From the renowned and best-selling author of A History of God, a sweeping exploration of religion and the history of human violence.
For the first time, religious self-identification is on the decline in
American. Some analysts have cited as cause a post-9/11perception: that
faith in general is a source of aggression, intolerance, and
divisiveness something bad for society. But how accurate is that view?
With deep learning and sympathetic understanding, Karen Armstrong sets
out to discover the truth about religion and violence in each of the
world s great traditions, taking us on an astonishing journey from
prehistoric times to the present.
While many historians have looked
at violence in connection with particular religious manifestations
(jihad in Islam or Christianity s Crusades), Armstrong looks at each
faith not only Christianity and Islam, but also Buddhism, Hinduism,
Confucianism, Daoism, and Judaism in its totality over time. As she
describes, each arose in an agrarian society with plenty powerful
landowners brutalizing peasants while also warring among themselves over
land, then the only real source of wealth. In this world, religion was
not the discrete and personal matter it would become for us but rather
something that permeated all aspects of society. And so it was that
agrarian aggression, and the warrior ethos it begot, became bound up
with observances of the sacred.
In each tradition, however, a
counterbalance to the warrior code also developed. Around sages,
prophets, and mystics there grew up communities protesting the injustice
and bloodshed endemic to agrarian society, the violence to which
religion had become heir. And so by the time the great confessional
faiths came of age, all understood themselves as ultimately devoted to
peace, equality, and reconciliation, whatever the acts of violence
perpetrated in their name.
Industrialization and modernity have
ushered in an epoch of spectacular and unexampled violence, although, as
Armstrong explains, relatively little of it can be ascribed directly to
religion. Nevertheless, she shows us how and in what measure religions,
in their relative maturity, came to absorb modern belligerence and what
hope there might be for peace among believers of different creeds in
At a moment of rising geopolitical chaos, the imperative
of mutual understanding between nations and faith communities has never
been more urgent, the dangers of action based on misunderstanding never
greater. Informed by Armstrong s sweeping erudition and personal
commitment to the promotion of compassion, Fields of Blood makes vividly clear that religion is not the problem."
|Number of Pages: