Better get to know the AAR’s Comparative Approaches to Religion and Violence group


Editor’s note: “Better get to know” a program unit, working group, or organization is a new feature with the Bulletin that aims to engage with various religious studies groups in the critical-historical and analytic theoretical traditions.

Ipsita Chatterjea: Thank you for talking with the Bulletin for the Study of Religion Blog about your group and its work! What is Comparative Approaches to Religion and Violence’s origin tale?


Michael and Margo for CARV:

CARV took shape in the early fall of 2012 when David Frankfurter, myself (Michael) and other panelists for a religion and violence session co-sponsored by Critical Theories and Discourses on Religion (CTDR) and Sociology of Religion, discussed forming a new program unit like the SBL’s Violence and representations of Violence among Jews and Christians group, only with a broader focus.

I felt this would only work if I could co-chair the program unit with Margo Kitts as we had worked together on the Oxford Handbook of Religion and Violence, and I found her work and insights indispensable. Margo agreed, and with the help of Ipsita Chatterjea, we successfully petitioned for the CTDR panel to count as their exploratory panel for the new program unit.

Following the tremendous success of the exploratory panel, we invited scholars to the steering committee that had made a profound impact on the discourse and could critically evaluate the various religious traditions. Fortunately, everyone accepted the invitations and CARV was born.

IC: Who are you people?!

Michael and Margo:

We (Michael Jerryson and Margo Kitts) Co chair CARV:

Michael Jerryson specializes in the relationship between Buddhism and violence and has published on the larger subject of religion and violence.

Margo Kitts specialized in religious themes in ancient literature, particularly in Homeric and Hittite texts, but she has published widely also on ritualized violence and theories of violence.

CARV’s committee is staffed with experts across the field:

Mark Juergensmeyer is a former president of the American Academy of Religion and 2004 recipient of the Silver Award of the Queen Sofia Center for the Study of Violence in Spain. He is the author of seminal books on religion and violence such as Terror in the Mind of God.

Hans Kippenberg holds a wisdom-professorship of comparative religious studies at the School of Humanities and Social Sciences at Jacobs University Bremen and has published on the sociology of religion and contemporary religious violence.

Julie Ingersoll specializes in religion and violence in the United States and has published on Christian Reconstructionism.

Philip Tite specializes in biblical traditions and violence and has published widely on the larger subject of religion and violence.

Jamel Velji specializes in the relationship between Islam and apocalypticism and has published on apocalyptic religion and violence.

IC: What does CARV do and how does CARV do it?

Michael and Margo:

Various disciplines such as sociology, anthropology, psychology, evolutionary psychology, cognitive science, economics, and political science have contributed great insights into the nature of religion and violence. CARV provides a platform that brings these explorations together in order to both expand and sharpen the discourse on religion and violence.

This exploration involves comparing religious traditions as well as integrating various methodologies. Over the last several years, we have hosted panels that place scholars of Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, and Judaism in conversation with each other. An example is the 2014 roundtable chaired by John Kelsay, “Religions and Cultural Regulations of Violence: A Comparative Dialogue.” Other panels, such as “Religion and Self-Inflicted Violence,” bring together scholars who do textual analyses, ethnographic work, and quantitative research.

To better serve our mission, CARV seeks collaborative panels with other groups. For instance, we have been co-sponsors with the SBL unit on Violence and Representations of Violence among Jews and Christians, and the AAR units on Critical Theories and Discourses on Religion (CTDR) and African Religions Group. For the 2015 meeting, we have ventured into collaborations also with AAR’s Religion and Ecology Group and Cognitive Science of Religion Group.

CARV also promotes comparative approaches through outlets outside the AAR, such as the annual SORAAAD workshop (Study of Religion as an Analytic Discipline), and several publication venues. One of these is the Journal of Religion and Violence, for which Margo and Michael are Co-Editors. Some anticipated themes for 2015 are alterity (papers to be drawn from the 2014 AAR panel on that theme) and religion and violence in Africa.

IC: What have been your favorite sessions, or session moments, or separately most memorable (famous or infamous) moments ever?

Michael and Margo:

As a young program unit, we have had many wonderful sessions and conversations. As mentioned, several of our papers have been or are due for publication, and we have received a number of invitations to publish the papers as a group. Attendance at our sessions has been robust.

IC: Books or articles that have appeared in the last few years that the Committee recommends or that embodies CARV’s editorial line, including publications that the group has had a hand in producing?

