UPDATE: Religion’s Role in the Boston Bombings

Do we, or do we not, hold religion accountable for the violence done in its name? 

The simplest answer, of course, is: “sometimes.”

One would be hard pressed to find a credible argument that Christianity was simply the veneer used to justify the Crusades or, conversely, that it played much of a role in the bizarre story of someone like Jett Simmons McBride. 

Those who put little stock in claims that Ozzy Osbourne or Grand Theft Auto are responsible for everything from vandalism to murder are frequently just as quick to blame religion should the perp name-drop Jesus or Allah. Robert Spencer, Pamela Geller, and the rest of the Blame-Islam-First crowd are eager to, well, blame Islam first—though they’re more restrained when it comes Christians or Jews.

And here, between the Crusades and the odd psychopath, between religion haters, apologists, and Islamophobes, stand the rest of us struggling to make sense of each tragic event.

In RD this week, Ivan Strenski and Mark Juergensmeyer offer their trademark nuanced approaches to the question of religion and violence.

In “Eight Things We Know for Sure About the Boston Bombings” Strenski argues, among other things, that media coverage will reliably reflect either the parochial view that, given the merest whiff of its presence, the religion of the Other is responsible—or the pollyannaish perspective that religion couldn’t possibly have contributed to violence since it’s essentially a force for good. 

In “Don’t Blame Religion for Boston Bombings” Mark Juergensmeyer argues that we must distinguish between the acts of “lone wolves”—even those who believe they’re acting as defenders of the faith—and instances where there are actual radical religious groups actively supporting violent attacks. 

UPDATE: In a new post, Dr. Strenski offers a compelling proposition, that “internet Islam” be considered a new node in an ever-evolving religious landscape—and that this was the faith (or the “dream”) that the Tsernaev brothers believed they were defending.

Read the conversation, as it develops, and come back and tell us what you think below.

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Evan Derkacz and Lisa Webster have been co-editing Religion Dispatches since the site launched in 2008. They are still speaking to each other.