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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.