Divine Authority And Mass Violence: Economies Of Aggression In The Emergence Of Religions

Reuven Firestone


From a social science perspective, a major purpose of religion is to organize the behavior of the community of believers in order to maximize its success as a collective. The underlying premise of this lecture is that religious authority will sanction violence and aggression when they are assessed to be an effective means of realizing the goals of the collective. Conversely, when violence and aggression become unhelpful or counter- productive for realizing community goals they are forbidden. This phenomenology of religion and violence is applied to the history of Judaism, Christianity and Islam to demonstrate that none of these religions is inherently more or less apt to engage in violence. Their use of belligerent and irenic behaviors are more profoundly influenced by historical context and social needs than by theology.


Just war, holy war, jihad, violence and religion, reward and punishment, divine authority, Hebrew Bible, New Testament, Qur’an, exegesis, Islam, Judaism, Christianity

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