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1. Journal of Religion and Violence: Volume > 6 > Issue: 3
Massimo Introvigne Gatekeeping and Narratives about “Cult” Violence: The McDonald’s Murder of 2014 in China
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The sociological concept of “gatekeeping,” i.e., of filtering news for several purposes, allowing only some to reach the public, is useful to explain how often only negative news about “cults” are published by mainline media. This theory is illustrated through a case study of the murder of a young woman in a McDonald’s diner in Zhaoyuan, Shandong, China in 2014. The Chinese authorities, who were pursuing a campaign of repression against The Church of Almighty God, successfully allowed only information connecting the murder with that Church to reach the international media. When Western scholars studied the documents of the case, however, they concluded that the homicide had been perpetrated by a different Chinese new religious movement. They also realized that gatekeeping had the perverse effect of focusing the attention on the alleged connection with The Church of Almighty God, leaving outside of the gate essential information that would have allowed a serious study of the small group responsible for the murder, and a comparison with other crimes committed by new religious movements.
2. Journal of Religion and Violence: Volume > 6 > Issue: 3
Chas S. Clifton A Texas Witch On Trial
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Although Wicca, or contemporary Pagan witchcraft, is by all definitions a new religious movement, it lacks many of the characteristics the NRMs often display, such as a charismatic founder(s), millenarian prophecies, or new forms of social order. Nor have Wiccans been identified with commonly studied forms of violence with NRMs, such as mass suicides, violence against former members, or attacks on surrounding populations. In 1980, however, as Wicca was on the verge of both a growth spurt and increased media attention, Loy Stone, a leader of one organization, the Church of Wicca, was tried for murder in Texas. The victim, a fifteen-year-old girl, was one of a large group of teenagers who had been committing acts of harassment and vandalism during October 1977 at the farm inhabited by Stone, his wife, and his elderly mother, actions I would categorize as falling into the folkloric definition of “legend trips.” The Stone case makes clear the persistence of abusive stereotypes of “devil-worshipers” in America. Finally, it challenged members of the Wiccan community to decide whether the Stones should be supported or rhetorically cast out.
3. Journal of Religion and Violence: Volume > 6 > Issue: 3
Liselotte Frisk “Spiritual Shunning”: Its Significance for the Murder in Knutby Filadelfia
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This paper argues that the practice of “spiritual shunning,” defined as deliberate isolation of one person from a religious group for alleged spiritual reasons, may have been a significant factor in a murder case which happened in Sweden in 2004 in a small religious group with a Pentecostal background. The material consists of interviews with four former members, who describe the process of spiritual shunning as it existed in the group before it started to fall apart in the autumn of 2016. The four interviewees describe the process of spiritual shunning in roughly five stages: how they began to fall out of grace; when the door to Jesus definitely closed; the process of working their way back; being back in grace; and finally having the mission to help others move back to grace again. The informants describe very clearly the desperation they felt when they faced the possibility that they would not belong to the chosen ones when Jesus would soon come back, but would instead be burning in hell. Many sources document that the perpetrator of the crime in 2004 was spiritually shunned by the core group at the time of the murder. The murder was presented to her by the pastor who was later convicted for instigating the crime, as a way to pay off her spiritual debts.
4. Journal of Religion and Violence: Volume > 5 > Issue: 1
Kelly Denton-Borhaug Sacrificial U.S. War-Culture: Cognitive Dissonance and the Absence of Self-Awareness
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This article explores the potent sacrificial sacred canopy that shrouds rhetoric, practices, and institutions of post-9/11 war-culture in the United States. Analyzing examples from popular culture, presidential rhetoric, and military history, especially Andrew Bacevich’s America’s War for the Greater Middle East: A Military History, I show how the depth and breadth of sacrificial rhetoric and logic result in a highly disciplined practice of framing and decision-making about militarism and war in the United States. Sacrificial linguistic patterns profoundly ignite and transcendentalize militarization and war, even while simultaneously mitigating conscious awareness, concern, and protest.
