Sources for Religious Justifications for and Uses of Violence
Compiled by John Cort
A colleague who is not a South Asianist is preparing a course on religious justifications for and uses of violence. Much of the course focuses on Europe & America, but they want to include some materials from Indic religions. So, any suggestions for good readings (as well as visual materials & web sites) that are accessible in a comparative undergraduate class, and teachable by a non-expert, on things such as ksatriya-dharma, Rajput valorization of war, bali-dana, terrorism, just war theory, death penalty, self (or national) defense, etc., would be most appreciated -- both normative and descriptive.
I'd highly recommend Tessa Bartholomeusz's _In Defense of Dhamma: Just-war ideology in Buddhist Sri Lanka_ (London: RoutledgeCurzon, 2002), which is out in paperback, and which I've used successfully in class before.
Babb's new book, Alchemies of Violence
Mark Juergensmeyer, Terror in the Mind of God, rev. ed. Calif
It seems to me that the relevent verses in the Bhagavadgita should be essential to any attempt to discuss the religious justifications of violence in the Hindu tradition. It does not have to be a very long passage.
One good source might be _Khaki Shorts and Saffron Flags_, by Sumit Sarkar et al. There has also been quite a bit written about the 2002 anti-Muslim pogroms in Gujarat. But maybe a more accessible entry-point into the Gujarat issue would be the film _The Final Solution_ by Rakesh Sharma.
Khaki is out of print. A new pub. Three Essays has a variety of titles on communalism and violence, might work. glad to give you the information directly. Also suggest a new Manohar Violence/Nonviolence. some excellent essays
Ahmad. On Communalism and Globalisation. Three Essays. pa.
Dube. The Path of the Parivar. hb only Three Essays
Khalidi. Khaki and the ethnic Violence in India. Three Essays. hb.
Violence/Nonviolence: Some HIndu Perspectives. ed. Vidal. Manohar. 2003. large hb volume, collected essays, excellent.
Regarding the violence in Gujarat, the news stories about the terrorist attach at the Swaminarayan monument, Akshardham, in Gandhinagar, Gujarat are still available on the BAPS Swaminarayan web site: http://www.swaminarayan.org/news/2002/index.htm
A brief chapter about that attack is in Williams on South Asian Religions and Immigration, Ashgate Publishers, 2004, pp. 132-137.
the Mahabharata is full of violence, karmic retribution, and mayhem. The Massacre at Night (Oxford World Classics) is a good source
I would definitely emphasize the way almost all major Hindu deities carry
arms of some sort of the other. It would be useful to speak about Durga, the
deity of war, par excellence and recommend reading of Devi Mahatmya for
violence and war in the celestial world. Thomas Coburn would be useful, and
for an easy reading Nilima Chitgopekar, 'The Book of Durga' ( Penguin
2003) which explains this phenomenon as well .
The most vivid sources for studying violence and mayhem, and
instructive because they portray societies in change and from a close-
to-the-ground level, are medieval oral epics like Alha, Pabuji,
Devnarayan, Palnadu, and "Elder Brothers", all of which can be read at
least in part in English tranlation.
For Alha, it would still have to be the Waterfield translation, with
Grierson's notes. Make-do but still a compelling narrative.
Robert J. Zydenbos. "Jainism as the Religion of Non-Violence." In:
Violence Denied. Violence, Non-violence and the Rationalization of
Violence in South Asian Cultural History, ed. K.R. van Kooij and J.E.M.
Houben. Leiden: Brill, 1999. Pp. 185-210.
- provides philological and theoretical material for reconsidering the
caricatural, yet widely popular image of Jainism as thoughtless and
utterly unrealistic super-pacifism, along with historical backup
material to make the argumentation convincing. (Off-list responses are
The volume contains contributions by different authors about thoughts
about violence in South Asian religious traditions.
the van Kooij and Houben volume mentioned above, the articles by Bodewitz
are especially helpful for background for your colleague.
