If society hopes to find a solution to religious violence, then it needs to gain a better and more comprehensive understanding of what motivates that behavior, says County College of Morris (CCM) Professor Charles Selengut, of Teaneck. The author of a recently published essay, “The Sociology of Religious Violence,” Selengut was one of several experts from around the world invited to contribute a chapter to The Blackwell Companion to Religion and Violence, recently published by Oxford Wiley Publishers.
An authoritative reference resource, the book sits in the libraries of politicians, diplomats, scholars, researchers, law enforcement officials and activists around the world who are involved in coping with religious issues in their countries. The book examines religion and violence through the lens of many cultures, philosophies and disciplines. It also examines such topics as slavery and violence against women, as well as offering hope and peace-building strategies for the future.
“Until 9/11, most people saw religious violence as something of the past because of the growth of freedom and democracy in the secular societies of Europe and America,” says Selengut. “That’s not true. Contrary to predictions, religion has become more central to world politics. That’s why it’s important to attempt to understand the current effervescence of religious violence we’re seeing in society today. You can’t solve a problem until you can name it and understand its origin and reality.”
Selengut has lectured at conferences worldwide on the rise of fundamentalist religion and violence and spoken many times at the United Nations addressing topics related to the genesis of religious violence. “Religion has two faces,” he says. “One is love, concern and helping the poor and disenfranchised. The other face is ‘We are right and everyone else is wrong, so we can legitimately kill in the name of religion.’” He says it is important to acknowledge both of those realities.
One of the most common misconceptions about religious violence, he adds, is the stereotype that the perpetrators of violence are uneducated, maladjusted or stupid. He says that many fundamentalist believers are educated and intelligent. Their violence is a genuine extension of their religious beliefs. “There seems to be an inability on the part of many people in Europe and America to acknowledge the continuing importance of religion in other parts of the world,” Selengut says.
“Because of the nature of modern society in Europe and America, scholars and statesmen have been unwilling to acknowledge the power of religion and this is a terrible error,” he says. “What may at one point be a marginal religious group, half the time, could enter center stage. No one in the 1960s could have predicted the Christian extremism that exists at the center of US politics today.”
Selengut has taught sociology at CCM for more than 40 years. During that time, he has published six books and numerous essays and monographs. He received his B.A. from Brooklyn College, his M.A. from New School University, and his Ph.D. from Drew University. Included among his honors and recognition, he was named a member of the McArthur Foundation “Project on Fundamentalism,” a National Endowment for the Humanities Fellow at Harvard University, and a 1997 finalist for the Carnegie Professor of the Year Award.
The Blackwell Companion to Religion and Violence is meant to educate its readers and provide them with enlightening viewpoints on the dynamics behind what is going on in the world today.