5. Journal of Religion and Violence: Volume > 5 > Issue: 1
Iselin Frydenlund Buddhist Militarism Beyond Texts: The Importance of Ritual During the Sri Lankan Civil War
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This article addresses Buddhist militarism by exploring monastic-military ritual interactions during the Sri Lankan civil war, lasting from 1983 to 2009. Much has been written on the importance of Buddhism to Sinhala nationalism, the redefinition of the Buddhist monastic role in response to colonialism and the modernization process, as well as the development of a Buddhist just-war ideology. While these perspectives in various ways emphasize the importance of the Buddhist monastic order in pushing forward a Sinhala Buddhist nationalist agenda, little attention has been paid to the performative aspects of Buddhist militarism. Based on ethnographic data gathered during the Norwegian-facilitated peace talks (2000–2008), this article shows how rituals became crucial in conveying support to the state’s military efforts without compromising religious authority. By looking at Buddhist monastic ritual interaction in military institutions, this paper argues that the acceptance of the use of warfare is less anchored in systematized just-war thinking than the term “Buddhist just-war ideology” seems to suggest. Rather, through an anthropological approach to Buddhism and violence, this article shows that the term “Buddhist implicit militarism” better captures the rationale behind the broad monastic engagement with military institutions beyond minority positions of radical Buddhist militancy during a given “exception” in history. The essay concludes that monastic-military ritual interaction is a social field in which this “implicit militarism” is most clearly articulated.
6. Journal of Religion and Violence: Volume > 5 > Issue: 1
Ankur Barua Encountering Violence in Hindu Universes: Situating the Other on Vedic Horizons
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A study of Hindu engagements with violence which have been structured by scriptural themes reveals that violence has been regulated, enacted, resisted, negated or denied in complex ways. Disputes based on Vedic orthodoxy were channeled, in classical India, through the mythical frameworks of gods clashing with demons, and later in the medieval centuries this template was extended to the Muslim foreigners who threatened the Brahmanical socio-religious orders. In the modern period, the electoral mechanisms of colonial modernity spurred Hindu anxieties about a weakened nation which would die out in the face of Muslim solidarity, and various Hindu organizations began to increasingly draw on motifs from the Vedas, Bhagavad-gītā, and other texts to speak of a martial Hindu nation. These two moments—the articulation of the boundaries of the robust Hindu nation and the projection of the Muslim as the enemy lurking at the gates—have been integral to the shaping of Hindu cultural nationalism by several key thinkers and political activists. Thus, the forms of violence associated with Hindu universes should be placed within their dynamic socio-historical contexts where Hindus have interpreted, engaged with, and acted on a range of scriptural texts both to generate violent solidarities and to speak of peace. A study of these phenomena alongside some Christian theological attempts to legitimize, valorize or transcend violence from within scriptural horizons points to the complex conceptual terrain encompassed by the conjunction in “religion and violence.”
7. Journal of Religion and Violence: Volume > 5 > Issue: 1
James Ponniah Communal Violence in India: Exploring Strategies of its Nurture and Negation in Contemporary Times
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This article, based on the fieldwork done at two places in India, namely Kandhamal in Odisha and Mangalore in Karnataka, not only investigates different forms of anti-Christian narratives produced by the Hindu extremists to legitimize and perpetuate communal violence but also draws one’s attention to the Christian response that delegitimizes such narratives and arrests its reception by the common public. The anti-Christian and anti-minority narrative of the Hindutva camp is founded upon a single meta-narrative that India is a Hindu nation. This narrative—which is constructed by the right-wing Hindu groups for the last three decades in Independent India—not only denies, by default, equal citizenship to Christians, but also portrays them as anti-national, and thus legitimizes violence against them. To this challenge, Christians in India respond by reinventing their national citizenship through political activism and socio-economic engagements to build a more mature secular Indian state, which would become less and less vulnerable to religious violence in India. The essay is divided into two parts. While the first part deals with multiple ways through which communal violence is provoked in these two states, the second part focuses on how Christians of India respond to this new reality of polarization and repression.
