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Two symposia at Illinois to consider religion and violence

Andrea Lynn, Humanities Editor

Released 1/24/2007

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — The “darker side of religion” in the United States will be put under intense scrutiny during free public symposia on Feb. 2 and April 20 at the University of Illinois.

The topic of religion and violence “is of enduring relevance both as a matter of domestic/civic concern and as a matter of international concern,” said Jonathan Ebel, one of the organizers and a professor of religion at Illinois.

Both meetings will feature some of the prominent names in a variety of disciplines, Ebel said, including American religious history, ethics, law, philosophy and theology.

The February symposium, “Saving Faith/Killing Faith: A Religious History of Violence and Restraint,” will examine the history of violence with “particular attention to the myths of nation that have created and spread violence,” Ebel said. Among the participants is Martin Marty, a professor emeritus of the history of modern Christianity at the University of Chicago.

Two films will be shown in conjunction with the symposium: “A History of Violence” on Jan. 25 and “The End of Violence” on Jan. 30. Both films will start at 7:30 p.m. in 101 Armory, 505 Armory Ave., Champaign.

The April meeting will explore “Multidisciplinary Perspectives on Violence, Faith and America”; a third symposium will be held in October at Arizona State University.

The local meetings are sponsored by the Illinois Forum on Religion in America, an organization Ebel and his colleague Richard Layton founded at Illinois from their academic unit, the Program for the Study of Religion.

Reflecting on this year’s topic, Ebel said that “The diversity that has always characterized religious life in this part of the world can and has sparked acts of hatred and destruction as well as acts of compassion on American soil.”

In addition, “American notions of ‘chosen-ness’ have under girded policies and institutions that have wrought both good and ill in the world.

“It seemed to us a good thing at this juncture to ask how religion and violence have interacted over the course of American history and to see what the tools of different disciplines have to say about the darker side of religion in this stunningly religiously diverse and religiously engaged nation,” Ebel said.

Some of the questions that will be examined during the first symposium:

What is violence? How does the study of religion in America help us to identify and morally evaluate it? Is violence ever appropriate, or is it by definition illegitimate, evil?

What makes religion violent and violence religious? What role has violence played in the shaping of American religion? What role has religion played in the shaping of violence in America?

What tropes, patterns or metaphors help explain phenomena involving religion and violence in American life, history and culture? How do the tools or methods of various scholarly disciplines interpret and illustrate these relationships?

Ebel teaches courses on American religious history focusing on themes and movements that can be traced from century to century: diversity, discord and dialogue, religion and violence, revivalism and evangelicalism, immigration and migration. He is working on a study of the religious thoughts and lives of American participants in World War I.

Ebel said that the co-organizers’ interest in the topic of religion and violence “preceded the events of the last six years.”

“Though we wish it were otherwise, the relevance of this kind of inquiry has become quite widely apparent.”