By Ipsita Chatterjea
In his latest book, Kippenberg argues analysis of religious violence should not seek to sanction the purity, authenticity or legitimacy of religious groups and deem others aberrant as this distorts our capacity to observe. For Kippenberg, the mis-handling of Jonestown as feared of by J. Z. Smith was manifest in the Waco disaster. Or, Kippenberg asserts that when academics credential the alterity of religious groups and public officials fail to understand the recursive impacts of religious belief and socio-political activity, potentially preventable harm occurs. Kippenberg’s other case studies: Iran, Hezbollah, the Palestinian-Israeli crisis, American apocalyptic Christianity, and 9/11 demonstrate how macro-scale religious violence is observably a function of religious belief and perceptions of individual agency, communality, and autonomy. He indicates that these issues are also causative factors in the choice of non-violent religious responses by these same communities.
Kippenberg’s handling of violence as a religious act has broader applications for how analysts consider religion, agency and causation. The book is enormously useful for the analysis of religious and civic activity. In line with his observations on the problem of sanctioning legitimacy, he asserts that analysts must try to understand the internal logic or plausibility of actions taken rather than assume brainwashing or false consciousness on the part of those studied. Furthermore, analysts must take seriously the claims made about how activity is religious for the agents profiled and then situate those decisions as adherence or rejection of a communally understood array of options.