Religion: The Cause of All Violence?

Please forgive me for this long introduction, but I wanted to mention how I came across this article.

Just the other day, I read an article that Dr. Marranci recently posted on his blog titled From the Taliban to the Taliban: the case of Sayed Perwiz Kambakhsh. In replying to a comment posted by “neoneo” in the comments section, Dr. Marranci referred him to a book titled Formations of the Secular: Christianity, Islam, Modernity by an anthropologist named Talal Asad (looks to be an interesting book, by the way). I decided to do a bit of searching on the author, who I’ve never heard of before, and found his biography on Wikipedia.

Anyhow, after skimming through the biography (which mentioned some pretty interesting things, I might add) I asked a friend of mine who knows a bit about Western academic personalities if he’s ever heard of Asad, to which he answered no. As we were talking though, I mentioned some of the names mentioned in the “Interlocutors” section of his Wikipedia biography and came across the name Charles Taylor. This was a name that my friend was familiar with. Charles Taylor is a Canadian philosopher from Montreal who was Professor of Political Science and Philosophy at McGill University for many years. My friend mentioned that one of his Islamic Studies professors at uni told his class of a book that Taylor had written in which he argues against the common perception that religions are the cause of all violence in the world.

I did a bit of searching on the net for info about this book and found the following article and audio lecture. Both are pretty interesting and I thought I’d share them both with you here.

From the article:

As Slobodan Milosevic awaits his war crimes trial in the Hague, it may be salutary to ask why is it that categorical violence – genocide, say, or ethnic cleansing of the type seen in Bosnia, Croatia, and Kosovo – is recurred so often in our “civilized” century? The question seems unanswerable.

Some people seek explanations in biology: because young men often perpetrate violence, hormones are held as the cause. But it is hard to believe that it all comes down to testosterone. Others see sociobiological explanations: people are aggressive with outsiders and bond with insiders. Supposedly, this had an evolutionary pay-off. Such reasoning, however, makes “meaning” irrelevant.

Yet metaphysical meaning appears axiomatic to categorical violence. Because we see ourselves as imperfect, below what God wants, we sacrifice the bad in us, or sacrifice things we treasure. Or we see destruction as divine (as with Kali-Shiva), identify with it, and so renounce what is destroyed, purifying while bringing meaning to destruction.

We also invoke violence in ways that induce a sense of control, as with the warrior ethic, where the possibility of violent death is embraced. Think of regiments named after the death’s head, say the Prussian Army’s “Totenkopf” battalion. Terror becomes exhilarating; we’re on a high. Here is transcendence.

Read on … The Alchemy of Violence.

The audio lecture, along with lecture notes by Timothy Comeau, can be found at Comeau’s blog,


About Rasheed Gonzales
My name is Rasheed Gonzales. I’m a Muslim convert of Filipino descent. Born and raised in Toronto, Canada, I was guided to Islam through one of my younger brothers and a couple of friends, all of whom had converted to Islam sometime before me (may Allah reward them greatly). I am married with four children (and the praise is Allah’s) and also a volunteer for the Qur'an & Sunnah Society of Canada, based in Toronto.

4 Responses to Religion: The Cause of All Violence?

  1. Mustafa says:

    Assalamu alaykum

    I suppose, you know this, but anyway, Talal Asad is the son of the late Muhammad Asad…

    Assalamu alaykum wa rahmatullah

  2. Wa ‘alaikum as-salam wa rahmatullah brother Mustafa,

    Yeah, I saw it mentioned while skimming through his bio on Wikipedia.

    May Allah reward and bless you with good.

  3. thabet says:

    Assalamu alaykum,

    I would highly recommend Talal Asad’s “On Suicide Bombing”, as controversial as the title suggests! He has an article at HuffPo which is a sort of summary of the book:

    “Formations of the Secular” is a very interesting book, although tough going (I am a bit slow, admittedly).

  4. Pingback: Weapons Found in Tibetan Temples « Rasheed Gonzales

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