Part Three: Comparison and the Analysis of Religion and Violence. (3:20-4:15 p.m.)

<--Part 2: Comparison and Reconceptualizing ‘Black Atlantic Religions’              Part 4: Comparison and the Analysis of Religion and Ritual -->

Moderator: David Walker, University of California, Santa Barbara


Jamel Velji - Haverford College, Department of Religion

Margo Kitts - Hawaii Pacific University, Religious Studies and East-West Classical Studies 

Jamel Velji 

(De)limiting the end: comparative dimensions of apocalyptic religion and violence”

Stars falling, seas boiling over, and mountains vanishing are but three Qur’anic signs heralding the imminent arrival of God’s final judgment. This yawm al-dīn, the Day of Reckoning, appears throughout the Qur’ān, constantly reminding its readers that there are everlasting consequences for violating the precepts of its message. While these visions of the end of time served as a primary motive force for the earliest members of the Islamic community (Donner, Shoemaker), also animating so many renewal movements throughout Islamic history, comparative work on apocalypticism—within the Islamic context and outside of it—still remains a scholarly rarity. After focusing on why this might be, I reflect on some of the challenges scholars working on (Islamic) apocalypticism face in constructing comparisons—and offer some suggestions concerning how we might be able to move forward.

Suggested Reading for Jamel Velji 

Lawson, Todd, 2008. Duality, “Opposition and Typology in the Qur’an: The Apocalyptic Substrate, Journal of Qur’anic Studies 10, 2 :23-49 

Sells, Michael, 2013 "'Armageddon' in Christian, Sunni, and Shia traditions." In The Oxford Handbook of Religion and Violence, edited by Mark Juergensmeyer, Margo Kitts and Michael Jerryson, 467-495. New York: Oxford University Press.

Velji, Jamel. 2013. “Apocalyptic Religion and Violence.” In The Oxford Handbook of Religion and Violence, edited by Mark Juergensmeyer, Margo Kitts and Michael Jerryson, 250-59. New York: Oxford University Press.

Margo Kitts: 

“On ritual and violence”

 Analyzing ritual and violence is fraught with epistemological problems from the start.  First, both terms are hotly contested.  While it is generally agreed that there is a certain register to ritual which separates it from everyday behavior, how one ascertains that register is not transparent.  Does one intuit a special kind of sensuous experience?  Is it the visual spectacle?  The rhythm? The focus? The peculiar instrumental logic? The deference to authority?  Is it discursively accessible at all?  There is an obvious hermeneutic loop in trying to discern discursive sense in experiences which may be fundamentally non-discursive. Violence is an even more troublesome term.  Consider the range of possibilities:  infliction of bodily pain or death, implied threats (e.g., military displays, menacing postures, manipulation of threatening symbols), rude gestures, verbal abuse, social suppressions and disciplinary behaviors, ceremonial maiming (e.g.,  scarification, circumcision, finger severing), desecrations of holy sites, agonistic sports, outright war, even restrictive categorizations – the possibilities seem endless!  As for the violence-ritual link, it is obvious that violent acts need not be entirely constitutive of a ritual for that ritual to lead to acts of violence in a different context.  Yet is it hard to conceive of a deliberate act of violence which does not have a performative, if not explicitly ritualized, dimension.  All of these problems arguably rest on an epistemological problem outlined by Pollock in his summary of Kant and Hegel. That is the tacitly comparative aspect of any precise awareness, emergent as it is from a more profound sensory immersion. This talk will sketch some of these intricate problems in comparing rituals, violence, and religious experience. 

Suggested Readings for Margo Kitts

NEW: Csordas, Thomas J. 1990.  “Embodiment as a Paradigm for Anthropology.”  Ethos 18:1, 5-47.  (N.B., This reading was inadvertently left out of the program, we apologize for the omission)

Kapferer, Bruce. 2005. “Ritual Dynamics and Virtual Practice: Beyond Representation and Meaning.” In Ritual in its Own Right, edited by Don Handelman and Galina Lindquist, 35-54. New York: Berghahn Books. 

Aijmer, Goran. 2000. "Introduction: The Idiom of Violence in Imagery and Discourse." In Meanings of Violence: A Cross-Cultural Perspective, edited by Göran Aijmer and Jon Abbink, 1-54. Oxford: Berg.

Handelman, Don. 2003. “Re-Framing Ritual.” In The Dynamics of Changing Rituals, edited by Jens Kreinath, Hartung and Deschner, 9-20. New York: Peter Lang.

Bloch, Maurice. 2004. “Ritual and Deference.” Ritual and Memory: Toward a Comparative Anthropology of Religion, edited by Harvey Whitehouse and James Laidlaw, 65-78. Walnut Creek: Altamira Press. 

Pollock, Sheldon. 2010. "Comparison without Hegemony." In The Benefit of Broad Horizons: Intellectual and Institutional Preconditions for a Global Social Science. Festschrift for Bjorn Wittrock on the Occasion of his 65th Birthday, edited by Barbro Klein and Hans Joas, 185-204. Leiden: Brill. 


<--Part 2: Comparison and Reconceptualizing ‘Black Atlantic Religions’              Part 4: Comparison and the Analysis of Religion and Ritual -->