I wouldn't recommend them for an undergraduate classroom, but I
definitely would recommend them as required reading for the instructor and
would definitely use them in a graduate classroom.
Laurie Patton, forthcoming "Tales About Harm: An Overview of
Himsa in Early
Narratives," in a volume edited by Richard King and John
on violence in south asia--not sure yet of the title, looks at stories
(and legal vignettes) about harm within Vedic, Upanishadic, Epic, and
Shastric material from the perspective of narrative and trauma theory. I
argue that too often we read early Indian materials for
"evidence" of "doctrinal stances" rather than as
complex narratives in their own right with complex attitudes toward
violence that cannot be boiled down to a single or even a bundle of
I use Val Daniels' work on recently-told narratives about
violence in Sri Lanka to think back through the early cases. The article
doesn't engage the very important historical debate re the origins of
ahimsa, but rather it suggests a complementary way of reading the ancient
K. N. Upadhyaya. "The Bhagavad Gita on War and Peace." Philosophy East and West, Vol. 19, No. 2. (Apr., 1969, Special issue on "On Violence and Nonviolence East and West.")
I [John Cort] then sent the following second prompt:
Thanks to everyone for the many suggestions -- most of which dealt with
contemporary issues at the intersection of religion & politics.
Let me refine my query to cover two areas on which no one responded --
remember, I'm looking for good teachable sources for undergrads.
1. Ksatriya dharma, Rajput izzat, and various dharmic and other
ideologies of warrior livelihood
2. The theology of bali dan to the goddess -- why is she so insistent
on goats, chickens, & buffalo?
Susan Wadley's new book on Raja Nal is about the view of a a Non-rajput king about
Rajput 'ness'. Of course, Lindsey Harlan's book on the hero is about the best
out there. You might look at the Rajasthan epics in the older Oral Epics
of India book. Korinne's Schommer's piece. And of course the historicans
are now challenging the view that rajputs were always 'rajputs'.
I would strongly recommend the articles in the Hedgehog Review,
Vol. 6, Issue 1, 2004, which is a special issue related to violence and
mayhem. It has south Asian perspectives (an interview with Veena Das),
and a good synthesis by Juergensmeyer, as well as more theoretical
articles such as Girad. One that students find challenging is William
Cavanaugh's article, which questions the link between religion as
Here there are few titles from my research files concerning the point 1
(1. Ksatriya dharma, Rajput izzat, and various dharmic and other ideologies
of warrior livelihood):
-A. Chattopadhyay, Martial Life of Brahamans in Early Medieval India as
Known from the Kathasaritsagara, in «Journal of the Oriental Institute»,
Baroda, 16(1966), n. 1, pp. 52-59.
-D.H.A. Kolff, Sannyasi Trader-Soldier, in «The Indian Economic and Social
History Review», VIII(1971), n. 2, pp. 213-220.
-D.L. Lorenzen, Warrior Ascetics in Indian History, «Journal of the American
Oriental Society», 98(1978), n. 1, pp. 61-75.
-D. Shulman, The King and the Clown in South Indian Myth and Poetry, Princeton
University Press, princeton 1985, pp. 110-151
-J.N. Farquhar, Fighting Ascetics of India, in «Bullettin of the Rylands
Library», 9(1925), pp. 1-17.
-M. Fainsod Katzenstein, Ethnicity and Equality: the Shiv Sena Party and
Preferential Policies in Bombay, Cornell University Press, Ithaca 1979.
-M. Juergensmeyer, What the Bhikku Said: Reflections on the Rise of Militant
Religious Nationalism, in «Religion», 20(1990), pp. 53-75.
-M. Neog, A Militant Vaißñava Sect: The Mayamariya, in «Journal of Indian
History», LVI(1978), n. 3, pp. 417-427.
-M. Thiel-Horstmann, Warrior Ascetics in 18th Century Rajasthan and the
Religious Policy of Jai Singh II, in G.H. Schokker (a cura di), Proceedings
of the Third Conference on Devotional Literature in New Indo-Aryan Languages,
-S. Banerjee, Warriors in Politics: Hindu Nationalism, Violence, and the
Shiv Sena in India, Westview Press, Boulder-Oxford 2000.
-V. Bouillier, La violence des non-violents ou les ascètes au combat, in
D. Vidal, G. Tarabout, É. Meyer (a cura di), Violences et non-violences
en Inde, Éditions de l'École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales, Coll.
Purußårtha n. 16, Parigi 1994, pp. 213-243.
-W.G. Orr, Armed Religious Ascetics in North India, in «Bullettin of the
Rylands Library», 24(1940), n. 1, pp. 81-100.
-B.K. Majumdar, The Military System of Ancient India, F.K.L. Mukhopadhyay,
-E.W. Hopkins, The Social and Military Position of the Ruling Caste in Ancient
India as Represented by the Sanscrit Epic, Tuttle, Morehouse and Tylor,
New Haven 1972.
-G. Oppert, On the Weapons, Army Organization and Political Maxims of the
Ancient Hindus, New Order Book Company, Ahmedabad 1967.
-H.S. Bhatia (a cura di), Political, legal and military history of India,
Deep & Deep, 5 voll., Delhi 1984.
-J.N. Sarkar, The Art of War in Medieval India, Munshiram Manoharlal, New
-M. Deopujari, Shivaji and the Maratha Art of War, Vidharbha Samshodan Mandala,
-P.C. Chakravarti, The Art of War in Ancient India, Oriental Publishers,
-R. Hume, Hinduism and War, in «The American Journal of Theology», 20(1916),
On bali to the goddess, I've always found the 'Sacrifice' chapter in CJ Fuller's _The Camphor Flame_ useful for undergraduates.
Some other sources:
1. Susan Bayly, _Saints, Goddesses and Kings: Muslims and Christians in South Indian Society_, (Cambridge, paperback ed., 2003), 27-70 (discusses warrior ideology as well as blood sacrifice; there are sections later in the book dealing with martyrdom that
might also be useful)
2. Madeleine Biardeau, _Stories About Posts: Vedic Variations around the Hindu Goddess_ (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2004). (argues for a link between sacrifices to village goddesses and the Vedic sacrifice)
3. S. Samanta, "The Self-Animal and Divine Digestion: Goat Sacrifice to the Goddess Kali," Journal of Asian Studies 53, no. 3 (1994): 779-803.
4. David Dean Shulman, _Tamil Temple Myths: Sacrifice and Divine Marriage in the South Indian Saiva Tradition_ (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1980).
5. Stuart H. Blackburn, "Death and Deification: Folk Cults in Hinduism," History of Religions 24, no. 3 (1985): 255-74. (on how violence creates deities)
6. Isabelle Nabokov, _Religion against the Self: An Ethnography of Tamil Rituals_ (New York: Oxford University Press, 2000. (I'm pretty sure this has a chapter on sacrifice, but I'm moving so my copy is currently in a box)
7. James J. Preston, _Cult of the Goddess: Social and Religious Change in a Hindu Temple_ (Waveland Press, 1985). (about a Durga temple)
8. Das, Veena. “Language of Sacrifice” Man n.s. 18, 3 (Sept. 1983), 445-62.
9. Hiltebeitel, Alf. “On the Handling of the Meat, and Related Matters, in Two South Indian Buffalo Sacrifices” L’Uomo 9, 1/2 (1985).
Leveling Crowds, by Tambiah
Charred Lullabies by Daniels
pieces of James Tod's Annals and Antiquities of Rajasthan (of course)
Borders and Boundaries: Women in India's Partition by Menon and Bhasin
Religion and Rajput Women: The Ethic of Protection in Contemporary Narratives (this allong with Menon and Bhasin can be quite strong, esp. in terms of the gender component).
Lindsey Harlan's book Goddesses' Henchmen is about balidan (and deals with everything from goats and buffs. to men) and treats Rajput code (esp. re masculinity) extensively, esp in the chapter on Rajasthan and the Rajputs.
Revised: April 28, 2006