Beneath the histories of religious traditions – from biblical wars to crusading ventures and great acts of martyrdom – violence has lurked as a shadowy presence. Images of death have never been far from the heart of religion’s power to stir the imagination. In this wide-ranging and erudite book, Mark Juergensmeyer asks one of the most important and perplexing questions of our age: why do religious people commit violent acts in the name of their god, taking the lives of innocent victims and terrorizing entire populations?
This first comparative study of religious terrorism explores such recent incidents such as the World Trade Center explosion, Hamas suicide bombings, the Tokyo subway nerve gas attacks, and the killing of abortion clinic doctors in the United States. Incorporating personal interviews with World Trade Center bomber Mahmud Abouhalima, Christian Right activist Mike Bray, Hamas leaders Sheik Yassin and Abdul Azis Rantisi, and Sikh political leader Simranjit Singh Mann, among others, Juergensmeyer takes us into the mind-set of those who perpetrate and support violent acts. In the process, he helps us understand why these acts are often associated with religious causes and why they occur with such frequency at this moment in history.
Terror in the Mind of God places these acts of violence in the context of global political and social changes, and sees them as attempts to empower the cultures of violence that support them. It analyzes the economic, ideological, and gender-related dimensions of cultures that embrace a central sacred concept – cosmic war – and that employ religion to demonize their enemies.
Juergensmeyer’s narrative is engaging, incisive, and sweeping in scope. He convincingly shows that while in many cases religion supplies the ideology, motivation, and organizational structure for the perpetrators of violence, it also carries the possibilities for peace.