Holy War, Martyrdom, and Terror

Holy War, Martyrdom, and Terror: Christianity, Violence, and the West

Philippe Buc
Copyright Date: 2015
Pages: 496
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    Holy War, Martyrdom, and Terror
    Book Description:

    Holy War, Martyrdom, and Terrorexamines the ways that Christian theology has shaped centuries of conflict from the Jewish-Roman War of late antiquity through the First Crusade, the French Revolution, and up to the Iraq War. By isolating one factor among the many forces that converge in warthe essential tenets of Christian theologyPhilippe Buc locates continuities in major episodes of violence perpetrated over the course of two millennia. Even in secularized or explicitly non-Christian societies, such as the Soviet Union of the Stalinist purges, social and political projects are tied to religious violence, and religious conceptual structures have influenced the ways violence is imagined, inhibited, perceived, and perpetrated.

    The patterns that emerge from this sweeping history upend commonplace assumptions about historical violence, while contextualizing and explaining some of its peculiarities. Buc addresses the culturally sanctioned logic that might lead a sane person to kill or die on principle, traces the circuitous reasoning that permits contradictory political actions, such as coercing freedom or pardoning war atrocities, and locates religious faith at the backbone of nationalist conflict. He reflects on the contemporary American ideology of warone that wages violence in the name of abstract notions such as liberty and world peace and that he reveals to be deeply rooted in biblical notions. A work of extraordinary breadth,Holy War, Martyrdom, and Terrorconnects the ancient past to the troubled present, showing how religious ideals of sacrifice and purification made violence meaningful throughout history.

    eISBN: 978-0-8122-9097-4
    Subjects: History, Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Preface
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Introduction. The Object of This History
    (pp. 1-44)

    Fabula de te narrat—Lucian of Samosata’s second-century C.E. fable speaks about us. There was (and is) a war, Heraclitus’s “father of all things” (polemos hapanton pater), and many among us scholars took not the sword but the pen. How is the pen wielded for these pages? The historian’s intended craft is best delimited, initially at least, through negatives and caveats.

    This essay explores two millennia of Western Christian and post-Christian violence in the West. In “violence” are included holy war, terror and terrorism, and (paradoxically as it may seem at first) martyrdom.¹ By “the West” is meant the cultural...

  5. Chapter 1 The American Way of War Through the Premodern Looking-Glass
    (pp. 45-66)

    A certain way of war is peculiar to the West. By “the West” is meant here the cultural ensembles now located in the territories that recognized Rome’s religious primacy before the Reformation, those ensembles that ended up either Protestant or Catholic with the early modern wars of religion. “The West” includes also these regions’ offshoots in the United States and elsewhere. By a “way of war” is meant not methods of waging warfare but rather the ideals, ideologies, and conceptions associated with it.¹ The focus is thus on cultural forces insofar as they make warfare meaningful to historical agents and...

  6. Chapter 2 Christian Exegesis and Violence
    (pp. 67-111)

    With characteristic wickedness, the anticlerical philosopher Voltaire toyed with a paradox. While Muhammad’s Islam, founded by the sword, quickly had become peaceful, Christianity, initially a religion of peace, was presently a cause for unrivalled fanaticism and war. Voltaire’s eighteenth-century wit dovetails with the current mainstream conception of Christianity: a religion that was, is, and ought to be fundamentally irenistic and in which violence was, is, and must be a radical perversion. To account for it, an outside force, process, or event has often been blamed. To list the main villains in this sorry plot, Emperor Constantine’s conversion to the Faith...

  7. Chapter 3 Madness, Martyrdom, and Terror
    (pp. 112-151)

    Popular opinion, journalistic punditry, and some scholarship attribute to terrorists in general, and recently and in particular to the 2001 jihadists, madness and mental imbalance. Whether this characterization is right or wrong—and there are serious grounds to deem it misguided—it is worth reconstructing this propensity’s history.¹ For one is dealing here with a deep-seated cultural image, whose distinctive features are well rooted in the past. As we shall see, the mad terrorist (and its phenomenological twin, the suicidal martyr) appears as a character in the first century C.E. It travels all the way to the Middle East’s al-Qaeda,...

  8. Chapter 4 Martyrdom in the West: Vengeance, Purge, Salvation, and History
    (pp. 152-176)

    As explained in Chapter 2, deep structures within Christian theology make agents operating within Western political cultures likely to link together ideas of external war, of purification of the self and of society (or the church), and of liberty. This linkage, or, more cautiously put, this likelihood of a correlation, is itself enabled by a specific notion of History in which vengeance and retribution play a pivotal role. It is as yet another element in this semi-system that these pages will consider martyrdom. Like so many actions with a religious charge, martyrdom has a strong bend toward repetitiveness; it is...

  9. Chapter 5 Twins: National Holy War and Sectarian Terror
    (pp. 177-212)

    Holy war and terror belong together. They do not simply do so phenomenologically—that is, inasmuch as they have in common observable practices and beliefs, as Bruce Lincoln remarked a decade ago, putting face to face Osama bin Laden and George W. Bush’s speeches—but also genealogically.¹ There is a commonality in the willingness to use force against heathens and religious dissenters, enemies outside and enemies inside. Since the establishment of the absolutist state—especially in its nation-state variant, which considered that internecine conflicts were in essence illegitimate, and imposed this view successfully—European thought has distinguished sharply between foreign...

  10. Chapter 6 Liberty and Coercion
    (pp. 213-241)

    To his fellow prelates, fiery Pope Gregory VII presented two alternative combats, fundamentally asymmetrical insofar as one led to liberty and the other to bondage. Just as zealous as the pope, the French Ligueur preacher Artus Désiré sketched resounding images: a forge hammering peace into existence, with God the Avenger as anvil; an allusion to Eden and Paradise as a charmed circle from which Satan is excluded; and the Christian dream of return to liberty. For both Catholics, freedom would come about through holy warfare. A few centuries later, Saint-Just, to posterity known as the “exterminating angel,” did not propose...

  11. Chapter 7 The Subject of History and the Making of History
    (pp. 242-287)

    How modern is Modern violence? Scholars specializing in twentieth-century terror or in the French Revolution’sTerreurroutinely posit a difference between premodern and Modern violence. Let us start with an example, the revolutionary martyrdoms of 1789–94, which owed much to the confluence of classical Roman and Christian exemplars. Antoine de Baecque, in an essay focusing with high sensitivity on the Catholic discourse’s influence, can still assert in passing that the revolutionary martyr’s corpse is glorious, contrary to the Christian tradition, which considers the body despicable.¹ Another scholar, Alphonse Jourdan, hammers in a much more categorical opposition:

    more and more...

  12. Postface: No Future to That Past?
    (pp. 288-296)

    As explained in the Introduction, this essay does not assert that Christianity alone accounts for the forms that violence has taken in the West. Neither does Christianity alone explain how violence has had meaning and how it has been meaningful in this cultural ensemble. In a typical laboratory experiment, albeit one conducted with pen and paper, these pages have sought to isolate one factor among many—this religious tradition’s character traits—and relate it to these forms, meanings, and meaningfulness. Building on Gerard Caspary’s insights, they have underlined in particular how violence in the West was related to a series...

  13. List of Abbreviations
    (pp. 297-298)
  14. Notes
    (pp. 299-370)
  15. Select Bibliography
    (pp. 371-422)
  16. Index
    (pp. 423-442)
  17. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 443-445)
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