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From Jeremiad to Jihad

From Jeremiad to Jihad: Religion, Violence, and America

John D. Carlson
Jonathan H. Ebel
Copyright Date: 2012
Edition: 1
Pages: 250
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  • Book Info
    From Jeremiad to Jihad
    Book Description:

    Violence has been a central feature of America's history, culture, and place in the world. It has taken many forms: from state-sponsored uses of force such as war or law enforcement, to revolution, secession, terrorism and other actions with important political and cultural implications. Religion also holds a crucial place in the American experience of violence, particularly for those who have found order and meaning in their worlds through religious texts, symbols, rituals, and ideas. Yet too often the religious dimensions of violence, especially in the American context, are ignored or overstated-in either case, poorly understood.From Jeremiad to Jihad: Religion, Violence, and Americacorrects these misunderstandings. Charting and interpreting the tendrils of religion and violence, this book reveals how formative moments of their intersection in American history have influenced the ideas, institutions, and identities associated with the United States. Religion and violence provide crucial yet underutilized lenses for seeing America anew-including its outlook on, and relation to, the world.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-95153-2
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xiv)
    Martin E. Marty

    The contents of this book are strikingly diverse: Amalek, Iraq, and Ghost Dance; covenant, rights, and manifesto; schools and war; providence and cinema, Alma White and coercive interrogation. Can a topic as clearly focused as religion and violence in America be so hydra-headed as to yield a list of elements that differ so vastly? It can and it does. Consider the title’s key terms, which ground this book in a dynamic American context.

    Thejeremiadis a rhetorical legacy of the colonial era, best understood as biblically informed and inflamed rhetoric intended to chastise a sinful people, enjoin humility, and...

    (pp. xv-xviii)
  5. Introduction. John Brown, Jeremiad, and Jihad: Reflections on Religion, Violence, and America
    (pp. 1-26)
    John D. Carlson and Jonathan H. Ebel

    Following his infamous raid and dramatic capture at Harper’s Ferry on October 16, 1859, the militant abolitionist John Brown was asked, during one of the more memorable interrogations in U.S. history, how he justified his actions. Brown had led a band of twenty-one men, including three of his sons, in a wildly conceived and shoddily executed effort to seize the federal armory in what was then the state of Virginia. His plan was to use the arms and munitions—and, for slaves unable to use guns, a thousand pikes prestaged in a nearby school—to lead a revolt for manumission...


    • 1 From King Philip’s War to September 11: Religion, Violence, and the American Way
      (pp. 29-47)
      Andrew R. Murphy and Elizabeth Hanson

      Clifford Geertz suggests an intimate connection between religion and suffering, a problem of interpretation central to any consideration of the relationship between religion and violence more generally.¹ This chapter examines key episodes in America’s nearly 400-year history of turning to the jeremiad to explain violence endured and sometimes to justify violence inflicted.² The jeremiad is part of a longstanding American rhetorical tradition, one that understands the nation as existing in a special, covenanted relationship with God, with special purposes to accomplish in the world. Although the jeremiad did not originate in America, and is not unique to the American experience...

    • 2 A Nation Birthed in Blood: Violent Cosmogonies and American Film
      (pp. 48-61)
      S. Brent Rodriguez-Plate

      Toward the end of D. W. Griffith’s 1915 filmThe Birth of a Nation, about the U.S. Civil War and its aftermath, an oversized, ethereal Jesus appears to a group of people from upon a hill—a heavenly declaration of coming harmony between North and South, black and white. The Christ figure is a unifier, bringing together divisive factions, attempting to prove that in spite of its racist history, its violent warring over political, racial, and religious issues, the United States will be born again. In its day, Griffith’s film served as a cinematic cosmogonic myth—an accounting of national...

    • 3 From Covenant to Crusade and Back: American Christianity and the Late Great War
      (pp. 62-77)
      Jonathan H. Ebel

      World War I is a vexing chapter in American history. In retrospect it stands awkwardly in the shadow of World War II, its more compelling, supposedly less morally complex sequel. Taken on its own terms, the Great War appears profoundly discontinuous from the historical currents surrounding it. How does one account for American involvement in such a devastating conflict during an era of optimism and faith in progress? What vital national interest could have drawn four million American men and tens of thousands of American women to serve in a war against European powers when the U.S. homeland was not...

