Few topics in religious studies capture, on the one hand, the ambiguities and challenges of the discipline and, on the other, its contemporary indispensability as successfully as the intersection of religion and violence does. For its ability to highlight the problem of defining religion, for underscoring religion’s inseparability from power and politics, for pointing out the contested and internally plural nature of all religious traditions and identities, for suggesting the religious functions of popular culture, and for revealing the historical mutability of religious expression and identity, religious violence flags many of the distinctive and defining questions addressed by the discipline. For those very reasons it is also an excellent topic for initiating students into the practices of religious studies and cultivating a heightened appreciation for the nuances and complexities that characterize religion in all of its historical manifestations.
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