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The Holy War Idea in Western and Islamic Traditions

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Holy War Idea

The Holy War Idea in Western and Islamic Traditions, by James Turner Johnson

Holy wars are a source of both terror and fascination for many people in the West. At one time an important aspect of Christian doctrine, the concept has been relegated to the sphere of fanaticism and primitive barbarism - but not everyone shares this dismissive attitude. In Islam, holy wars remain a key ingredient of both doctrine and practice. Why does this difference exist, and is there any way for the two traditions to arrive at some sort of mutual understanding?


Title: The Holy War Idea in Western and Islamic Traditions
Author: James Turner Johnson
Publisher: Pennsylvania State University Press
ISBN: 0271016337

•  Provides an interesting and revealing analysis of the concept of Holy War
•  Shows that there is a great deal of debate and variety in both religious traditions

•  Some readers may not like the back-and-forth approach

•  Analysis of the concept of Holy War in both Christianity and Islam
•  Compares and contrasts, revealing the similarities and differences in the two traditions
•  Argues that our understanding of the relationship between religion and state may have to change


Book Review

The book The Holy War Idea in Western and Islamic Traditions, written by James Turner Johnson, attempts to explain the differences in the concept of "holy war" between Islam and Christianity in the hopes of fostering a bit more mutual understanding. A Professor of Religion and a member of the graduate program in Political Science at Rutgers University, Johnson has written extensively on the nature of both peace and just war and provides a valuable perspective not only on the ways in which these two traditions approach religious warfare, but also on how those approaches influence the manner in which Christianity and Islam conceptualize the relationship between religion and the state.

Indeed, a better understanding of the differing ways in which Islam and Christianity understand the role of government in society is perhaps one of the more interesting things a reader might be able to take away from Johnson's book. Although it may not be immediately apparent, a little reflection reveals that very conception of a "Holy War" contradicts the principle of a secular government that is independent of ecclesiastical control.

Holy War Idea

The Holy War Idea in Western and Islamic Traditions, by James Turner Johnson

Warfare and the violence it requires is normally thought of in the West as falling within the authority of the state alone. If government leaders call for a war to be pursued for religious ends, it means that the state is not independent of the control of religious orthodoxy; if religious leaders are able to call for a holy war independent of state sanction, that means that the government - even if secular - does not possess full control and authority over its territory. Both situations contradict the Western conception of an independent, secular state defined by its authority over a contiguous geographical area.

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