The Myth of Religious Violence: Secular Ideology and the Roots of Modern Conflict

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Oxford University Press, Sep 3, 2009 - Religion - 296 pages
The idea that religion has a dangerous tendency to promote violence is part of the conventional wisdom of Western societies, and it underlies many of our institutions and policies, from limits on the public role of religion to efforts to promote liberal democracy in the Middle East. William T. Cavanaugh challenges this conventional wisdom by examining how the twin categories of religion and the secular are constructed. A growing body of scholarly work explores how the category 'religion' has been constructed in the modern West and in colonial contexts according to specific configurations of political power. Cavanaugh draws on this scholarship to examine how timeless and transcultural categories of 'religion and 'the secular' are used in arguments that religion causes violence. He argues three points: 1) There is no transhistorical and transcultural essence of religion. What counts as religious or secular in any given context is a function of political configurations of power; 2) Such a transhistorical and transcultural concept of religion as non-rational and prone to violence is one of the foundational legitimating myths of Western society; 3) This myth can be and is used to legitimate neo-colonial violence against non-Western others, particularly the Muslim world.

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User Review  - aitastaes - LibraryThing

Religion’ is one of those conversation topics that seems to be hard to avoid, and even harder to deal with. ‘Not surprising’ says Cavanaugh, in not so many words, as he searches the globe for adequate ... Read full review

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User Review  - ritaer - LibraryThing

Cavanaugh makes three main points: that the category of religion is not universal and that therefore, branding particular incidents of violence as religous is problematic; that the history of the ... Read full review


1 The Anatomy of the Myth
2 The Invention of Religion
3 The Creation Myth of the Wars of Religion
4 The Uses of the Myth

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About the author (2009)

William T Cavanaugh is Senior Research Professor at DePaul University in Chicago.

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