Between Terror and Tolerance: Religious Leaders, Conflict, and Peacemaking

winterBetween Terror and Tolerance: Religious Leaders, Conflict, and Peacemaking
by Timothy D. Sisk, ed.
(Washington, D.C.: Georgetown University Press, 2011) 280 pp.

Reviewed by Ms. Rachel Winter, M.A. Candidate, University of Iowa, Department of Religious Studies

At face value, the title Between Terror and Tolerance makes the reader question if yet another volume on conflict will have anything new to contribute regarding an issue that has been extensively discussed. However, Sisk collected eleven essays (plus introduction and conclusion) that reinvent the way scholars think about the relationship between religion and conflict. The book opens with an essay by David Little titled “Religion, Nationalism and Intolerance.” Little’s thesis sets the tone for the ten following case studies: the level of control imposed by the government is a strong indicator for how much violence will be present in any given state. Thus, an authoritarian state is far more likely to be violent. Implicit in Little’s thesis are two important ideas. One, that religion is not the cause for violence, unlike the stereotype may suggest, but rather, it could be the interlocutor for peace. Two, an implied use of affect theory because the language of the leaders and the elite shapes the resulting actions. Whether he means to or not, Little’s thesis subverts the way religion converses with conflict.

The ten case studies that follow Little’s essay support his hypothesis that the state and politics have more to contribute to conflict than religion. To make the scholarship unbiased and comprehensive, Sisk chooses a wide variety of conflicts ranging from the paradigmatic conflicts, like the Sunni-Shia conflict or the Israel-Palestine conflict, to less commonly discussed conflicts like Muslim-Maronites (Shia-Catholic), Muslim-Christian, Catholic-Protestant, Russia-IRP (Islamic Renaissance Party), the role of the Buddhist sangha (monastic community) in conflict, Hindu-Muslim, and most importantly, state versus religion. By arranging the book with such a wide variety of examples, the conversation becomes inclusive, and a scholarly contribution to the discourse regarding conflict.

At the end of the day, thanks to Little’s theory and Sisk’s compilation of essays, the idea of conflict now has a new outlook that considers that the state may be more at fault because it has been compromised by internal conflict as a result of poor leadership at the local level. Perhaps even more radical is the idea that religion may be the answer to the conflict, or a strong contributor to the discourse that begins to end the conflict, whether it is religion’s role in unifying a community, or the role of religious leaders in exercising their authority to incite change.

While the essays are written in a clear fashion without jargon, and follow a logical train of thought, if the reader is not able to comprehend Little’s thesis about liberalism and its direct relationship to violence, the reader will likely struggle through the case studies. All the case studies are written to prove the idea that the state is the cause of violence. If the reader does not comprehend Little’s rationale and logic behind liberalism, then the rest of the book will seem a bit disjointed. Additionally, the reader would be well advised to be versed in affect theory, as some of the general tenets of the theory can help the reader be informed on the relationship between language and conflict as it plays out within the state and top-down imposition that causes conflict.

Scholars who study conflict, asymmetric conflict, terrorism, the relationship between state and religion, and other related fields, would be well advised to read Between Terror and Tolerance. Even if the reader does not have time to venture through all ten case studies, time should at least be spent contemplating Little’s thesis, and reading the particular chapters to their area of scholarship. Between Little’s thesis and Sisk’s collection of essays, a whole new perspective is offered about the origins of conflict and religion’s role as a peace-making solution, rather than an instigator of conflict.

Although the book was published in 2011, the chapters specifically relating to Sunni-Shia conflict, as well as Muslim-Christian conflict, have an incredibly pertinent role in contemporary times with the rise of ISIL and the United States’ ever changing foreign relations, as dynamically impacted by internal conflict shaping the ability for foreign relations. Overall, a phenomenal read for any scholar interested in the field, and looking for a new perspective on a timeless issue.

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