The 28th Annual Spiritual Life Institute

Religion and Violence

If religion can be described as a system of signs and symbols that provide believers with the means to understand and maintain a relationship with God, gods, and/or ultimate reality, then violence is one of the most powerful concepts in that system. It is no secret that the sacred literature of the world’s religious traditions is filled with violent language/imagery and not a day goes by when some incident of religious violence seems to find its way into the headlines of the national and international media outlets. From a suicide bombing in Afghanistan and the murder of an abortion clinic doctor in Kansas City to the annual celebration of Christ’s sacrifice at Easter and Shia Islam’s yearly observance of Ashura, which commemorates Husayn ibn Ali’s martyrdom at the battle of Karbala, acts of violence are a potent and an ever-present feature of the religious experience. Although most people would consider religious violence to be morally reprehensible, such as when it is used as a means to coerce, terrorize, and/or impose one’s beliefs about ultimate reality onto others, it is also true that acts of religious violence can be a powerful means of engaging in spiritual refinement/cleansing, a pedagogical tool that is used to express abstract concepts about ultimate reality, and the impetus for deep and meaningful theological reflection.

For the past twenty-seven years, the Spiritual Life Institute at Saint Martin’s University has explored a wide range of theological topics that are meant to inspire awareness, challenge preconceived notions, and shed light upon the spiritual journey. In this, the twenty-eighth annual meeting of the Spiritual Life Institute, an internationally recognized group of academics, authors, and advocates for social justice will participate in a week-long discussion on the complex subject of religious violence. On behalf of Saint Martin’s University and the Spiritual Life Institute, we would like to invite you to join us for what is certain to be an exciting and thought provoking week!


Dr. Reza Aslan, associate professor, University of California, Riverside

Dr. Charles Kimball, professor and chair of religious studies, Oklahoma State University

Dr. James Wellman, associate professor and chair of comparative religions, University of Washington

Dr. Kenneth Butigan, director, Pace e Bene

Dr. Ian Werrett, assistant professor of religious studies, Saint Martin’s University

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