8. Journal of Religion and Violence: Volume > 4 > Issue: 2
Michael Jerryson Introduction: Buddhism, Blasphemy, and Violence
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This special issue explores the relationship between Buddhism and blasphemy. The articles chart new territory within the study of religion and violence and Buddhist Studies. The first essay outlines the Indian Buddhist doctrinal and ethical foundations for such an inquiry. The second, third, and fourth essays locate their examination within a particular Buddhist tradition: Burmese Buddhism and the prosecution of anti-blasphemy laws, Thai Buddhism and its jailing of people for insulting photographs, and Mongolian Buddhist concerns over purity and sacrilege in early twentieth-century monastic education
9. Journal of Religion and Violence: Volume > 4 > Issue: 2
Stephen Jenkins Debate, Magic, and Massacre: The High Stakes and Ethical Dynamics of Battling Slanderers of the Dharma in Indian Narrative and Ethical Theory
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This paper examines Indian Buddhist debate narratives, royal historiographies, and hagiographies in conjunction with Buddhist systematic thought on wrong-view, wrong-speech, slander and the sins of immediate retribution. Buddhists narratives are rich with examples of debates in which the wealth and estates of both monastic institutions and their donors were at stake. Forced conversion is a common feature. Slandering the Dharma had a direct relationship to sins considered forms of harm to the Buddha, such as confiscation of property or desecration of sacred objects, and defined as the worst sins leading directly to hell. Buddhist texts often denigrate others’ beliefs and practices and, although their responses to being reviled preclude anger, use of force against enemies of Buddhism is modeled by the Buddha, ideal kings, deities, and wizards. Many examples of mass violence by Buddhist kings against those who oppose the Dharma or harm its saints are exhibited.
10. Journal of Religion and Violence: Volume > 4 > Issue: 2
Paul Fuller The Idea of ‘Blasphemy’ in the Pāli Canon and Modern Myanmar
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There are many terms in the Pāli Canon that refer to “disrespect” committed against venerated objects or people. Some of these ideas come close to the idea of “blasphemy” in other religious traditions. In traditional forms of Buddhism, the stress is on protective and auspicious acts. Images, texts and chanting are partly concerned with averting danger. Primarily it is the Buddha (and images of him), because of his great meritorious and ethical deeds, who accomplishes this. In this context blasphemy against sacred objects is a perfectly coherent idea in Buddhism. In Myanmar, monks from the Ma Ba Tha movement have expressed outrage at what they perceived to be the manipulation of images of the Buddha. These will be compared to ideas in the Pāli Canon to suggest how the idea of blasphemy is a constant feature in the history of Buddhism.
11. Journal of Religion and Violence: Volume > 4 > Issue: 2
Matthew King Giving Milk to Snakes: A Socialist “Dharma Minister” and a “Stubborn” Monk on How to Reject the Dharma in Revolutionary Buryatia and Khalkha
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This article explores the blasphemy concept in relation to the historical study of competing visions of doctrine and institutional modeling in revolutionary-era Mongolia and Buryatia (c. 1911–1940). I focus on a close reading of a previously unstudied letter exchange between a prominent socialist leader and Buddhist reformer named Ts. Zhamtsarano and a conservative (Khalkha) Mongol abbot that disputed reforms aiming to allow the laity to study alongside monks in monastic settings. In relation to those sources, I reject a straightforward application of “blasphemy” as an analytical category. However, noting that micro-encounters such as that of the reformer and the abbot not only reference, but actively produce, macro-level social registers and institutions (like Buddhism, “the monastic college,” Tibet, Mongolia, and the like), I argue that in these materials we do see the generative practices of rejection and extension of received tradition that the blasphemy concept (especially in its Islamic iterations) expresses. Such a process-based analytic, motivated by “blasphemy” but not a straightforward application of it to Buddhist case studies, is immensely useful in the comparative study of social and intellectual history in Buddhist societies, especially during periods of profound socio-political transition.
12. Journal of Religion and Violence: Volume > 4 > Issue: 2
Shane Strate The Sukhothai Incident: Buddhist Heritage, Mormon Missionaries, and Religious Desecration in Thailand
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In 1972, two Mormon missionaries were arrested in Thailand on charges that they had insulted Buddhism. Photographic evidence of their offensive behavior appeared in national newspapers, and for weeks the press debated the meaning and significance of their crime. This article examines the media’s reaction to the “Sukhothai Incident,” and situates the controversy within the larger context of Thai anxieties regarding the influence of ‘Americanization’ on local culture. It argues that Thai elites used the incident to promote pre-existing nationalist narratives that warned against the destructive influences of Western materialism, Christianity, and neo-colonialism. Reaction to the case became a touchstone that separated true defenders of “Thai-ness” from those “outside the religion.” The incident illustrates how ruling factions perceived that the American presence, not just Communism, threatened to undermine traditional symbols of authority.
13. 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.
14. 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.
15. 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.
16. 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.
17. 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.
18. 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.
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