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Against ethnicity

Ring composition and conflict resolution

Paul Richards

Ethnicity—once the preserve of anthropologists and folklorists studying disappearing tribal and peasant cultures—has become an important element in the models and explanations of a broader community of social scientists seeking to comprehend post-Cold War social disorder. But is ethnicity equivalent to variables such as resource competition or poverty? Ethnicity can be viewed as an epiphenomenon. The argument has major consequences for the way ethnic conflicts are analyzed and resolved. The article considers neo-Durkheimian conceptual tools for uncovering mechanisms generative of ethnic epiphenomena, and explores a neo-Durkheimian approach to conflict resolution. Specifically, Mary Douglas's ideas on ring composition are extended to include the ethnomusicological project of the Hungarian composer Béla Bartók, and then applied to epiphenomena emerging from the protracted civil conflict in the West African country of Sierra Leone.

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Debate

Religion and Violence

William T. Cavanaugh, Wendy James and Paul Richards

It is much easier these days to find people who think that Barack Obama was born in Kenya than it is to find Westerners who deny that religion has a peculiar tendency to promote violence. This latter idea is widespread, from the common person in the street to political theorists who assure us that liberal politics arose to save us from the violence that religion would foster if left untamed in the public sphere. The violence of religion is more than a history lesson, we are told; with the rise of Islamic radicalism and other forms of illiberal politics, we are threatened today with the kinds of religious violence that the West successfully domesticated in the early modern period. In this brief essay, I will raise doubts about this prevalent tale that we in the secular age like to tell ourselves.