Field Notes: New AAR Program Unit Proposal – Comparative Approaches to Religion and Violence.

To foster interdisciplinary approaches to and comparative religion analyses in the study of religion and violence we are seeking AAR member signatures to support the creation of a new Program Unit:  “Comparative Approaches to Religion and Violence.”

At the 2012 Chicago AAR meeting, “Theorizing Religion and Violence: Interdisciplinary Approaches, the Future of a Subfield,” served as the exploratory panel which was co-sponsored by the Critical Theory and Discourses on Religion Group and Sociology of Religion Group.

The panel papers provide an example of the direction we seek to promote in our new program unit with rich discussions on the relationship between religion and violence– from sociological, anthropological, psychological, linguistic and literary analyses on conflicts around the world.

As a new program unit, one of the requirements for entry into the American Academy of Religion conference is evidence of member interest. If you could, we would greatly appreciate an email of support from you.

The AAR program committee explicitly would like to hear how (1) this new program unit would facilitate your research; (2) if you would submit proposals to this unit, and; (3) whether you would attend sessions for this new unit.

To register your interest with the program committee, please address the points above, or state your general support for the creation of this unit to the AAR Program Committee at ([email protected]) by November 29, 2012.

For more information on our proposal, please find below the details on our current committee members and a brief outline of our view of the field and need for the program unit at the AAR.

Thank you for your interest. We hope to confirm the unit’s approval early in the new year.


Michael and Margo


 Comparative Approaches to Religion and Violence Group

 Co-chairs: Michael Jerryson (Eckerd College) and Margo Kitts (Hawai’i Pacific University)

Steering committee members: Mark Juergensmeyer (University of California, Santa Barbara), Hans Kippenberg (Jacobs University Bremen), Philip Tite (University of Washington), Julie Ingersoll (University of North Florida) and Jamel Velji (Haverford College).

One rising interest in the field of religious studies is the interdisciplinary analysis of religion and violence. Among the first reverberations was J. Z. Smith’s article, “The Devil in Mr. Jones,” written in response to the deaths of 918 people near and in Jonestown, Guyana on November 18, 1978. After this, historians of religion moved toward handling events of violence and religion as data to be studied rather than as acts of those without “genuine” religion. Since the end of the Cold War, acts of religiously motivated violence have become prominent worldwide. Academics from various disciplines have attempted to account for these incidents, citing a resurgence of anti-colonialism, poverty and economic injustice, the failures of secular nationalism, uprootedness and the loss of a homeland, and the pervasive features of globalization in its economic, political, social and cultural forms. Scholars no longer debate whether religion has a role in violence; rather, the discussion has turned to what kind of role it plays, and how this role effects social change in both the conflict and religious communities.

We contend that the theories, methodologies and scales for studying the expanding field of religion and violence remain under-explored, require interdisciplinary work and collaboration to provide greater insights into the thorny issues involved. The most fertile fields in the study of religion over the last century have been interdisciplinary; sociology of religion, anthropology of religion, psychology of religion, philosophy of religion, and more recently economics of religion and political science of religion, all of these are arguably interdisciplinary by nature. Exciting work has been done on the relationship between religion and violence also from perspectives such as evolutionary psychology, cognitive science, and philosophy.  However, there is no venue devoted specifically to interdisciplinary discussions of the subject.  A larger frame for the study of religion and violence would channel and enhance the growing contributions from the historically delineated (albeit constructed) humanities, social sciences and physical sciences.

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4 Responses to Field Notes: New AAR Program Unit Proposal – Comparative Approaches to Religion and Violence.

  1. Fully supportive of this new unit. As someone who works on Holocaust and Genocide related issues and where such intersects with relgious issues, this is right up my alley.

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