    • 4 From Jeremiad to Manifesto: The Rhetorical Evolution of John Foster Dulles’s “Massive Retaliation”
      (pp. 78-90)
      Ned O’Gorman

      On December 8, 1953, as he stood before the General Assembly of the United Nations to give his “Atoms for Peace” speech, President Eisenhower declared, “I have a sense of exhilaration as I look upon this Assembly. Never before in history has so much hope for so many people been gathered together in a single organization.”¹ It is in hindsight a remarkable statement of confidence in the potential of the United Nations by a U.S. president, connected to a peculiar postwar faith in the possibilities of a worldwide federation of nations. More than the residue of Wilsonian idealism, in the...

    • 5 American Providence, American Violence
      (pp. 91-108)
      Stephen H. Webb

      One cultural constant throughout American history has been the popular but controversial contention that God has chosen America to play a special role on the global stage. Whatever the theological merits of this claim, most historians agree that the doctrine of providence has played a crucial role in the formation of American identity.¹ From the Great Seal, with its Latin inscriptionsannuit coeptis(God has favored our undertakings) andnovus ordo seclorum(a new order of the ages), to President George W. Bush’s many evocations of God’s guiding hand, Americans have sought their identity not so much in what they...


    • 6 New Israel, New Amalek: Biblical Exhortations to Religious Violence
      (pp. 111-127)
      John Corrigan

      In the West, the authorization of brutality against religious and political enemies often has been rooted in scriptural hermeneutics. Religiously derived logics that had directed violence through the European middle ages and Reformation—and were polished in the Thirty Years’ War and other early modern catastrophes—were adapted to the circumstances of encounter in the French, Spanish, and English empires in the Americas. The anglophone writings relevant to that development, which would profoundly shape a pattern of thinking about religion and violence in the United States, relied heavily on the biblical account of Israel’s annihilation of the Amalekites, and deployed...

    • 7 Religion and Violence in Black and White
      (pp. 128-142)
      Eddie S. Glaude Jr.

      During the “July Days” celebrations of 1834, a mob of angry merchants attacked a racially integrated Fourth of July gathering at the Chatham Street Church in New York City. Rumors that the church condoned “amalgamation” by not segregating its pews had made it an especially attractive target. The angry crowd set fire to the church, burning it to the ground. But the mob refused to stop there. They found another target in St. Philip’s African Episcopal Church on Center Street, whose pastor, Reverend Peter Williams, had been accused of officiating an interracial marriage. The raucous crowd invaded his church, destroying...

    • 8 State Violence and the Un-American West: Mormons, American Indians, and Cults
      (pp. 143-158)
      Todd M. Kerstetter

      It is a consistent feature of America’s past and present that religion serves as a marker of individual and group legitimacy, by which the status of “good American” might be assigned. This chapter addresses four episodes occurring in the past century and a half in the American West in which federal and state authorities used rhetorical, legislative, and physical violence against religious groups it considered “un-American.” This recurring pattern presupposes that a particular style of religion (namely, Protestant Christianity in secular trappings) is necessary to “good” Americanism. Collectively, these episodes point to an ongoing struggle between a government suspicious of...

    • 9 Alma White’s Bloodless Warfare: Women and Violence in U.S. Religious History
      (pp. 159-176)
      Lynn S. Neal

      “For the Christian life is a warfare. It does not consist merely in a profession of faith, joining a church, accepting certain truths, and conforming to certain rules and regulations. It is a conflict of forces.”¹ As she encountered this warfare throughout her life, Bishop Alma White (1862–1946), author of these words, fashioned herself a warrior. Martial words, phrases, and imagery—warfare, soldiers, armor, blood—permeate her sermons, her hymns, and her autobiography. She understood her life and the Christian life as an unending battle “against the world, the flesh, and the devil.”² Or, as she wrote, “the followers...

