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Fields of Blood: Religion and the History of Violenceby Karen Armstrong
I can think of no better writer than Karen Armstrong (bestselling author of A History of God) to serve as a guide to the timely subject of religion and its relationship with violence. Highly readable and easily digestible, Fields of Blood is a fascinating portrait of religious history that should be required reading for anyone wanting a more thorough understanding of current affairs.
Synopses & Reviews
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 America. 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 our time.
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.
"Bracing as ever, Armstrong (The Case for God) sweeps through religious history around the globe and over 4,000 years to explain the yoking of religion and violence and to elucidate the ways in which religion has also been used to counter violence. She goes back to the beginnings of human social organization and into the human brain itself to explain the origins of social structural violence as humans moved from egalitarian hunter-gatherer societies into more socially stratified agrarian cultures that produced enough surplus to fight over, and violent myths that justified conflict. From there she reads sacred texts of numerous cultures to find their contradictions: they portray and justify but they also strive to check it. Ahimsa (nonviolence) is an ancient Indian concept; Israel's prophets thundered against its kings; Christianity turned its other cheek but also mounted Crusades. She relates — at length — contemporary terrorism to politics and regional histories: 'As an inspiration for terrorism... nationalism has been far more productive than religion.' The comparative nature of her inquiry is refreshing, and it's supported by 80 pages of footnotes and bibliography. Provocative and supremely readable. Announced first printing of 150,000. (Oct.) " Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
“Armstrong again impresses with the breadth of her knowledge and the skill with which she conveys it to us.” Booklist (starred review)
“Epic in scale...a comprehensive and erudite study of the history of violence in relation to religion....Armstrong leads readers patiently through history...her writing is clear and descriptive, her approach balanced and scholarly....An intriguing read, useful resource and definitive voice in defense of the divine in human culture.” Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
“A well-written historical summary of what have traditionally been viewed as ‘religious’ wars, showing convincingly that in pretty much all cases it was not so much religion as it was political issues that fueled the conflict.” Library Journal (starred review)
“A timely work....This passionately argued book is certain to provoke heated debate against the background of the Isis atrocities and many other acts of violence perpetrated around the world today in the name of religion.” Financial Times
“Detailed and often riveting...a mighty offering....Armstrong can be relied on to have done her homework and she has the anthropologist’s respect for the ‘otherness’ of other cultures....[Her] oeuvre is extensive, bringing a rare mix of cool-headed scholarship and impassioned concern for humanity to bear on the vexed topic of religion....[And she] is nothing if not democratic in her exposition.” The Guardian (UK)
“From Gilgamesh to bin Laden, [Armstrong covers] almost five millennia of human experience....Supplying the context of what may look like religiously motivated episodes of violence, in order to show that religion as such was not the prime cause....She is no doubt right to say that the aggression of a modern jihadist does not represent some timeless essence of religion, and that other political, economic and cultural factors loom large in the stories of how and why individuals become radicalized.” The Telegraph (UK)
About the Author
Karen Armstrong is the author of numerous books on religion, including The Case for God, A History of God, The Battle for God, Holy War, Islam, Buddha, and The Great Transformation, as well as a memoir, The Spiral Staircase. Her work has been translated into forty-five languages. In 2008 she was awarded the TED Prize and began working with TED on the Charter for Compassion, created online by the general public, crafted by leading thinkers in Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Confucianism. It was launched globally in the fall of 2009. Also in 2008, she was awarded the Franklin D. Roosevelt Four Freedoms Medal. In 2013, she received the British Academy’s inaugural Nayef Al-Rodhan Prize for Transcultural Understanding.
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