Religion and Violence   /   Spring 2004   /    Articles

Violence and Religion: Cause or Effect?

René Girard

The question of violence and religion arouses a great deal of justified interest today. It is a difficult and complex question. If we simply ask, “is this or that religion violent or peaceful?,” we do not take into account the fact that violence comes from us human beings. We all believe this regardless of whether or not we believe in God. The question of religious violence, therefore, is first and foremost a human question, a social and anthropological question, and not a directly religious question.

I am going to focus on the role of violence in archaic religions and in the biblical religions. Which religions should be called archaic or primitive? My short answer is that all religions are archaic that are now dying or already dead. This definition includes all the religions of the small non-literate cultures that still existed one, two, three, or four centuries ago. It also includes the religions of the ancient world and all the prehistoric religions about which we know nothing. There probably were religions long before the painted caves of Cro-Magnon man in Southwestern France, 30,000 and 40,000 years ago.

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