Martyrdom, Self-Sacrifice, and Self-Immolation

Religious Perspectives on Suicide

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Margo Kitts
  • New York, NY: 
    Oxford University Press
    , June
     360 pages.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.
Review coming soon!

Review by Christopher Denny forthcoming.


Suicide in the forms of martyrdom, self-sacrifice, or self-immolation is perennially controversial: Should it rightly be termed suicide? Does religion sanction it? Should it be celebrated or anathematized? At least some idealization of such self-chosen deaths is found in every religious tradition treated in this volume, from ascetic heroes who conquer their passions to save others by dying, to righteous warriors who suffer and die valiantly while challenging the status quo. At the same time, there are persistent disputes about the concepts used to justify these deaths, such as altruism, heroism, and religion itself. In this volume, renowned scholars bring their literary and historical expertise to bear on the contested issue of religiously sanctioned suicide. Three examine contemporary movements with disputed classical roots, while eleven look at classical religious literatures which variously laud and disparage figures who invite self-harm to the point of death. Overall, the volume offers an important scholarly corrective to the axiom that religious traditions simply and always embrace life at any cost.

About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Margo Kitts is Professor and Coordinator of Religious Studies and East-West Classical Studies at Hawai'i Pacific University. She is the author or editor of six books and over 30 articles dealing with ancient literature and/or religion and violence. She edits the Journal of Religion and Violence, and co-edits the monograph series, Cambridge Elements of Religion and Violence.

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