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Reviewed by:
  • Fields of Blood: Religion and the History of Violence by Karen Armstrong, and: Did God Really Command Genocide? Coming to Grips with the Justice of God by Paul Copan and Matthew Flannagan
  • Steven Leonard Jacobs
Karen Armstrong, Fields of Blood: Religion and the History of Violence. New York and Toronto: Alfred A. Knopf, 2014. Pp. 512, hardcover, $32.00 US; paper, $21.00 US.
Paul Copan and Matthew Flannagan, Did God Really Command Genocide? Coming to Grips with the Justice of God. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2014. Pp. 256, paper, $16.95 US.

In the academic study of religion, on occasion, one studies what has come to be known as "apologetics," that is, the defense and proof of religious doctrines through systematic arguments and discourses. Though it has a long history, we in the West most often associate it with various iterations of Christianity, yet apologetic works can also be found substantively in Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, and other such expressions of religion. The rationale of such works has a twofold purpose: to "make sense" (i.e., a certain degree of rationalism) to the community of adherents to continue their allegiance, and to defend the faithful from attacks by outsiders who regard a given religion and religious community as a threat to the stability and power structure of a given nation-state. Focusing specifically on the question of genocide in the two texts examined below, one is reminded of the comment by Henry Huttenbach, Professor in the History Department of the City College of the City University of New York:

[R]eligion—meaning the faithful, the doctrine, the clergy and their institutions—can easily be prompted to buttress genocidal thought and action in a wide array of capacities. The religion genocide nexus … in particular, must be carefully monitored in times of social crisis. … It is the task of scholars to expose and explore it, and for policy makers to dismantle the religion-genocide connection.1

Professor Huttenbach's challenge remains largely ignored within the scholarly community of those who address genocide, perhaps for three reasons: (1) those who perceive themselves as committed adherents of a given faith community are, by and large, uncomfortable or worse critiquing that which they perceive as central to their own identities; (2) those who have no such faith or have left their birth-faith years ago, find little value in critically examining a topic in which they have no particular interest; and (3) truly examining that which constitutes "religion"—like any other sophisticated academic discipline—requires a thorough grounding in its methods and theories which bear similarities to political science, history, law, anthropology, psychology, sociology, and other humanities and social science disciplines, but, also, bespeaks differences nonetheless (e.g. questions of authority, insiders versus outsiders, god or gods, myths, texts, and so on). An additional somewhat problematic dimension is that scholars of religion are, by and large, Johnny-come-latelies to the field of Genocide Studies, and, only in recent years, have scholars and religionists themselves begun to seriously examine the relationship between various religions and religious communities vis-à-vis fomenting violence and healing in the aftermath of such violence.2

Complicating this conversation and study even further is the fact that many of the books one might examine on the question of religion, violence, and genocide seemingly fall into one of two categories: (1) rushing headlong into a defense of a specific religion or religious community and marking violence and genocide as perversions of the truths of the faith for the good of humanity, again the act of apologetics, or (2) so thoroughly [End Page 261] condemning and debunking religions and religious communities as root causes for such genocidal violence that their value has been long since denuded of any worth whatsoever, and humanity should turn elsewhere for healing and restoration (e.g. the somewhat infamous quote, "More blood has been shed in the name of the Church than any other institution!"). The list of books in both categories is far too long to be included here, even in a somewhat lengthy note. Thus, we come to the two texts under review.

Armstrong and Copan and Flannagan approach their topic from somewhat...


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