Religion and violence

Level 6 - DT3060-02

The module will examine a range of issues bearing upon the relation of religion and violence mainly in recent scholarship.   

Religiously infused violence has become a feature of life at the present time, and the relation of religion and violence has become a matter of considerable public debate. Critics of ‘religion’ accuse it of being the source and cause of violence, and members of different religious traditions, partly under this pressure, examine the way in which their sacred texts, history and present life contain not only actual violence in the name of God, but also symbolic and ritual violence that in some measure appear to validate further religious violence. This module addresses these and related issues in a reflective and analytic way.

Topics covered

Main topics of the module include:

  • Introduction and preliminary readings and orientation
  • Religious violence, terrorism and the secular city
  • Violence in sacred texts
  • Monotheism and violence
  • Islam and violence
  • Religious non-violence: Tolstoy and Gandhi
  • A non-violent Jesus in a violent world: N. T. Wright
  • René Girard on violence, religion and scapegoating
  • ‘The Myth of Religious Violence’: W. T. Cavanaugh
  • Freud on the ‘primal murder’ and religion

Learning outcomes

On successful completion of this module, you will be expected to be able to:

Knowledge and understanding 

  • Demonstrate a clear understanding of different forms of relationship between religion and violence; 
  • Describe the violent features found in some of the texts, traditions and practices of the monotheistic faiths; 
  • Give an account of the key arguments regarding the relationship between religion and violence found in the work of scholars such as Leo Tolstoy, Mahatma Gandhi, N. T. Wright, Rene Girard, Friedrich Nietzsche, and Sigmund Freud.

Intellectual and cognitive skills 

  • Select and organise material from a range of primary and secondary sources; 
  • Identify and focus in detail on key issues within each topic studied; 
  • Conduct a detailed critical analysis of key arguments; 
  • Construct a sustained argument, drawing on material from secondary sources and own analysis. 

Practical and transferable skills

  • Represent the views of others with fairness and integrity;
  • Show an ability to assimilate and evaluate competing arguments; 
  • Show open-mindedness and make sound judgements; 
  • Produce clear, well-structured written work; 
  • Write fluently, with minimal grammatical and typographical errors.
  • Manage their own workload in order to meet agreed deadlines.


A two thousand-word essay (40%) and a 1.5-hour unseen written examination (60%).

Tutor in Religion: History and Doctrine

Tutor in Religion Dr John McDade

Dr John McDade

John McDade was Senior Lecturer and Principal of Heythrop College, University of London. He became interested in theology because of what he saw as the urgent question about the relationship between ‘the historical Jesus’ and the Christ proclaimed by the Church. His doctorate at the University of Edinburgh was on ‘Pre-existence Language in Christology’, and his interest spread from that to Trinity and Salvation which he taught for many years. It then extended to developing a new theology of Christian-Jewish relations. More recently, his attention has turned to the issue of contemporary atheism and how Christian theology is to engage modern unbelief in a dialogical way.