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Mark Juergensmeyer (b. 1940 in Carlinville, Illinois) is an American scholar in religious studies and sociology and a writer best known for his studies of religious violence and global religion. He also has written on conflict resolution and on South Asian religion and society, and has been a pioneer in the field of global studies. He has been a commentator on national radio and television, and has authored or edited over twenty books, including Global Rebellion: Religious Challenges to the Secular State (2008), and Terror in the Mind of God: The Global Rise of Religious Violence (2003). Both are based on interviews with religious activists around the world—including individuals convicted of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, leaders of Hamas, and abortion clinic bombers in the United States.
Juergensmeyer taught at University of California, Berkeley for fifteen years in a joint position as coordinator of religious studies for UC Berkeley and director of the Office of Programs in Comparative Religion at the Graduate Theological Union (1974–89); at the University of Hawaii he was founding dean of the School of Hawaiian, Asian, and Pacific Studies (1989–93); and later he taught at the University of California, Santa Barbara (1993–present), where he was founding director of the global and international studies program and the Orfalea Center for Global and International Studies. Juergensmeyer is the 2003 recipient of the University of Louisville Grawemeyer Award for contributions to the study of religion, the 2004 recipient of the Silver Award of the Queen Sofia Center for the Study of Violence in Spain, and was elected president of the American Academy of Religion for 2008-09.
Early intellectual development
A product of a German immigrant community in Missouri and Illinois, Juergensmeyer early aspired to be a Methodist minister. He received a B.A. in philosophy at the University of Illinois (1958–62), and attended Union Theological Seminary in New York City (1963–65). He was one of the last students of the Protestant theologian, Reinhold Niebuhr, who combined religious reflection with political insights and a passion for social justice. Juergensmeyer also studied at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs. He was deeply affected by the Civil Rights movement as an activist working for the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party and as a co-founder of Seminarians for Civil Rights. He also became involved in protests against the U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War, and briefly served as a freelance radio correspondent in Vietnam in 1965. He lived in India from 1966 to 1967 where he taught political science at Panjab University in Chandigarh and worked in famine relief in the Indian state of Bihar. He joined the Gandhian Sarvodaya Movement, working directly with its leader, Jayaprakash Narayan.
Juergensmeyer returned to graduate school in political science at the University of California, Berkeley (1967–1974), where he received his PhD. In 1969 he married a fellow graduate student, Sucheng Chan, who later became a professor at the University of California-Berkeley, provost of Oakes College at the University of California-Santa Cruz, and founding chair of the Asian-American Studies Department at the University of California, Santa Barbara. In Berkeley Juergensmeyer began to focus on the relation of religion and politics, and more generally, on the role of social values in public life. These topics remained central to his concerns throughout his academic career.
Religion as Social Vision in South Asia
Juergensmeyer’s first book, Religion as Social Vision: The Movement Against Untouchability in 20th Century Punjab, focused on the religious and political activism of the lowest stratum of North Indian society, the so-called “Untouchable” castes. Through interviews and field studies Juergensmeyer developed the thesis that the way that lower caste activists perceived the society around them dictated their political strategies. Since they saw Indian society as shaped by Hindu religious concepts, they reasoned that political change in society would have to involve changes in religion. Hence their major movement for social improvement was also a religious movement—a new religion, which they called Adi Dharm, or “the original religion”. This book was followed by Radhasoami Reality: The Logic of a Modern Faith, that analyzed another religious movement in the Punjab, one that appealed to a wider swath of Indian society, especially its merchant and administrative classes. This movement, Radhasoami Satsang, also provided a distinctive social vision—the image of a modern egalitarian society that embodied the virtues of religious fellowship and the moral authority of a spiritual master. Again religion provided an alternative sense of social reality, one that enabled modern adherents to overcome the malaise of modernity with the rigor and values of religion.
The India phase of Juergensmeyer’s research also led to three other books. An edited volume, Sikh Studies, included Juergensmeyer’s study of the Ghadar Party, an Indian nationalist movement suffused with religious imagery that was created by expatriate Indians in California in 1915. In this article Juergensmeyer coined the phrase “the Ghadar syndrome” to describe how extreme forms of nationalist pride can emerge from expatriate communities as a way of displacing their sense of marginalization and humiliation as immigrants. This book also included an essay on Sikhism as a "forgotten religion" within the Western view of world religions. Another book, Songs of the Saints of India, a collection of medieval Hindi poetry, was co-translated with John Stratton Hawley. These poems provide religious versions of social protest and reconceptions of the social whole voiced by saints from Indian society’s periphery. A third book, Fighting with Gandhi (later revised and re-issued under the title, Gandhi’s Way), provided a primer on Gandhi's approach to conflict resolution. It shows how Gandhi reconceived the nature of a conflict by looking for solutions that include the truthful aspects of both sides of a dispute. The book also raises questions about the role of coercion in conflict resolution, and challenges Gandhi’s ideas from the perspectives of Karl Marx, Sigmund Freud, and Reinhold Niebuhr.
