong had been responsible for several deaths (Bejsky 2004, 190).This paper will examine the complex relationship between FalunGong and the Chinese government, exploring the reality behind the claims and counterclaims in relation to the former’s stated opposition to suicide. This will be contrasted with other Falun Gong writings which encourage adherents to refuse medical treatment and medication in order to rid themselves of karma.
6. Journal of Religion and Violence: Volume > 1 > Issue: 3
Katarina Plank Living torches of Tibet – Religious and Political Implications of the Recent Self-Immolations
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Self-immolation is not an ordinary suicide or self-destructive act, but has a religious dimension since one’s own body is seen as a gift for a greater cause. This article highlights the specific Buddhist ritual and textual heritage when analyzing the recent wave of self-immolations in Tibet, and incorporates the act in a wider Buddhist set of practices called ”gift of the body”. The first political sacrifices made in the 1960s intended to save Buddhism at a time when it was perceived as being threatened in South Vietnam, and later focus shifted towards bringing an end to the Vietnam War. As a result, their sacrifices were addressed to Vietnamese politicians and to the global community. Nearly fifty years later, a new wave of self-immolations have occurred in Tibet – with previously no tradition of self-immolation – and this time, the fiery suicides by Tibetan monks and former monks can be seen as an expression of the nationalist struggle for a free Tibet.
7. Journal of Religion and Violence: Volume > 2 > Issue: 1
Tim Rackett ‘States Of Mind And Exception: Enactments Of Buddhist Ontological Truth And Purification In Thai Religious Nationalism In The Mid 20th And Early 21st Centuries’
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The following is a meditation upon a particular nationalist use and performance of Theravada Buddhism. It explores some of the interconnections and interdependencies between religion, identity politics and political violence in Thailand, an exemplary Buddhist nation. Anti-government demonstrators, ‘communists’ in the 1970’s, Muslims in 2004 and ‘Red Shirts’ in 2010, were killed in the name of defending sacred Thai institutions of Nation, Religion and Monarchy. Is Buddhism implicated in such political violence? If so, how does a spiritual practice prohibiting the taking of life lend itself to justifying killing? This article suggests that Buddhism is translated, qua transformed and betrayed, by the Thai State and politics. Buddhist truth, in the thrall of nationalist ideology in times of emergency and national insecurity, can legitimate ‘states of exception’, which suspend the law and moral constraint, making it permissible to kill impureenemies in defense and with good intentions.
8. Journal of Religion and Violence: Volume > 2 > Issue: 1
Benson Ohihon Igboin Boko Haram Radicalism and National Insecurity: Beyond Normal Politics
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The main focus of this paper is to interrogate the security challenges that the radical Islamic sect Boko Haram has posed to the Nigerian nation, and how the government has responded to these challenges. Although many positions have been articulated with regard to how best to tackle the insurgency, the thrust ofthis article, however, is to argue that instead of the “normal politics” of security, the government needs to invoke the doctrine of “emergency politics,” which involves the full concentration of state apparatuses in order to restore peace and order. It is the contention of this article that it is only after this measure has beentaken that the fundamental causes can be adequately addressed, through a well-focused program of re-absorption.
9. Journal of Religion and Violence: Volume > 2 > Issue: 1
Marco Ceccarelli Catholic Thought as Soft-Counterterrorism: La Civiltà Cattolica on non-Violent Solutions to Islamic Terrorism
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This article analyses a particular kind of Catholic scholarship, that of the Jesuit Journal La Civiltà Cattolica, and its discourse on Islamic terrorism in the twenty-first century. While numerous secular political studies have been published on Islamic terrorism since the attacks of 9/11, little attention has been paid to the scholarly debate that has emerged among Catholic intellectuals on this issue. The examination focuses on the works of three La Civiltà Cattolica writers,namely Edomnd Farahian S.J., Giovanni Sale S.J. and Enrico Cattaneo S.J. as well as the discourse of prominent Catholic religious leaders, including the newly elected Pope Francis. The non-violent strategy for countering Islamic terrorism proposed by the contemporary Catholic Church, and echoed by the Jesuits, is framed as a new “soft-counterterrorism” approach based on interreligious dialogue and the creation of bonds of friendship. The article also considers the debate currently taking place among religious scholars on the Catholic Church’s position towards Islam as well as new insights into the need for the West torediscover its Christian roots before engaging with Islam.
