Academic journal article Church History

Book Review: From Jeremiad to Jihad: Religion, Violence, & America

Academic journal article Church History

Book Review: From Jeremiad to Jihad: Religion, Violence, & America

Article excerpt

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From Jeremiad to Jihad: Religion, Violence, & America . Edited by John D. Carlson and Jonathan H. Ebel . Foreword by Martin Marty. Berkeley : University of California Press , 2012. xviii + 300 pp. $73.95 cloth, $31.95 paper.

Book Reviews and Notes

"Jeremiad" and "Jihad" are not the only organizing principles that begin with the letter "J" in this thought-provoking volume of collected essays. John Brown also features prominently in the introduction by John Carlson and Jonathan Ebel. The authors use Brown's deadly raid on Harper's Ferry to raise questions about how to assess religious justifications for violence, whether "moral ends justify violent means" (2), and how a better understanding of religion can offer a better understanding of violent episodes in America's past, present, and future. Brown is a particularly illuminating figure because of the moral complexity surrounding his mission to end slavery. "Should we remember him as a jeremiadic figure?" the authors ask. "A jihadist? Perhaps as both?" (13) Though the idea of Brown as jihadist might seem foreign, the authors make the argument that "jeremiad and jihad have more in common than first meets the eye" (11). While the jeremiad is undeniably "familiar," the jihad--defined as a struggle to live righteously and follow God's will--might also be said to describe figures like Brown.

The fifteen thoughtful essays in this volume take a similarly nuanced approach to a topic that can lead in the direction of anything but. They are united in their refusal to essentialize religion as inherently violent and refusal to find violence in "every corner of American history and culture." They also refuse to take the opposite extreme of "put[ting] a halo on American history and policies" (8). Despite the heavy subject, an undercurrent of hope pervades the volume as a whole, that "peering deeply into the darkness should not blind us to the light but rather stoke our yearning for it" (xvi).

The volume's moral undertones reflect the editors' and contributors' backgrounds in the disciplines of religious studies, history, and ethics (as well as political science, communications, theology, film studies, and international relations). Those expecting a straightforward chronology from the "jeremiads" of the Puritans to the "jihads" of the present will be disappointed. One of the book's central contentions is that the jeremiad and jihad have been constant themes throughout American history instead of the one giving way to the other. Still, with the exception of the introduction, only one of the essays deals primarily with jihad (Sohail H. Hashmi's incisive "Enemies Near and Far: The United States and Its Muslim Allies in Radical Islamist Discourse"), whereas the jeremiad forms a constant refrain throughout. "Just war" is another principle beginning with "J" that surfaces much more frequently than "jihad," although From Jeremiad to Just War is hardly as catchy or current a title.

Ebel and Carlson group the essays, by well known and emerging scholars, and representing both new work and selections from existing publications, into three thematic sections. The first, "Religious Origins and Tropes of American Violence," introduces key terms like jeremiad, covenant, crusade, and providence. …

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