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Reviewed by:
  • Encyclopedia of Religion and War
  • Jeremy Black
Encyclopedia of Religion and War. Edited by Gabriel Palmer-Fernandez. New York: Routledge, 2004. 512 pp. $150.00 (cloth).

Encyclopedias are tricky works to plan, edit, produce, and review. In the planning, there tends to be a conflict between the desirable and the practical, the former set by bold editorial goals and the latter imposed by the exigencies of publishing ("more on Japan, an important market," "has to be fewer than 200,000 words," and so on) and by the constraints of what can be achieved: there is no point in an editor planning an article on X or reviewer regretting its absence if no one is able or willing to write the piece. The last constrains this review because, having edited a number of collective works, I know that focusing on what is not there, for example the indigenous religions in Australia, is not fair. Instead, it is appropriate to turn to what is covered, noting that the rise in religiously motivated violence makes this a particularly timely work, while the refusal of the editor to define or analyze the terms of religion and war, while understandable, is unfortunate.

It is more appropriate to turn to the salient themes of the work. First, it is argued that most religions have explicitly scriptural and doctrinal views on war. As the editor points out, Jewish, Christian, and Islamic traditions share a view of war as a means for establishing the divine will on Earth. Indeed, human violence prefigures that of the apocalypse. The role of war in Hinduism is also noted. Second, many religions have supported states when the latter have waged war, against both external and internal enemies. Clerical warriors—for example, forces of Buddhist monks—marked the culmination of this. [End Page 373] Third, the values of nonviolence and, more generally, pacifism have been widely represented in religions. Indeed, religious pacifism is widespread, although more so in some religions (Hinduism) than others (Islam).

In the organization of the work, the editor notes the development and diversity of religions and therefore divides them by chronology and branch. The text is ably laid out, with a clear typeface and with entries supported by boxed (and sourced) quotations, each long enough to be of value, and by extensive further reading. The illustrations, however, are not always relevant. The photograph of a soldier for the entry on the English Civil Wars with the caption "This [sic] English Civil War Society performs re-enactments of battles using authentic weapons, tactics, and clothing" is one of many that could have been dispensed with. The space could have been more profitably used for a conclusion.

The entries are up-to-date; that on Hizbullah, for example, including its recent confrontation with the United States. Precisely because of this contemporary character, however, there is a danger that entries that are contentious in themselves may well be superseded. Jeffrey Kaplan's interesting piece on "Millenarian Violence: United States" closes: "Given the minute numbers of the faithful, the vast array of forces that could be mobilized against them, and the dearth of indisputable signs of the times, the small fraction of the millenarian community who might be attracted to violence remains content to wait, to watch, and to dream" (p. 315). It may well be that this is overoptimistic. So may be Afe Adogame's hope for a genuine strand of democracy "irrespective of religion or ethnicity" to emerge in Nigeria (p. 332). This ends an interesting article on Nigeria. Its tone, however—"unprecedented bestiality . . . a political stooge"—may well be justified by the nature of the violence and politics but also indicates the difficulty of striking a scholarly tone.

The volume has much to offer. The major omission is the lack of a lengthy introduction, or indeed any conclusion. The book closes on the entry "Zulu", more specifically on the role of religion in Zulu nationalism, but there is an unfortunate unfinished feel to it. It would, for example, have been useful to have a systematic study of how far religions believed themselves permanently at war with diabolical and other hostile forces, ensuring that the standard definition of "war...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1527-8050
Print ISSN
1045-6007
Pages
pp. 373-374
Launched on MUSE
2006-01-13
Open Access
No
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