Comparative studies of rationalism, religion, and violence
The role of religion in social vision was expanded and redirected during the 1980s, when he co-directed a multi-scholar collaborative project, the Berkeley-Harvard Program in the Comparative Study of Religion, which led to a series of books on the role of religion in the liberal arts and launched Juergensmeyer’s comparative studies of religion and society. His 1993 book, The New Cold War? Religious Nationalism Confronts the Secular State, (revised and reissued in 2008 under the title, Global Rebellion: Religious Challenges to the Secular State), was one of the first to explain the new social and political forces of the globalized post-Cold War World.
Beginning with an analysis of the militant Sikh movement in India, the book explained why religious activism erupted in the last decades of the 20th century. It focused on what it described as “a loss of faith in secular nationalism” due in part to the postcolonial collapse of confidence in Western models of nationalism and to the rise of globalization. In this milieu, religion provided both an alternative “ideology of order” and an image of “cosmic war”, which was a way of understanding social crises. This theory was first described in an article on "the logic of religious violence" published in 1987 and expanded in an essay, “sacrifice and cosmic war”, in a volume edited by Juergensmeyer in 1992, Violence and the Sacred in the Modern World.
The violent aspects of the religious challenges to the secular state—specifically acts of religious terrorism—constituted the subject of a subsequent book, Terror in the Mind of God: The Global Rise of Religious Violence, published in 2000 and revised in 2003. The book explored the religious aspects of contemporary Christian, Buddhist, Sikh, Jewish, and Muslim acts of terrorism. It challenged the idea that terrorist acts were employed solely as a part of political strategy, and showed that religious terrorism is undertaken for symbolic as well as strategic reasons. It described terrorism as “the public performance of violence”, acts that reach out to particular audiences and adhere to grand scripts of cosmic war. A reviewer for The Journal of Conflict Studies said a "spate of books has been hastily written or rushed to publication since the infamous attacks on New York and Washington, D.C. [in Sept. 2001]. But this book is not one of the crowd. Terror in the Mind of God was prepared when terrorism studies barely interested the news media...and when those who studied the phenomenon were still suspected of an odd and unhealthful fascination with a laughable, lunatic fringe".
A section of the book entitled, “why guys throw bombs”, analyzed gender issues related to terrorism and explored the idea of performance violence as “symbolic empowerment”. The book also evaluated government responses to terrorist acts, concluding that militant retaliation is not only ineffective but also likely to enlarge the support for the activists and increase their resolve. The reviewer for Conflict Studies concluded the book "belongs in even the smallest collection on terrorism".
In 2006 Juergensmeyer presented a series of three lectures under the auspices of the Stafford Little endowment at Princeton University. The lectures, God and War, explored the intrinsic appeal of war to the religious imagination, and the enduring role of religion in warfare. It showed how the internal logic of war and religion were similar, and how they both expressed fundamental efforts to understand the chaos that threatens social and metaphysical order. The revised lectures are to be published as a book by Princeton University Press.
Global religion and society
In the first decade of the 21st century, Juergensmeyer extended his interests in religion and social order into a global context. In an edited book of essays, Global Religion: An Introduction, (later expanded and published as The Oxford Handbook of Global Religion), Juergensmeyer outlined three aspects of globalized religion: the global diaspora of peoples and their cultures, the global dispersion of religious ideas, and the religious responses to multicultured, globalized societies—often involving the creation of new religions and new forms of religiosity. These themes were central to a three-year project Juergensmeyer conducted in conjunction with the Halle Center for Global Learning at Emory University, and which resulted in the edited volume, Religion in Global Civil Society. From 2007 to 2009, Juergensmeyer chaired a working group on secularism and religion in international affairs for the Social Science Research Council. In the introduction to the coedited volume of essays related to the project, to be published under the title Rethinking Secularism, Juergensmeyer explored the problems created by thinking of social reality as a dichotomy between secular and religious categories, and raised the possibility of understanding the moral and spiritual dimensions of public order in a global and transcultural age.
In The Ideology of Religious Studies, Timothy Fitzgerald criticizes Juergensmeyer's theoretical framework, while praising his fieldwork. Fitzgerald points out that the sources being interviewed do not always accept the "ethno-religious" label for themselves, and that the opposing side is arguably just as "ethno-religious"; he goes on to claim that Juergensmeyer never makes clear why he separates so many different conflicts into these two sides, asking, "What holds all these diverse 'other' ideologies, which have been basketed together as religions or religious traditional ideologies, together, apart from their being struggles of national self-determination against a dominant other?"