Religious traditions are largely nonviolent; yet every religious history leaves a trail of blood and a legacy of swords. Images of violence are a part of sacred iconography, symbolism, and mythology; and in every religious tradition, real acts of social violence are conducted in ways that are thought to be legitimized by divine will. These various images and acts of destruction can be collectively described as “religious violence,” though in many cases the religious ideas and practices that are associated with them are not narrowly theological. Apart from ritual sacrifice, real acts of violence are seldom intrinsic to any specific religious experience—wars are often justified in the name of religion, for instance, when the primary purpose is to extend political power. In this entry, religious ...

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