Fields of Blood: Religion and the History of Violence

Author(s): Karen Armstrong


From the renowned and best-selling author of "A History of God," a sweeping exploration of religion and the history of human violence. For the first time, religious self-identification is on the decline in American. Some analysts have cited as cause a post-9/11perception: that faith in general is a source of aggression, intolerance, and divisiveness--something bad for society. But how accurate is that view? With deep learning and sympathetic understanding, Karen Armstrong sets out to discover the truth about religion and violence in each of the world's great traditions, taking us on an astonishing journey from prehistoric times to the present. While many historians have looked at violence in connection with particular religious manifestations (jihad in Islam or Christianity's Crusades), Armstrong looks at each faith--not only Christianity and Islam, but also Buddhism, Hinduism, Confucianism, Daoism, and Judaism--in its totality over time. As she describes, each arose in an agrarian society with plenty powerful landowners brutalizing peasants while also warring among themselves over land, then the only real source of wealth. In this world, religion was not the discrete and personal matter it would become for us but rather something that permeated all aspects of society. And so it was that agrarian aggression, and the warrior ethos it begot, became bound up with observances of the sacred. In each tradition, however, a counterbalance to the warrior code also developed. Around sages, prophets, and mystics there grew up communities protesting the injustice and bloodshed endemic to agrarian society, the violence to which religion had become heir. And so by the time the great confessional faiths came of age, all understood themselves as ultimately devoted to peace, equality, and reconciliation, whatever the acts of violence perpetrated in their name. Industrialization and modernity have ushered in an epoch of spectacular and unexampled violence, although, as Armstrong explains, relatively little of it can be ascribed directly to religion. Nevertheless, she shows us how and in what measure religions, in their relative maturity, came to absorb modern belligerence--and what hope there might be for peace among believers of different creeds in our time. At a moment of rising geopolitical chaos, the imperative of mutual understanding between nations and faith communities has never been more urgent, the dangers of action based on misunderstanding never greater. Informed by Armstrong's sweeping erudition and personal commitment to the promotion of compassion, "Fields of Blood" makes vividly clear that religion is not the problem.


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"A timely work . . . This passionately argued book is certain to provoke heated debate against the background of the Isis atrocities and many other acts of violence perpetrated around the world today in the name of religion." -John Cornwell, "Financial Times" "Detailed and often riveting . . . a mighty offering . . . Armstrong can be relied on to have done her homework and she has the anthropologist's respect for the 'otherness' of other cultures . . . [Her] oeuvre is extensive, bringing a rare mix of cool-headed scholarship and impassioned concern for humanity to bear on the vexed topic of religion . . . [And she] is nothing if not democratic in her exposition." -Salley Vickers, "The Guardian" (UK) "Eloquent and empathetic, which is rare, and impartial, which is rarer . . . [Armstrong] ranges across the great empires and leading faiths of the world. Fields of Blood is never less than absorbing and most of the time as convincing as it is lucid and robust . . . [This] wonderful book certainly cleanses the mind. It may even do a little repair work on the heart." -Ferdinand Mount, "The Spectator" (UK) "Characteristically eloquent and instructive . . . Armstrong's survey of four millennia of organized violence with religious overtones . . . aspires to put historical flesh on the bare bones of [the facts] . . . Modern society "has made a scapegoat of faith," thereby obscuring and thus partly exonerating the far more massive crimes of modern secular states and armies, while also defaming the majority of religious believers who work for tolerance, justice and peace by nonviolent means . . . We are all awash in "fields of blood." [This] engaging new book makes that case eloquently." -Scott Appleby, "The Tablet "(UK) "From Gilgamesh to bin Laden, [Armstrong covers] almost five millennia of human experience . . . Supplying the context of what may look like religiously motivated episodes of violence, in order to show that religion as such was not the prime cause . . . She is no doubt right to say that the aggression of a modern jihadist does not represent some timeless essence of religion, and that other political, economic and cultural factors loom large in the stories of how and why individuals become radicalized." -Noel Malcolm, "The Telegraph" (UK) "Fluent and elegant, never quite long enough . . . as much about the nature of warfare as it is about faith . . . [Armstrong] is taking issue with a cliche, the routine claim that religion, advertising itself as humanity's finest expression, has been responsible for most of the woes of the species . . . The Crusades, the Inquisition, the Wars of Religion, even modern "jihadi" terrorism: each is investigated . . . The picture is bleak, but certainly accurate . . . Exploitation and oppression continue . . . but these provide a challenge for the godly and the godless alike. The proposition, like the book, is noble." -Ian Bell, "The Sunday Herald" (Scotland) "A well-written historical summary of what have traditionally been viewed as "religious" wars, showing convincingly that in pretty much all cases it was not so much religion as it was political issues that fueled the conflict." -Augustine J. Curley, "Library Journal" (starred review) "Provocative and supremely readable . . . the comparative nature of [Armstrong's] inquiry is refreshing . . . Bracing as ever, [she] sweeps through religious history around the globe and over 4,000 years to explain the yoking of religion and violence and to elucidate the ways in which religion has also been used to counter violence." -"Publishers Weekly" (starred review) "Epic in scale . . . a comprehensive and erudite study of the history of violence in relation to religion . . . Armstrong leads readers patiently through history . . . her writing is clear and descriptive, her approach balanced and scholarly . . . An intriguing read, useful resource and definitive voice in defense of the divine in human culture." -"Kirkus Reviews" (starred review) "Armstrong again impresses with the breadth of her knowledge and the skill with which she conveys it to us." -Ray Olson, "Booklist" (starred review)

Karen Armstrong is the author of numerous books on religion, including "The""Case for God, A History of God, The Battle for God, Holy War, Islam, Buddha," and "The Great Transformation," as well as a memoir, "The Spiral Staircase." Her work has been translated into forty-five languages. In 2008 she was awarded the TED Prize and began working with TED on the Charter for Compassion, created online by the general public, crafted by leading thinkers in Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Confucianism. It was launched globally in the fall of 2009. Also in 2008, she was awarded the Franklin D. Roosevelt Four Freedoms Medal. In 2013, she received the British Academy's inaugural Nayef Al-Rodhan Prize for Transcultural Understanding.

General Fields

  • : 9780307957047
  • : Knopf Publishing Group
  • : Knopf Publishing Group
  • : October 2014
  • : books

Special Fields

  • : 528
  • : Karen Armstrong
  • : Hardback