10. Journal of Religion and Violence: Volume > 2 > Issue: 1
Mattias Gardell So Costly a Sacrifice Upon the Altar of Freedom: Human Bombs, Suicide Attacks, and Patriotic Heroes
11. Journal of Religion and Violence: Volume > 2 > Issue: 1
Ryan J. Cook Absence of Evidence: How Chen Tao Became a “Suicide Cult”
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For new religious movements, is the absence of evidence of the potential for violence ever sufficient evidence of its absence? This article examines the process through which Chen Tao was inaccurately portrayed as potentially suicidal by the news media. After a review of the group’s cosmology and migration fromTaiwan to the United States, it describes the group’s interactions with news media personnel at several key points between the mid-1990s and the 2010s. The article then marshals the scholarship treating minority religions, inwardly-directed violence, and the media to understand why this happened to Chen Tao. From early on, journalists consistently wove rumors about and interpretations of group members’ acts and statements into a narrative of risk that, while unsupported by evidence, resonated with a pre-existing “suicide cult” topos in reporting.
12. Journal of Religion and Violence: Volume > 2 > Issue: 1
Maria Leppäkari Apocalyptic Management By Monte Kim Miller
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As the turn of the millennium approached, the year 1999 turning into 2000, several religious enthusiasts popped up in Jerusalem and were frequently noted in the daily press. Among these were, to mention a few, Brother David from the House of Prayer congregation, Brother Salomon from the Temple Group and members of Monte Kim Miller’s Concerned Christians, an American, Denver-based congregation (not to be confused with the anti-Mormon group that bears the same name but has no relationship to Monte Kim Miller). According to news reports, members of Miller’s group were believed to have in mind committingmass suicide in the streets of Jerusalem; as well as plans to provoke bloodshed by attacking policemen in Jerusalem and to plot attacks in the Old City. Members of the group were also accused of plotting violent acts near religious centers, the Temple Mount being one possible location. As a result, the group’s members were arrested and deported from Israel.
13. Journal of Religion and Violence: Volume > 2 > Issue: 2
Mackenzie Brown, Nupur Agrawal The Rape that Woke Up India: Hindu Imagination and the Rape of Jyoti Singh Pandey
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This essay was inspired by the gang-rape of 23-year-old Jyoti Singh Pandey in Delhi, India, on December 16, 2012. Thirteen days later she died in a Singapore hospital from injuries caused by insertion of an iron rod by her six attackers. The authors first analyze the remarks of politicians and religious leaders that invoked religious- nationalist ideals to diminish the responsibility of the attackers, to exonerate traditional Hindu ways of life, and to blame the victim. The essay next examines cultural and religious contexts of gang-rape, in particular, the positive and negative images of women in traditional Hindu mythologies and scriptures.Theories about why some men rape and why some rapists mutilate the genitalia of their victims are considered. The essay includes results of interviews and surveys of Indians in India carried out during the summer of 2013. Questions focused on religious issues such as the extent to which the mentality that women transgressing traditional limits are responsible for what happens to them fosters a rape-tolerant atmosphere. The authors conclude that parts of the sacredtradition can be useful for enhancing the status and safety of women in India today, while other, clearly misogynistic parts must be recognized, critiqued, and rejected.
14. Journal of Religion and Violence: Volume > 2 > Issue: 2
Mark Juergensmeyer Postscript: Symbolic Empowerment of Religious Violence
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This summary essay looks at what the essays in this special issue have in common. It concludes that these are all instances of what might be called symbolic empowerment related to religious violence. Though the violence is real enough in each of these cases, the role of religion in relation to it is often indirect. These are cases not only where religion justifies violence but also where violence empowers religion. The use of religious language, symbols, and authority to justify violent acts gives religious spokespersons an aura of authority that gives them a symbolical power.
15. Journal of Religion and Violence: Volume > 2 > Issue: 2
Torang Asadi The Mai-Mai Rape: Female Bodies and Collective Identities at War in the Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo
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The Mai-Mai soldiers comprise a rebel militia in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) who believe that applying magical potions to their bodies and wearing leaves around their heads makes them invisible. Although they previously believed sex would diminish their magical powers, in 2002 they began to claim sexual intercourse strengthens the magic. With this theological change, they began to rape both foreign and Congolese women ritualistically and violently, making the rapes much more than weapons of war. The Mai-Mai’s alienation from and discontent with society has created a power struggle between two sets of collective identities (Mai-Mai vs. un-Mai-Mai) that are at odds over authority, legitimacy, and resources. This article focuses on how both religion and violence have been sharpened in the Mai-Mai’s collective struggles against hegemonic entities, while considering the limitations created by the lack of ethnographic research. This article proposes that violence should not be studied in terms of seemingly static and essentialized religion through which the perpetrators viewthe world, but in terms of socio-political and religious disenchantments that herald theological changes and innovations to seemingly established religions in each specific case.
