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"The Violence of 'Religion': Examining a Prevalent Myth"
Kellogg Institute for International Studies Working Papers, No. 310 (2004)
  • William T. Cavanaugh

This essay examines arguments that religion is prone to violence and finds them incoherent. They are incoherent because they can find no way consistently to differentiate the religious from the secular. After exposing the arbitrariness of the arguments, the essay goes on to examine why such arguments are so common. The hypothesis put forward is that such arguments are so prevalent because, while they delegitimate certain kinds of violence, they legitimate other kinds of violence, namely, violence done in the name of secular, Western states and ideals. Such arguments sanction a putative dichotomy between non-Western, especially Muslim, forms of culture on the one hand, which—having not yet learned to privatize matters of faith—are absolutist, divisive, irrational, and Western culture on the other, which is supposedly modest in its claims to truth, unitive, and rational. In short, their violence is fanatical and uncontrolled; our violence is controlled, reasonable, and often regrettably necessary to contain their violence.

Publication Date
March, 2004
Citation Information
William T. Cavanaugh. ""The Violence of 'Religion': Examining a Prevalent Myth"" Kellogg Institute for International Studies Working Papers, No. 310 (2004)
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