Religion and Violence from an Anthropological Perspective

Pamela J. Stewart and Andrew Strathern

in The Oxford Handbook of Religion and Violence

Published in print January 2013 | ISBN: 9780199759996
Published online March 2013 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks

Religion and Violence from an Anthropological Perspective

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  • Religion
  • Religious Studies
  • Sociology of Religion



This chapter reviews a variety of anthropological approaches to religion from the work of Emile Durkheim through the contemporary cognitive theory of mind. It specifically investigates the culturally vast interplay of imagination with divinatory processes that legitimate war, witch-hunting, and revenge, and with cosmic postulates which sanctify the imposition of suffering on others and on oneself. Rituals have an important role in either supporting or opposing violence, whether or not they have explicitly to do with spirit worlds. Durkheim has argued that religion was essentially social and founded on the expression of community values, the images of society itself. Religiously sanctioned or enjoined practices of inflicting harm on one's own body depend on cosmology. Tendencies to violence are counterposed to tendencies to benevolence.

Keywords: anthropological approaches; religion; Emile Durkheim; rituals; violence; cognitive theory

Article.  4801 words. 

Subjects: Religion ; Religious Studies ; Sociology of Religion

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