Emory Report
March 17, 2008
Volume 60, Number 23


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March 17, 2008
Scholars compare religious extremism

By Kim Urquhart

Is suicide bombing an unqualified evil? Like many questions posed at the conference “Wrathful God: Religious Extremism in a Comparative Perspective,” this one by keynote speaker Bruce Lawrence of Duke University “opens up a Pandora’s box of alternative perspectives and new queries,” Lawrence said.

The March 3 and 4 forum brought together top religion scholars from around the world to engage in what Emory College Dean Bobby Paul called a “puzzling, perplexing and crucial topic.”

During two days of intensive discussions, participants examined extremist discourses in world religions and the factors that contribute to the related development of extremist worldviews, exploring subjects as diverse as the jihadi networks of cyber-authority to the biblical roots of martyrdom.

“It’s important to remember that extremism is found in all religious traditions,” said Asa Griggs Candler Professor of Middle East and Islamic Studies Vincent Cornell, and to note that extremism doesn’t equal violence.

The scholars, selected for their ability to think outside of the box in formulating new paradigms of analysis and comparison, in panel discussions explored religious extremism according to their own perspective. Their collective expertise will be compiled in an edited volume based on the conference papers and findings. The best student work from a graduate seminar taught by Cornell in conjunction with the conference also will be included in the volume.

“What we are seeing out of this conference is not the end of something, but the beginning of an understanding of the very complex set of phenomena that mix religion, culture, ideology all together in really very tangled ways,” said Gordon Newby, chair of the Department of Middle Eastern and South Asian Studies (MESAS).

Initiated by the Institute for Comparative and International Studies and co-sponsored by Emory’s Religion, Conflict and Peacebuilding Initiative, Candler School of Theology, MESAS and other units within Emory College, the public conference represented a “strong example of intellectual unity and synergy,” said Paul.