16. Journal of Religion and Violence: Volume > 2 > Issue: 2
Manuela Ceballos Sufi Lovers as Sufi Fighters: Militant Piety in Muhammad ibn Yaggabsh al-Tāzī’s Book of Jihād
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Even though Sufism (Islamic mysticism) is often characterized in Western scholarship and discourse as an esoteric, tolerant, non-violent dimension of Islam, historically some Sufis have practiced and justified violence as an ethical form of struggle in the world. This essay analyzes the representations of violence in the fifteenth-century Book of Jihād by the Moroccan Sufi Muḥammad ibn Yaggabsh al-Tāzī (d. 1505), which advocates defensive jihād against Portuguese imperial expansion in Morocco. In particular, it focuses on the way in which al-Tāzī’s text stages violence for a popular audience while it simultaneously promotescommunal transformation through a rhetoric of love, where righteous fighters become God’s lovers. Furthermore, the essay examines the role of Jesus as a defender of the Muslim community in the Book of Jihād, and explores the physical, legal, and religious boundaries that al-Tāzī’s portrayals of violence help cross and inscribe. Finally, this article reflects on the implications of the broader tradition of politically engaged Sufism upon the aforementioned reductionistportrayals of Sufis as fundamentally opposed to violence.
17. Journal of Religion and Violence: Volume > 2 > Issue: 2
Leif C. Tornquist 'This Mighty Struggle for Life': Modernist Protestant Ministers, Biopolitical Violence, and Negative Eugenics in the 1920s United States
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Over sixty thousand Americans were sterilized in states that enacted sterilization laws during the first four decades of the twentieth century. American eugenicists supported these laws as part of a negative eugenics crusade to purify the white racial body. Many modernist Protestant ministers also publicly advocated these laws, endorsing them as an effective means for eliminating white degeneracy, enhancing the presence of God in the life of the race, and advancing God’s kingdom on earth. Drawing from pro-eugenic sermons and other writings by modernist ministers, this essay explores the role that modernist Protestantism played in publicly sanctifying the biopolitical violence of sterilization and in shaping a popular religious discourse that bolstered negative eugenic initiatives.The first section of the essay broadly contextualizes modernist Protestantism as an evolutionary discourse of Christian civilization. The second sketches the development of modernist evolutionary theologies during the nineteenth century. The third focuses on Protestant ministerial support for negative eugenics during the 1920s, demonstrating how modernists popularized sterilization as part of an evolutionary struggle against degeneracy and for the kingdom of God. The essay concludes by arguing that modernist Protestantism was an important religious discourse through which negative eugenic thought and practice found popular expression.
18. Journal of Religion and Violence: Volume > 2 > Issue: 2
Margo Kitts, Michael Jerryson Special Issue: Invoking Religion in Violent Acts and Rhetoric
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Contemporary discussions of the link between religion and violence are plagued by the contested nature of the terms. This essay summarizes some problems of definition and scope for those terms, and then introduces the four studies and postscript that follow. The four studies theorize and contextualize violent acts and religious rhetoric in today’s India and the Democratic Republic of Congo, in the 1920s United States, and in fifteenth century Morocco. The postscript identifies a theme common to the four essays, which is the capacity of violent rhetoric and acts to empower religious pundits in the public sphere.
19. Journal of Religion and Violence: Volume > 3 > Issue: 2
Jack Lee Downey Dying They Live: Suicide Protesting and Martyrdom
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This paper will investigate the contemporary phenomenon of Tibetan autocremations, considering them as responses to Chinese colonization, in the larger contexts of self-mortification and political protest. The Tibetan self-immolations have been chronically underreported in the international media, but have elicited charged internal conversations within the Tibetan and allied communities. As a modern protest tactic, autocremation originated with the Saigon immolation of the Vietnamese monk Thích Quảng Ðức in 1963. As then, the current cycle of Tibetan self-immolations inaugurated some debate about the nature of these acts, and how they are to be interpreted as agentive manifestations of “communicative suffering”—whether these are suicides, patriotic sacrifices, religious offerings, or something altogether different. This renders the Tibetan pawos (Tib. heroes, martyrs) themselves as sites of conflict—conflict over their “message,” who is ultimately responsible, and what can or should be done. This essay uses the theoretical insights of Giorgio Agamben, Banu Bargu, and Michael Biggs to think through self-immolation protests within a mystical-political framework that constructs these acts as martyrdoms.
20. Journal of Religion and Violence: Volume > 3 > Issue: 2
Philip L. Tite Expressive Violence: An Introduction to Pain, Politics, and the Monstrous Other