Religion and Violence Course (Fall 2018)

Course Syllabus
Violence and Religion. RELIGST 2VR3.
Fall 2018. McMaster University, Religious Studies Department
Tuesday & Friday, 11:30 AM – 12:20 PM; September 4 – December 4, 2018.
Instructor: Max Kennel (
Office Hours: University Hall (basement), by appointment.

The popular belief that religion is the cause of the world’s bloodiest conflicts is central to our modern conviction that faith and politics should never mix. But the messy history of their separation suggests it was never so simple. – Karen Armstrong

Course Description
Religion and violence are often linked together in popular culture, news media, and academic discourse, frequently with the implication that religion necessarily leads to violence. This course provides critical resources for understanding both religion and violence by addressing major intersections of the two terms. By examining texts from the disciplines of religious studies, critical theory, and philosophy this course provides a broad overview of major contemporary theories and examples that both explain and critique religion and violence.

Course Schedule

Week 1. Introduction to the Course: Approaching our Topic with Suspicion and Sympathy

  • September 4th Karen Armstrong, “The Myth of Religious ViolenceThe Guardian.
  • September 7th John D. Carlson, “Religion and Violence: Coming to Terms with Terms,” in The Blackwell Companion to Religion and Violence (7-20).

Week 2. What is Religion? What is Violence?

Week 3. Is Religion Violent? (For and Against the Category of “Religious Violence”)

Week 4. Is Religion Violent? (For and Against the Category of “Religious Violence”)

  • September 25th and 28th William Cavanaugh, The Myth of Religious Violence (3-14). Alternate audio link.

Week 5. What are the Origins of Violence? (Secular and Religious Responses)

  • October 2nd George Bataille, Theory of Religion (9-25, 109-111).
  • October 5th René Girard, “Generative Scapegoating” (73-105). Alternate audio summary link.

Week 6. Reading Week. October 8-14. First Assignment Due / Mid-Term Quiz Available.

Week 7. Against the Question: Is Religion Violent? A Social-Philosophical Approach

Week 8. Case Studies in Religion and Violence #1. Terrorism

  • October 23rd and 26th  James & Brenda Lutz, “What is Terrorism?” in Terrorism: The Basics (1-14).

Week 9. Case Studies in Religion and Violence #2. War (Iraq and Afghanistan)

Week 10. Case Studies in Religion and Violence #3. Social Alienation

Week 11. Case Studies in Religion and Violence #4. Economic Inequality

  • November 13th and 16th Göran Therborn, “The Killing Fields of Inequality” (48-67). Summary article link.

Week 12. Case Studies in Religion and Violence #5. Violence Against Women

Week 13. Course Summary and Essay Workshop Class