cover image Fields of Blood: Religion and the History of Violence

Fields of Blood: Religion and the History of Violence

Karen Armstrong. Knopf, $30 (528p) ISBN 978-0307957047

Bracing as ever, Armstrong (The Case for God) sweeps through religious history around the globe and over 4,000 years to explain the yoking of religion and violence and to elucidate the ways in which religion has also been used to counter violence. She goes back to the beginnings of human social organization and into the human brain itself to explain the origins of social structural violence as humans moved from egalitarian hunter-gatherer societies into more socially stratified agrarian cultures that produced enough surplus to fight over, and violent myths that justified conflict. From there she reads sacred texts of numerous cultures to find their contradictions: they portray and justify but they also strive to check it. Ahimsa (nonviolence) is an ancient Indian concept; Israel’s prophets thundered against its kings; Christianity turned its other cheek but also mounted Crusades. She relates—at length—contemporary terrorism to politics and regional histories: “As an inspiration for terrorism... nationalism has been far more productive than religion.” The comparative nature of her inquiry is refreshing, and it’s supported by 80 pages of footnotes and bibliography. Provocative and supremely readable. Announced first printing of 150,000. (Oct.)