Religion and Violence   /   Spring 2004   /    Book Reviews

A Review of Anna Lännström’s Promise and Peril

Justin S. Holcomb

Lännström, Anna, ed. Promise and Peril: The Paradox of Religion as Resource and Threat. Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 2003.

Religion and violence are certainly not strangers, yet the relationship between them is more complex than we often presume it to be. Religion is commonly associated with the ideals of nonviolence and compassion, yet the history of many religions includes periods when adherents committed terrible violence. Why is this the case? Religion has the power to define reality and order the lives of individuals, groups, and nations; and power is not neutral. It is because of this relationship between religion and power that religion is both a resource and threat. Throughout history, there have been many conflicts and acts of violence motivated by religious interests; yet religion has also been an important factor in some of the most prominent non-violent or anti-violence social movements in the twentieth century, such as those led by Gandhi, William Wilberforce, and Martin Luther King, Jr. Indeed, religion can be seen as both offering promise and threatening peril.

Anna Lännström’s edited volume, Promise and Peril: The Paradox of Religion as Resource and Threat, attempts to grapple with the reality of religion as promise and religion as peril. In so doing, the volume works with the following understanding of religion: Religion is an organized system of beliefs and practices related to the divine that are believed to be absolutely true. These beliefs and practices are understood to be the truth that is given in personal experience, discovered in tradition, or revealed in sacred texts. Because religious communities often see themselves as “those to whom the truth is entrusted” and the ones “called or chosen to live by and sometimes die for the truth,” at the heart of the relation of religion and conflict are the issues of religious identity and otherness.

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