February 29, 12
Religion and War/Violence
- Religious values, beliefs, practices and their “social articulation”: in
politics, in kinship, economics, education… and in WAR.
- Religion is often deeply implicated in group conflicts and violence
- 1) religion and group/ethnic identity (Catholic/Protestant,
- 2) Conflicts over sacred space (The Holy Land, demolition of Babri
mosque in Ayodhya, etc…)
- 3) religion as institutional and cultural power/privilege forms of
religious-based domination and discrimination (religion and law,
education, norms, values, etc.) – says things about the distribution
of power in society.
- War as a form of social action that requires divine backing, support
patron deities blessings of priests – rituals to empower –
preliminary divination – sacred tendance of the dead – claims to
- Religions are either explicitly or implicitly ideologies of power,
because the forces/beings they worship, propitiate, are “world-
- Divination – finding out things through “magic” – entrails of birds –
anticipation of the god‟s favour.
- A society‟s kriegstluk,(war ethics) its preferred style of collective
raping, looting, burning, enslaving, and killing, is typically
interwoven with the prevailing religious mythology/worldview:
- A) Vocabulary of acceptable motives (why go to war)
- B) legitimate goals and opponents (dehumanize the pother, or
- C) Approved ways of fighting
- Two basic orientations: James Aho – Religious Mythology and the
Art of War
- 1) Immanentist – Cosmological – war maintains, records the
cosmos, so war is a part of the natural order. War and violence is
built into the system – and the divine beings that are part of this
picture are imminent in the cosmos – participatory
- Ex. Hindu epic – Mahabharata, Aztec Guerra florida, Norse or Viking
- 2) Transcendent – Historical – (re)establish god‟s law in history,
implement the divine plan – this is essentially the orientation of the
- Ex. Israelite conquest of Canaan, Islamic Jihad, Christian crusades.
– „Holy war‟ is one that G-d requires the faithful to fight –
consecrated aggression against the “enemies of G-d”: infidels,
apostates, heretics, etc…
- Contrasts: Imm-Cosmo = war as play, as a noble end in itself
(when pursued correctly), death and killing in battle glorious –
conduct governed by ritual propriety, chivalric norms (our rivals,
our opponents in war, also have gods...)
- Trans-Hist = War as moral duty – ends justify means – religious
intensity and brutality against “enemies of G-d” (our rivals, our
opponents are “godless” or followers of demons, Satan…).
- War-gods and the Rise of the State
- The boasts of the conquerors: the Babylonian Ishtar “broke their
bow and undid their battle formations” the Akkafian Inanna routed
the foe and “watered the earth with their blood”
- Ascendancy of storm gods/ war gods
- The material support of the gods in battle was featured in
the propaganda of the imperial powers – on friezes, temples,
paintings, scriptures, texts.
- Sacramental Warfare in Ancient Mexico
- Aztecs = Mexica
- ^a nomatic warrior people, speakers of Nahuatl, from the north
late-comers to the valley of Mexico (mid 13thC) called Chichimecs,
the „lineage of the dog‟, by their more civilized neighbors and
- Mesoamerica had already witnessed several cycles of pop growth,
urban expansion, political centralization, and collapse – enduring
- Olmec (800-400 BCE) – practiced ritual blood-letting/autosacrifice
- Classic Maya (c. 300-900 CE) – human sacrifices made,
autosacrifice by elites
- Toltec hegemony (c. 700-1400 CE) The great city of El Tajin (600-
- C.1400 the Aztecs begin rise to imperial power – capture
Atzcapotzalco in 1428
- Further conquests follow: land, labour, tribute – stimulates trade,
cultural exchanges to obtain cotton, precious metals, stones,
feathers, cacao, tobacco… etc…
- Economy: based on advanced hydro-agriculture, using chinampas
or floating mud platforms, pole anchored – networks of dams,
canals, aqueducts, reservoirs – water-based transport
- Eventually the Aztec empire control some 38 provinces: fortresses,
garrisons, client states Aztec ruling elite use resources to reward
nobles and the warrior groups - also intermarriages with regional
- Aztec supreme ruler – Tlatoani, literally „speaker‟ – first Tlatoani
rules from 1376-95.
- Nobles (pipiltin) were descendants of the higher gods.
- Noble youth attended special schools to learn myth, ritual,
calendrics, writing and recitation, and the arts of war
- Rewards for loyal servants.
- Aztecs develop a tradition as being the chosen people of the Solar
- The Great Temple – For the Solar god and the Rain god.
- Reforms – Need their religion and mythology to exemplify that fact.
- Obsidian Serpent – Orders destruction of past calendric records and
painted books (they contain “too many lies”) – new works
composed elevated the warrior-sun god Huitzilopochtli.
- Creation Myth revamped
- Earth-Mother/mountain goddess Coaticue (Serpent Skirt), is the
mother of 400 southern gods (the Huitznahua) – she finds a ball of
fine feathers, clutches them, and becomes pregnant with
Huitzilopochtli – his older siblings jealous and shamed, plot to kill
him; but he springs from the womb as a warrior and destroys them
- = an imperialist charter myth: the new, rising imperial power must
destroy the older powers.
- The Aztecs/Mexica are said to be the heirs to the obligation of
maintaining the cosmos, as it passes through cycles of growth and
decay, destruction and renewal.
- Five Ages of the Sun – Cosmic cycles of creation and destruction,
each leading to new creation of earth, sun and moon – now in the
5th age, drawing close to the end of its cycle.
- Cyclical calendric – the past as „template‟ for the present and
- Solar calendar: 18 months of 20 days, ending with 5 bad omen
days (`Feb. 8-12)
- Ritual Celndar: 20 signs and 13 numbers – used for divination,
- 52 year cycle.
- Mesoamerican “blood cult”
- Humans were created by the divine powers through sacrifice, who
mixed their blood with maize to make human beings, and through
their collective immolation to create and raise the sun – humankind
thus has a “blood-debt” to the gods
- Central meatphysical principle – the cyclical interdependence of life
and death, killing and living – (even today: la vida y la muerte son