Far from being a phenomenon of the past, religious violence is as close as today’s news headlines. True, at present the relationship of religion to violence often seems related to Islam. However, the truly universal nature of this phenomenon is revealed by the Brexit-related possibility of a return to violent conflict between Roman Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland, or Muslims and Hindus in Kashmir, or Buddhists and Muslims in Myanmar. What are the causes of this evergreen and universal phenomenon?
This course begins with an examination of Buddhism, widely regarded as a religion of peace. Despite its peaceful reputation, Buddhism has nevertheless been involved in religious violence. Concrete historical instances of Buddhist involvement in violence and warfare will be introduced, centering on the rationale for (Zen) Buddhist support of Japanese aggression in WW II as well as Buddhist-related terrorism in prewar Japan. Following this initial examination of Buddhism, students will select a religion of their choice to investigate (including Buddhism), determining whether broadly similar patterns of religious support for violence are present. Students, either individually or as a team, will share their findings in both oral class presentations and written research papers. The course concludes with two class examinations, followed by discussions, identifying both the causes of religious violence and exploring ways to reduce religious violence in the future.
Field WorkCountry: Malaysia
Date: February 19, 2020
We will trace the path of the annual pilgrimage procession between the Hindu temples of the goddess Mariamman and the magnificent Batu Cave Temples to the Tamil deity Murugan. This pilgrimage involves the practice of piercing the body and carrying heavy decorative platforms called Kavadi attached to the skin with hooks. Through this technique practitioners achieve ecstatic possession by the deities. Both temples are dramatically colorful and teeming with representational imagery. We will see how Hindus employ imagery to achieve direct personal connection to divine beings. Secondly, we will visit the beautiful Putra Mosque and observe a contrasting relationship with the divine that prohibits representational imagery and valorizes sober orderly ritualized group prayer. Lastly we will visit the Thean Hou Daoist Temple and observe how the Chinese diaspora engages a plethora of deities through ritualized relationships with images, especially the Queen of Heaven, in their pursuit of the human flourishing. Learning Objectives: 1. Analyze the striking contrast between the modes of religious experience constructed by an Islamic site that is bare of representation and Hindu temples of the Tamil diaspora teeming with imagery 2. Understand and appreciate the way practitioners externalize their values on the spatial environment and physically enact a spiritual "path," using travel to transform the traveler 3. Compare strikingly different approaches to religious experience. In one case ritualized mass prayer is valorized and at the other ecstatic divine possession by the warrior god Murugan is facilitated by piercing the body and carrying heavy Kavadi pierced into the skin