    • 10 Of Tragedy and Its Aftermath: The Search for Religious Meaning in the Shootings at Virginia Tech
      (pp. 177-194)
      Grace Y. Kao

      On April 16, 2007, twenty-three-year-old Seung-Hui Cho killed thirty-two of his fellow students and faculty and wounded many more at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (“Virginia Tech” or VT) before he took his own life in what became the deadliest shooting by a lone gunman in U.S. history.¹ Despite extensive media coverage, left underreported were the various ways in which attempts were made to infuse the tragedy with religious meaning. This chapter attempts to fill that gap by examining the religious significance attributed to the killer’s motives, certain jeremiadic attempts to identify the root cause of the suicide-shootings, and...


    • 11 A Just or Holy War of Independence? The Revolution’s Legacy for Religion, Violence, and American Exceptionalism
      (pp. 197-219)
      John D. Carlson

      In his 2009 Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech, President Barack Obama sharply distinguished the notion of just wars from holy wars and crusades. In reminding his audience “that no Holy War can ever be a just war,” the president censured those who use religion to justify violence. He appealed to prominent just war criteria to describe his position:jus ad bellumconcerns, such as the view that war must be a “last resort,” waged for a just cause such as self-defense, and declared by governments responsible for protecting their citizens (legitimate authority); andjus in bellotenets that force must...

    • 12 Why War Is a Moral Necessity for America: Realism, Sacrifice, and the Civil War
      (pp. 220-232)
      Stanley Hauerwas

      The violence that characterizes the history, political culture, and identity of the United States depends upon the belief that war is necessary. In America, dominant modes of religious and moral discourses of war, such as pacifism, just war, and realism, differ over what it means to conceive war as a necessity. Realists often begin with the view that war is an unavoidable fact of political reality. In a world shaped by realist assumptions, pacifists bear the burden of proof. They do so because, as attractive as nonviolence may be, most people (realists, especially) assume pacifism just will not work. You...

    • 13 Contemporary Warfare and American Efforts at Restraint
      (pp. 233-249)
      James Turner Johnson

      A front-page story in theNew York Timeson October 7, 2007, focused on the “rape epidemic” of the war in Congo—the systematic and widespread use of rape and sexual abuse as a preferred means of carrying on this armed conflict. According to the story, the worst perpetrators were Hutu militias, gangs of armed men who participated in the Rwandan genocide of 1994 and subsequently fled to Congo to escape punishment. But the article also noted that other armed forces in this conflict were guilty of similar practices. The women who were the targets of this abuse were members...

    • 14 Enemies Near and Far: The United States and Its Muslim Allies in Radical Islamist Discourse
      (pp. 250-272)
      Sohail H. Hashmi

      Jeremiad and jihad have a venerable tradition in Islamic history and have been prominently on display during the past century in the broad phenomenon labeled “political Islam.” In Islamic tradition, the jeremiad, understood simply as a bitter and sustained lament for or denunciation of the fallen state of society, finds expression and religious sanction in the moral duty ofamr bi al-ma‘ruf wa nahy ‘an al-munkar(commanding the right and forbidding the wrong).¹ This duty can be performed, in the opinion of scholars, noncoercively and coercively. Thus, it parallels the concept of jihad (struggle), which also may be performed through...

    • 15 Varieties of “Violence”: Thinking Ethically about the Use of Force in the War on Terror
      (pp. 273-284)
      Jean Bethke Elshtain

      American moral thought is vexed by the problem of violence. By this I do not mean that conversations about how Americans ought to act as individuals or how the United States ought to act in the world frequently devolve into fisticuffs. Rather, many who reflect on America’s place in the world have lost their ability to distinguish violence from other actions involving force or to think clearly about quite distinct concepts or phenomena. Ironically, by “seeing” violence everywhere—transferring the substantial moral force of the wordviolenceinto contexts where it fits poorly—scholars have hampered themselves and others in...

    (pp. 285-288)
  10. INDEX
    (pp. 289-299)
  11. Back Matter
    (pp. 300-300)