Religion and Violence (syllabus)
(3 semester hours, RECU 65033/85033/95033)
Spring 2019, Brite Divinity School, Moore 309, Wednesday, 1:00-3:30

Instructor: Charles Bellinger 817-257-7668

Course Description:
This course explores the highly ambiguous relationship between religious faith and violence. It provides an overview of situations in modern history that are examples of this ambiguous relationship, including terrorism and the responses it provokes. Students are exposed to authors who seek to comprehend violent behavior using explanatory theories. Students are also exposed to ethical perspectives on violent actions. The goal is to allow students in the course to develop an understanding of various dimensions (ethical, social, psychological, political, and theological) of the relationship between religious faith and intentional actions that result in ending human lives.

Course Objectives:
1. Students will be able to express informed views on the relationship between religious faith and violent behavior in the contemporary world.

2. Students will be able to articulate an understanding of violent behavior that is not only psychological or sociological, but also theological.

3. Students will be able to lead religious communities in reflection on these important issues in social ethics and public theology.

Instructional Methods:
Lectures and discussion of assigned texts.

Clough, David, and Brian Stiltner. Faith and Force: A Christian Debate About War. Washington, D.C.: Georgetown University Press, 2007. ISBN-13: 978-1589011656, $19

Girard, René. The Girard Reader. New York: Crossroad, 1996. ISBN-13: 978-0824516345, $23

Kierkegaard, Søren. The Sickness unto Death (Hannay translation). New York: Penguin, 1989. ISBN-13: 978-0140445336, $15

Sacks, Jonathan. Not in God’s Name: Confronting Religious Violence. New York: Schocken, 2017. ISBN-13: 978-0805212686, $12

There will be additional readings assigned by the instructor during the semester, which will present a variety of authors. Students must have the ability to check their TCU email account and do so regularly, because I will communicate with you in that way regarding reading assignments and other course matters.   

65033 Grading Procedures:
1. Attendance and class participation, 10% [missing more than one class and not contributing to discussion will negatively impact grade]
2. Five short papers (3-4 pp.* each), 50%
3. Final paper (10-12 pp.*), 40% [the final paper is expected to be an expanded version of one of the five short papers]

85033/95033 Grading Procedures
The final paper for Th.M., D.Min., and Ph.D. students will be 20-25 pages*, on a topic approved by the instructor.

* double-spaced, Times New Roman 12 pt preferred, remember to include your name and page numbers

Schedule: [ links page: ]




reading assignments

writing assignments

Week 1

Jan. 16

introduction to course / some theories of violence

Sam Harris, excerpts from The End of Faith

Ernest Becker, excerpts from Escape from Evil

Alice Miller, excerpts from For Your Own Good


Week 2

Jan. 23


Mark Juergensmeyer, excerpts from Terror in the Mind of God

C. Bellinger review of Juerg.

William Cavanaugh, “Does Religion Cause Violence?”

Kenneth Burke, “The Rhetoric of Hitler’s Battle”

Bellinger, “Kenneth Burke and the Theory of Scapegoating”


Week 3

Jan. 30

Islam and violence

Guest speaker: Samuel Ross


Sherman Jackson, “Jihad and the Modern World.”

Matthew Wilkinson, excerpts from The Genealogy of Terror, 55-77, 201-209


Ruth Stein, excerpts from For Love of the Father, 21-37, 54-60, 143-147

response so far

Week 4

Feb. 6


Minister’s Week, no class


Week 5

Feb. 13

a Christian psychological understanding of violence

Søren Kierkegaard, The Sickness unto Death, 33-105; 1-32 optional

excerpts from Scott Peck, The Road Less Traveled


Week 6

Feb. 20


Kierkegaard, The Sickness unto Death, 109-165

excerpts from Works of Love

response to SK

Week 7

Feb. 27

Girard’s mimetic theory

René Girard, The Girard Reader, 1-93

excerpts on Girard TBA


Week 8

March 6


René Girard, The Girard Reader, 97-193

James Alison, “Creation in Christ”


