2 win religion, education Grawemeyer awards
Professors recognized for books on religious terrorists, how reading was taught in the 20th century.
The Courier-Journal, Dec. 6, 2002
By Peter Smith
When Mark Juergensmeyer wanted to find out why religious terrorists kill in the name of God, he interviewed the terrorists themselves.
When Deborah Brandt wanted to learn how literacy was taught throughout the 20th century, she also went to the source, asking people ages 10 to 98 how they learned to read and write.
For the books they produced, Juergensmeyer and Brandt have been named winners of the 2003 Grawemeyer awards for religion and education, respectively.
Juergensmeyer, professor of sociology and religious studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara, was honored for his book
Published in 2000, a revised edition of the book was issued after the Sept. 11 attacks, and Juergensmeyer has been a regular commentator on religious terrorism ever since.
Each author will receive $200,000 as winners of the annual awards, which were established by the late philanthropist H. Charles Grawemeyer. Winners in music, psychology and ideas for improving world order were announced earlier this week. The University of Louisville awards all of the prizes, although it presents the religion award jointly with Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary.
Juergensmeyer interviewed a rogue’s gallery of notorious terrorists — Muslim members of Hamas; Christian Identity militants; right-wing Jewish supporters of the late Baruch Goldstein, who massacred worshippers at a Muslim shrine; and a member of Aum Shinrikyo, a Buddhist-influenced sect linked to a deadly gas attack in the Tokyo subway.
”I had two simple questions. . . . Why is religion involved in such vicious acts, and why is this happening now?” Juergensmeyer said.
Susan R. Garrett, coordinator of the religion award, said Juergensmeyer’s book ”speaks to the questions many people have about why people commit terrorist acts.”
And ”it runs counter to the view that religion should promote peace,” said Garrett, a professor at the Presbyterian seminary.
Juergensmeyer said his goal was to understand terrorists, not show them sympathy.
What he found is that terrorists believe they are warriors in a cosmic conflict between good and evil that is being manifested in worldwide political and military upheavals.
”The one consistent in all of these crises from Tokyo to Oklahoma City to New York to Jerusalem is the air of globalization,” he said. ”We don’t know where the world is going.”
Mahmud Abouhalima, a conspirator in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, appeared jovial and relaxed in his prison interview until the subject came to his motivation, when his eyes ”glazed over,” Juergensmeyer said. Abouhalima told him, ”There’s a war going on, Mr. Mark, that you don’t see.”
Religion, Juergensmeyer said, ”contains a basis of authority that’s beyond any state’s authority, and it contains the images of cosmic war.”
He added that the worst thing the United States can do is respond to terrorism only with heavy-handed tactics.
”I’m not saying there isn’t a role for military force,” said Juergensmeyer, a native of Illinois. ”But we have to respond with strength in the context of our own framework of justice, to prove we are the moral and spiritual society they say we’re not.”