Fields of Blood: Religion and the History of Violence (Hardcover)

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From the renowned and best-selling author of A History of God, a sweeping exploration of religion's connection to violence.

For the first time in American history, religious self-identification is on the decline. Some have cited a perception that began to grow after September 11, 2001-that faith in general is a source of aggression, intolerance, and divisiveness, something bad for society. But how accurate is that view? And does it apply equally to all faiths? In these troubled times, we risk basing decisions of real and dangerous consequence on mistaken understandings of the faiths around us, in our immediate community as well as globally. And so, with her deep learning and sympathetic understanding, Karen Armstrong examines the impulse toward violence in each of the world's great religions. The comparative approach is new: while there have been plenty of books on jihad or the Crusades, for example this one lays the Christian and the Islamic way of war side by side, along with those of Buddhism, Hinduism, Confucianism, Daoism, and Judaism. Each of these faiths arose in an agrarian society with plenty of motivation for violence: landowners had to lord it over peasants, and warfare was essential to increase one's landholdings, the only real source of wealth before the great age of trade and commerce. In each context, it fell to the priestly class to legitimate the actions of the state. And so the martial ethos became bound up with the sacred. At the same time, however, the faiths developed ideologies that ran counter to the warrior code: around sages, prophets, and mystics within each tradition there grew up communities that represented a protest against the injustice and violence endemic to agrarian society. This book explores the symbiosis of these two impulses and its development as these confessional faiths came of age. But modernity has also been spectacularly violent, and so Armstrong goes on to show how and in what measure religions, in their relative maturity, came to absorb modern belligerence-and what hope there might be for peace among believers in our time.

About the Author

Karen Armstrong is the author of numerous books on religion, including The Case for God, A History of God, The Battle for God, Holy War, Islam, Buddha, and The Great Transformation, as well as a memoir, The Spiral Staircase. Her work has been translated into forty-five languages. In 2008 she was awarded the TED Prize and began working with TED on the Charter for Compassion, created online by the general public, crafted by leading thinkers in Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Confucianism. It was launched globally in the fall of 2009. Also in 2008, she was awarded the Franklin D. Roosevelt Four Freedoms Medal. In 2013, she received the British Academy’s inaugural Nayef Al-Rodhan Prize for Transcultural Understanding.  

Praise for Fields of Blood: Religion and the History of Violence…

“[A] bold new book . . . Armstrong makes a powerful case that critics like Dawkins ignore the lessons of the past and present in favor of a ‘dangerous oversimplification’ . . . [Her argument] is strong enough to change minds.”
–Randy Dotinga, The Christian Science Monitor

“With exquisite timing, religious historian Karen Armstrong steps forth with Fields of Blood . . . Laden with example . . . [Armstrong’s] overall objective is to call a time-out. Think before you leap to prejudice, she says . . . Among the most interesting stuff in [her] book is her deconstruction of the modern Islamic stereotype . . . In the end, the point Armstrong feels most adamant about is that by blaming religion for violence, we are deliberately and disastrously blinding ourselves to the real, animating issues in the Middle East and Africa.”
–Patricia Pearson, The Daily Beast

“Elegant and powerful . . . Both erudite and accurate, dazzling in its breadth of knowledge and historical detail . . . [Armstrong] seeks to demonstrate that, rather than putting the blame on the bloody images and legends in sacred texts and holy history, we should focus on the political contexts that frame religion.”
–Mark Juergensmeyer, The Washington Post

“A timely work . . . This passionately argued book is certain to provoke heated debate against the background of the Isis atrocities and many other acts of violence perpetrated around the world today in the name of religion.”
–John Cornwell, Financial Times
“Detailed and often riveting . . . a mighty offering . . . Armstrong can be relied on to have done her homework and she has the anthropologist’s respect for the ‘otherness’ of other cultures . . . [Her] oeuvre is extensive, bringing a rare mix of cool-headed scholarship and impassioned concern for humanity to bear on the vexed topic of religion . . . [And she] is nothing if not democratic in her exposition.”
–Salley Vickers, The Guardian (UK)
“Eloquent and empathetic, which is rare, and impartial, which is rarer . . . [Armstrong] ranges across the great empires and leading faiths of the world. Fields of Blood is never less than absorbing and most of the time as convincing as it is lucid and robust . . . [This] wonderful book certainly cleanses the mind. It may even do a little repair work on the heart.”
–Ferdinand Mount, The Spectator (UK)

“Characteristically eloquent and instructive . . . Armstrong’s survey of four millennia of organized violence with religious overtones . . . aspires to put historical flesh on the bare bones of [the facts] . . . Modern society “has made a scapegoat of faith”, thereby obscuring and thus partly exonerating the far more massive crimes of modern secular states and armies, while also defaming the majority of religious believers who work for tolerance, justice and peace by nonviolent means . . . We are all awash in “fields of blood”. [This] engaging new book makes that case eloquently.”
–Scott Appleby, The Tablet (UK)

“From Gilgamesh to bin Laden, [Armstrong covers] almost five millennia of human experience . . . Supplying the context of what may look like religiously motivated episodes of violence, in order to show that religion as such was not the prime cause . . . She is no doubt right to say that the aggression of a modern jihadist does not represent some timeless essence of religion, and that other political, economic and cultural factors loom large in the stories of how and why individuals become radicalized.”
–Noel Malcolm, The Telegraph (UK)

“Fluent and elegant, never quite long enough . . . as much about the nature of warfare as it is about faith . . . [Armstrong] is taking issue with a cliché, the routine claim that religion, advertising itself as humanity’s finest expression, has been responsible for most of the woes of the species . . . The Crusades, the Inquisition, the Wars of Religion, even modern “jihadi” terrorism: each is investigated . . . The picture is bleak, but certainly accurate . . . Exploitation and oppression continue . . . but these provide a challenge for the godly and the godless alike. The proposition, like the book, is noble.”
–Ian Bell, The Sunday Herald (Scotland)

“A well-written historical summary of what have traditionally been viewed as “religious” wars, showing convincingly that in pretty much all cases it was not so much religion as it was political issues that fueled the conflict.”
–Augustine J. Curley, Library Journal (starred review)

 “Provocative and supremely readable . . . the comparative nature of [Armstrong’s] inquiry is refreshing . . . Bracing as ever, [she] sweeps through religious history around the globe and over 4,000 years to explain the yoking of religion and violence and to elucidate the ways in which religion has also been used to counter violence.”
Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“Epic in scale . . . a comprehensive and erudite study of the history of violence in relation to religion . . . Armstrong leads readers patiently through history . . . her writing is clear and descriptive, her approach balanced and scholarly . . . An intriguing read, useful resource and definitive voice in defense of the divine in human culture.”
Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

“Armstrong again impresses with the breadth of her knowledge and the skill with which she conveys it to us.”
–Ray Olson, Booklist (starred review)

Product Details ISBN-10: 0307957047
ISBN-13: 9780307957047
Published: Knopf, 10/28/2014
Pages: 528
Language: English

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