Peacemaking and the Challenge of Violence in World Religions

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Irfan A. Omar, Michael K. Duffey
  • Bognor Regis, England: 
    Wiley-Blackwell Publishing
    , June
     256 pages.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.


Peacemaking and the Challenge of Violence in World Religions asks scholars from seven traditions—Islam, Christianity, Judaism, Confucianism, Buddhism, Hindu and American indigenous worldviews—a key question: since so many people do violence in the name of your tradition, how can you claim it promotes peace? Each essay provides foundational grounding to answer this question and addresses popular questions and misconceptions often asked of that particular tradition—such as, doesn’t the idea of jihad negate any Islamic claim to peace? The essays are accessible for the reader not versed in world religions: each one introduces the tradition’s key documents or concepts and their authoritative status, develops the foundation within the tradition for the idea of peace and violence, and explains how peace is practiced. Additionally, the editors have included responses to each essay from two other authors in the volume—one whose tradition is closely related, the other whose tradition is more distinct. The essays and responses are followed by discussion questions, a glossary, a list of peacemaking organizations, and two bibliographies: one for the essay and another for further reading. 

The book is organized in reverse chronological order of the traditions’ initial appearance, so beginning with the youngest tradition, Islam, written by Irfan A. Omar (along with Michael K. Duffey, one of the co-editors of this volume, both of Marquette University), and concluding with the oldest, indigenous people, written by Tink Tinker, noted Osage scholar at Iliff School of Theology. 

In a clear but nuanced argument based on the Qu’ran, the Hadith, and the Shari’a, Omar describes the foundation for Islam as a religion of peace and compassion. Jihad is spiritual struggle; fighting can be condoned on defensive grounds only. Historic Islam can be construed to have a “just war” tradition, but the methods of warfare in today’s world violate all of its criteria. Therefore, nonviolence is the only legitimate option for Muslims. For Omar, Muslim extremists who bathe their political or ideological ends in religious language have distorted and manipulated Islam.

In contrast, Tinker claims that nonviolence as a category belongs to western dualistic thinking and makes no sense within the Native American worldview. For Tinker, Native Americans practice a set of discrete customs that cannot be considered as religion at all; rather, the worldview is comprised of ceremonies that seek to restore balance. On one hand, pre-contact Native Americans lived less violent lives than their contemporaries across the ocean; they rarely engaged in what Europeans call “war” and did not have such a word in their language. On the other hand, the Native American worldview recognizes that violence against plants, rocks, four-legged creatures, and, occasionally, humans is part of the natural order. Ceremonies that occur before and after such episodes are designed to restore peace when violence occurs. Therefore, Ghandian-style nonviolence makes no sense within this cosmic understanding.

See Yee Chan responds as a Confucian to both Omar and Tinker. Of Omar he asks: “Does (Islam) rule out the kind of humanitarian intervention and regime change implied by the Confucian notion of punitive expedition?” (43). Against Tinker he counters: “If the idea of all equality [of two-leggeds, all animals, all plants and all rocks] is assumed, a gruesome and terrible implication will be that we can kill or treat another human in a violent way against his/her consent as long as we perform some ceremonies to express our respect and graditude, just as we do to animals” (228). This kind of clarity and direct challenge pervades the interlocutors’ responsive essays.

Other contributing scholars include Duffey (Christianity), Joshua Ezra Burns (Judiasm), Eleanor Rosch (Buddhism), and Kalpana Mohanty (Hinduism).

This compact volume may be the most effectively organized, consistently well written, and accessible yet scholarly set of essays I have ever encountered in any academic field. The book clearly reflects Duffey and Omar’s extensive experience communicating in the university classroom. Though its structure is more common among texts for a general audience, this text is built on thoroughly grounded scholarship. It moves seamlessly from basic to sophisticated concepts. As such, this short book can be used in undergraduate or graduate courses, as a basis for classroom or online teaching; within a congregation, synagogue, mosque, temple, or other faith-based organization that engages in continuing education; or as a handbook for theological faculties who are transitioning into the difficult territory of multifaith or multireligious practice in religious education, social service or chaplaincy.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Pamela D. Couture is the Jane and Geoffrey Martin Chair of Church and Community at Emmanuel College of Victoria University in the University of Toronto.

Date of Review: 
March 20, 2019
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Irfan A. Omar is Associate Professor of Islam and World Religions at Marquette University, USA. He teaches courses on Islam, interfaith dialogue, and World Religions and his research interests include Christian-Muslim and Hindu-Muslim dialogue.

Michael K. Duffey is Associate Professor of Theology at Marquette University. He is also Director of the Interdisciplinary Major in Peace Studies and founder of the Marquette Center for Peacemaking.



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