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.

Religion News Blog’s Book Tip


   by Deborah Layton

Beneath the histories of religious traditions–from biblical wars to crusading ventures and great acts of martyrdom–violence has lurked as a shadowy presence. Images of death have never been far from the heart of religion’s power to stir the imagination. In this wide-ranging and erudite book, Mark Juergensmeyer asks one of the most important and perplexing questions of our age: Why do religious people commit violent acts in the name of their god, taking the lives of innocent victims and terrorizing entire populations? This, the first comparative study of religious terrorism, explores incidents such as the World Trade Center explosion, Hamas suicide bombings, the Tokyo subway nerve gas attack, and the killing of abortion clinic doctors in the United States. Incorporating personal interviews with World Trade Center bomber Mahmud Abouhalima, Christian Right activist Mike Bray, Hamas leaders Sheik Yassin and Abdul Azis Rantisi, and Sikh political leader Simranjit Singh Mann, among others, Juergensmeyer takes us into the mindset of those who perpetrate and support violent acts. In the process, he helps us understand why these acts are often associated with religious causes and why they occur with such frequency at this moment in history. Terror in the Mind of God places these acts of violence in the context of global political and social changes, and posits them as attempts to empower the cultures of violence that support them. Juergensmeyer analyzes the economic, ideological, and gender-related dimensions of cultures that embrace a central sacred concept–cosmic war–and that employ religion to demonize their enemies. Juergensmeyer’s narrative is engaging, incisive, and sweeping in scope. He convincingly shows that while, in many cases, religion supplies not only the ideology but also the motivation and organizational structure for the perpetrators of violent acts, it also carries with it the possibilities for peace.

Los Angeles Times Best Nonfiction Book of 2000

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.”


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Religion News Blog posted this on Sunday December 8, 2002.
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