Michael and Margo:

The discourse on religion and violence is developing at a rapid pace. We find exciting, for instance, Jacob Dalton’s The Taming of the Demons: Violence and Liberation in Tibetan Buddhism (Yale University Press 2013), James Howard Smith and Rosalind Hackett’s Displacing the State: Religion and Conflict in Neoliberal Africa (University of Notre Dame Press 2012), and on the ancient side, Brent Shaw’s Sacred Violence: African Christians and Sectarian Hatred in the Age of Augustine (Cambridge University Press 2011) and Zeinab Bahrani’s investigation of themes of violence in Assyrian palace reliefs, in Rituals of War (Zone Books 2008).

The Oxford Handbook of Religion and Violence (2013) offers an extended list of subjects, religions, and new directions. Oxford University Press sponsors continuing research through online venues such as the Oxford Handbooks Online/Religion and Oxford Research Encyclopedia/Religion (both directed by Julia Kostova). The Journal of Religion and Violence is in the process of soliciting reviewers for a number of relatively recent books on the intersection of religion and violence, ranging in focus from South and Southeast Asia to Africa to the U.S.

IC: What Journals do you find scholarship in your area citing most frequently? Would you like to tell us a little bit more about the newly established relationship between CARV and the Journal of Religion and Violence?

Michael and Margo for CARV:

The discourse on religion and violence is rich and vast. Contemporary scholarship that addresses the political nature of religion and violence often finds a home in Politics, Religion & Ideology Journal and the Journal of Religion and Politics. Theory and Method in the Study of Religion and Material Religion represent more analytical trends. This is not to mention the many journals dedicated to area studies, but which do feature occasional articles on violence, such as the Journal of Religion in Africa and the Journal of Asian Studies.

As for the Journal of Religion and Violence, it is entering its third year. So far, it has been quite extensive in its scope and interests, with special issues devoted to Girardian theories, religious symbolism and rhetoric, and the upcoming issue on African conflicts.

We were invited to co-edit a special issue of the Journal of Religion and Violence in 2014. For this special issue, we invited scholars who had participated on CARV panels. The issue was a wonderful success. James R. Lewis was editor at the time, and saw the potential in linking CARV with the journal in a more formal capacity. Following the success of CARV’s second year at the AAR, he invited the two of us to become permanent editors of the journal.

In January 2015, we accepted the position as the permanent co-editors of the Journal of Religion and Violence and brought their steering committee onto the editorial board. In this capacity, CARV’s steering committee will vet papers to the AAR in a dual capacity: as papers for panels at the national conference and also as potential essays for the Journal of Religion and Violence. This will augment the current work and growth of the journal, which will continue to solicit pioneering scholarship on religion and violence.

IC: What fields outside of religion do you find have most resonance for producing innovative interdisciplinary work? Or what are CARV’s corollaries outside of the AAR?

Michael and Margo:

CARV, similarly to religious studies as a whole, is thoroughly interdisciplinary. We have had or anticipate papers from perspectives deriving from anthropology, sociology, psychology, political science, history, literature, cognitive science, and ecology, or a creative mix of these.

IC: Could you talk about scholars who have forthcoming work you think we (generalists and specialists) should be looking at?

Michael and Margo:

Because CARV’s advisory members hail from widely varied historical and cultural fields, it is nearly impossible to single out just a few emerging voices which appeal to us all. But a few examples might be John Soboslai on the violence implicit within popular narratives of non-violence, which reminds us to re-examine assumed categories, such as the violent/non-violent binary. There is also work forthcoming by Matthew Walton and Michael, who posit a new way to understand the role of religious authority for Buddhist-inspired violence in places like contemporary Myanmar. Since the ISIS beheading videos, the Last Instructions of 9/11, and for that matter since studies of a plethora of assault sorcerers world-wide, the link between ritual and violence has become a scholarly focus for some. Two works on that are forthcoming from Margo Kitts (Cambridge, Carolina Academic Press; see also her edited collection “Ritual and Violence” within State, Power, and Violence, Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz 2010). Other authors/editors who have peaked our interest recently are Meir Hatina, who wrote Martyrdom in Modern Islam (Cambridge University Press 2014), and James Lewis and Carole Cusack with their collection, Sacred Suicide (Ashgate 2014).

IC: On behalf of the Bulletin, thank you for letting us get to know your unit. Anything else we should know?

Michael and Margo:

We look forward to creative, interdisciplinary conversations on the vast topic of religion and violence. The discourse on religion and violence is incredibly broad, stretching beyond the typical associations of unethical acts and physical violence (such as torture, conflicts, and wars). There is ambiguous violence in, for instance, euthanasia and rhetorical concepts such as the sacred rupture of creation and tilling the earth for new growth. Violence exists on the physical and the symbolic level, with subtle permutations that play out in a variety of ways such as forms of discrimination.

As we continue to expand this discourse, we welcome you to attend our AAR panels and to read our forthcoming issues in the Journal of Religion and Violence.

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