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Available October 28, 2014
Fields of Blood: Religion and the History of Violenceby Karen Armstrong
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 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 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.
From the Hardcover edition.
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. And in 2013, she received the British Academy’s inaugural al-Rodhan Award for improving Transcultural Understanding.
About the Author
From the renowned and best-selling author of A History of God, a sweeping exploration of religion's connection to violence.
For the first time in American history, religious self-identification is on the decline. Some have cited a perception that began to grow after September 11, 2001-that faith in general is a source of aggression, intolerance, and divisiveness, something bad for society. But how accurate is that view? And does it apply equally to all faiths? In these troubled times, we risk basing decisions of real and dangerous consequence on mistaken understandings of the faiths around us, in our immediate community as well as globally. And so, with her deep learning and sympathetic understanding, Karen Armstrong examines the impulse toward violence in each of the world's great religions. The comparative approach is new: while there have been plenty of books on jihad or the Crusades, for example this one lays the Christian and the Islamic way of war side by side, along with those of Buddhism, Hinduism, Confucianism, Daoism, and Judaism. Each of these faiths arose in an agrarian society with plenty of motivation for violence: landowners had to lord it over peasants, and warfare was essential to increase one's landholdings, the only real source of wealth before the great age of trade and commerce. In each context, it fell to the priestly class to legitimate the actions of the state. And so the martial ethos became bound up with the sacred. At the same time, however, the faiths developed ideologies that ran counter to the warrior code: around sages, prophets, and mystics within each tradition there grew up communities that represented a protest against the injustice and violence endemic to agrarian society. This book explores the symbiosis of these two impulses and its development as these confessional faiths came of age. But modernity has also been spectacularly violent, and so Armstrong goes on to show 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 in our time.
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History and Social Science » Western Civilization » General