Fighting Words: Religion, Violence, and the Interpretation of Sacred Texts

Fighting Words: Religion, Violence, and the Interpretation of Sacred Texts

Fighting Words: Religion, Violence, and the Interpretation of Sacred Texts

Fighting Words: Religion, Violence, and the Interpretation of Sacred Texts


One of the critical issues in interreligious relations today is the connection, both actual and perceived, between sacred sources and the justification of violent acts as divinely mandated. Fighting Words makes solid text-based scholarship accessible to the general public, beginning with the premise that a balanced approach to religious pluralism in our world must build on a measured, well-informed response to the increasingly publicized and sensationalized association of terrorism and large-scale violence with religion.

In his introduction, Renard provides background on the major scriptures of seven religious traditions--Jewish, Christian (including both the Old and New Testaments), Islamic, Baha'i, Zoroastrian, Hindu, and Sikh. Eight chapters then explore the interpretation of select facets of these scriptures, focusing on those texts so often claimed, both historically and more recently, as inspiration and justification for every kind of violence, from individual assassination to mass murder. With its nuanced consideration of a complex topic, this book is not merely about the religious sanctioning of violence but also about diverse ways of reading sacred textual sources.


My goal here has been to assemble a collection of essays designed to provide representative samples of an enormous subject: how various sacred texts deal with the subject of violence and how exegetical specialists in a variety of religious traditions have interpreted those texts. Given the libraries full of sacred texts and commentary thereon, such a vast topic as this one can only sample cursorily in a single volume. But the unfortunate topicality of questions of allegedly religious justification of carnage in our time makes all the more pressing the need to provide access to some explicit approach to the subject, however partial or fragmentary the results.

I offer my gratitude to the final cohort of colleagues who persevered through the vicissitudes of a process that began in 2006. I believe their generous and very patient collective effort will provide a useful contribution to broader understanding of a major religious theme in the lives and belief of so many millions of our fellow human beings.

I am grateful to Jared Goff and Alex Giltner, of Saint Louis University, for their valuable editorial assistance at various stages of the project; to Jacob Van Sickle, also of Saint Louis University, for his help in a variety of editorial matters, compiling the glossary, and generally preparing the final manuscript for delivery to the press, as well as for help in proofreading the final pages. I thank also Barbara Roos for compiling the index. Special thanks to Reed Malcolm, religious studies editor of the University of California Press, for his flexibility and patience in the completion of this project; and to ucp project editor Rose Vekony and copy editor Robert Demke for their very able editorial assistance in the book’s latter stages. and as always, my deepest gratitude to my spouse, Mary Pat, for her unfailing support and good humor through the ups and downs of this protracted project.

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