Sociotheology and Cosmic War

Over the course of the last few decades religious violence has become an increasingly salient topic of public discourse and particularly in its global manifestations. In the social sciences these discourses focus primarily on explanations of violent acts that are driven by the socio-political contexts enveloping them. Mark Juergensmeyer argues that such explanations only tell part of the story, however, since some actions are motivated by a religious vision, like the vision of “cosmic war.” Talking to Per in this podcast Juergensmeyer explains how a “sociotheological approach” is particularly well suited to the task of understanding religious violence by engaging the worldviews of violent actors directly and taking their theological concerns as seriously as their political ideologies.

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Mark Juergensmeyer is a former president of the American Academy of Religion and the current director of the Orfalea Center for Global and International Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbera where he also teaches sociology and religious studies. He is a prolific writer and speaker whose work deals with South Asian religion and politics, religious violence and global religion among other topics. Recent books include Terror in the Mind of God: The Global Rise of Religious Violence, Global Rebellion: Religious Challenges to the Secular State, and the just released The Oxford Handbook of Religion and Violence, which contains a chapter outlining, “A Sociotheological Approach to the Study of Religious Violence.”

3 replies
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    Christine Pugh says:

    Having listened to and discussed your recent podcast on sociotheology and cosmic war, I find myself cautiously optimistic about its value. It seems to be a methodology that it can be used, in combination with more traditional economic and political methods, to help explain the motivations of religious violence as understood by extremists themselves. It seems somewhat obvious that to understand the mindset of a religiously motivated terrorist, one would have to understand their theology and acknowledge that this theology played a large role in a person’s conscious decision making process. This does not mean, however, that individuals and groups are not unconsciously motivated by traditional socioeconomic factors. These factors could cause particular worldviews to be more appealing to individuals and groups, as well as affect worldviews already held by groups. I would think that theology and socioeconomic/ secular factors have more of a dialectical relationship than one ruled by cause and effect.

    Christine Pugh, Wilfrid Laurier University

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    Michael Peterson says:

    I enjoyed this podcast and the rich discussion it provoked in our RS class at WLU. The example of the mutual incomprehension of law enforcement and David Koresh at Waco, TX, is a salutary example of how easily it is for antagonists to become locked into narratives of cosmic war. Time, patience, and dialogue seem to be the only way out of this trap. As Juergensmeyer says, when you have people to talk to, talk to them. I am struck by the bravery of his colleague, Mona Kanwall Sheikh, who sought to interview Pakistani Taliban leaders, presumably the same sort of people that NATO militaries would class as “High Value Targets” and might want to target with drones and missiles. I am curious to learn more about Sheikh’s data from these interviews, while I am somewhat disheartened by the fact that so few scholars have the ethnic and linguistic facility, not to mention the courage, to do such fieldwork. In this respect, Religious Studies scholars, like western militaries, face similar barriers of access.

    Michael Peterson, Wilfrid Laurier University

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    Shatabdi Datta says:

    To understand the religious worldview social context keeps an enormous influence. Discussed on the topic sociotheology and cosmic war I can able to empathize the affair of the sociotheological approach to understand the religion and religious violence which has become a most sensitive issue since the last few decades Juergensmeyer said in the podcast that according to the people of India religion is a just not the belief and practice and tradition. According to them the religion is the way of their life. To understand their statement we should have to study the political background and the contemporary social condition with the theology of South Asian country. Most of the countries have been ruled as a colony for a long time which has a enormous influence to create their religious view more conservative. Most of the nations have directed according to the religious ideology such as Bangladesh, Pakistan etc and with this it is important to mention that poverty and illiteracy is a massive barrier for the development of those nations. Although they are illiterate but they must be educated by the religious literature from childhood. Before understanding general norm of life like honesty humanity, ethic, morality the kids has been biased by religious theology and ideology which helps to motivate them easily in the religious violence.

    Shatabdi Datta, Wilfrid Laurier University.


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