Week 9

March 13


Spring Break, no class


Week 10

March 20


René Girard, The Girard Reader, 194-288

Glenn Hughes, “Balanced and Imbalanced Consciousness,” [summary of Eric Voegelin]

response to Girard

Week 11

March 29

the Bible, a Jewish perspective (Sacks)

Jonathan Sacks, Not In God’s Name, 3-105

Simone Weil, “Human Personality”


Week 12

April 3


Jonathan Sacks, Not In God’s Name, 107-175

Chantal Delsol, excerpts from The Unlearned Lessons of the Twentieth Century


Week 13

April 10


Jonathan Sacks, Not In God’s Name, 177-268

Martin Buber, The Way of Man, According to the Teaching of Hasidism

response to Sacks

Week 14

April 17

pacifism and just war

Clough and Stiltner, Faith and Force, 1-107

R. Niebuhr and J. Ford excerpts


Week 15

April 24


Clough and Stiltner, Faith and Force, 140-245

response to Faith and Force

3 minute speeches by students

Week 16

May 1


no class, reading week

Week 17

May 8

May 6, noon, for graduating students


final paper, 10-12 pages


Email Notification:

Only the official Brite student email address will be used for all course notification. It is your responsibility to check your email on a regular basis.

Late Work Policy:

Work turned in up to 24 hours after the deadline will receive a one grade notch reduction (from A- to B+, for example); work turned in 24–48 hours late will receive a two notch reduction; work turned in 48 hours to one week late will receive a three notch reduction. After that, no credit will be given. If a student has special extenuating circumstances, he or she can request an extension of the deadline by contacting the instructor.

Nondiscrimination and Inclusion Statement:

Brite Divinity School is an institution that values diversity and challenges structures that intentionally or unintentionally encourage discrimination. As such, we do not discriminate on the basis of race, color, national origin, religion, sex, gender identity, gender expression, sexual orientation, social class, age, disability status, citizenship status, membership or application for membership in a uniformed service, or any other category protected by applicable law. Where there are discrepancies with Federal and State policies, they supersede Brite’s policies.

Practices that Support Inclusion:

Brite is committed to promoting a diverse and just environment, in which language and practices support the achievement of inclusion. Specifically, Brite seeks to remove all barriers to the maintenance and aspirations of its Mission Statement and NonDiscrimination Statement in the following ways:

           Brite Divinity School promotes the intentional use of Inclusive language. This includes reference to such matters as language about God and humanity as noted in our Nondiscrimination and Inclusion Statement. Inclusive language in the classroom, chapel, and in common discourse is expected of students, staff, and faculty.

           Brite Divinity School maintains nondiscrimination in all its programs and activities, admission to these programs and activities, financial aid, and housing.

Statement on Disability Services:

Brite Divinity School complies with the Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 regarding students with disabilities. Eligible students seeking accommodations should contact TCU’s Coordinator, Student Disabilities Services, located in Sadler Hall 1010. Accommodations are not retroactive; therefore, students should contact the Coordinator as soon as possible in the term for which they are seeking accommodations. Further information can be obtained from Student Disabilities Services, Sadler Hall 1010, TCU Box 297710, Fort Worth, TX 76129, or at 817-257-6567.

Academic Misconduct (Sec. 5.14 of the Student Handbook):

Any act that violates the academic integrity of the institution is considered academic misconduct. The procedures used to resolve suspected acts of academic misconduct are available in the Student Handbook and the Office of the Associate Dean for Academic Affairs.

TCU Campus Resources for Students:

Many resources exist on the TCU campus that may be helpful to students: Mary Couts Burnett Library (817-257-7117); Student Disabilities Services (817-257-6567, Sadler Hall 1010); the William L. Adams Writing Center (817-257-7221, Reed Hall 419; and 817-257-6520, Library Annex); Student Development Services (817-257-7855, Brown Lupton University Union 2003); and The Office of Religious and Spiritual Life (817-257-7830, Jarvis Hall First Floor).

Brite Divinity School Mission Statement:

Brite Divinity School educates women and men to lead in the ministry of Christ’s church, the academy, and public life as witnesses to God’s reconciling and transforming love and justice.