A Discussion on Religion-Based Crime

By John Stran

Mark Juergensmeyer, professor of global studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara, believes there is no goal for those who commit religious acts of violence.

“We think terrorism is supposed to lead to something. No,” he said.

Juergensmeyer discussed this and other beliefs dealing with cultural violence at the Dr. Thomas and Albert Shipka Speaker Series titled, “The Global Rise of Religious Violence,” held March 28, in the Chestnut Room of Kilcawley Center at Youngstown State University.

He is the director of the Global and International Studies Program and the Orfalea Center for Global and International Studies at UC, Santa Barbara. Juergensmeyer has written 20 books, most notably, “Terror in the Mind of God: The Global Rise of Religious Violence.”

“Dr. Juergensmeyer has traveled extensively around the world,” Michael Jerryson, professor in the Department of Philosophy and Religious Studies, said. “He is always somewhere really important, interviewing people and seeing what is happening there.”

During one of his trips Juergensmeyer formulated his idea of goalless terrorism, after speaking with Mahmud Abouhalima, a culprit of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing that killed six people and injured more than 1,000.

Photo By John Stran/The Jambar

Juergensmeyer described Abouhalima as a friendly guy until they began discussing religion and politics.

“He said, ‘You people need to be shaken awake, so you can open your eyes and see what is happening,’” Juergensmeyer said, describing Abouhalima’s view of U.S. citizens.

“Then I asked him, ‘Is that why people bomb buildings?’” he said.

Juergensmeyer said a smile came across Abouhalima’s face, then replying, “Well, now you know.”

“[Abouhalima] wanted us to feel what it’s like to be at war,” Juergensmeyer said. “He wanted you to feel how he felt.”

According to Juergensmeyer, there has been an apparent increase of religion- or terrorist-based attacks such as the one committed by Abouhalima, as a result of religions or cultures who share different views that no longer want to discuss their differences and settle issues verbally or with treaties.

Aaron Bonilla, senior religious studies major, decided to attend after reading some of Juergensmeyer’s work. Though he enjoyed the lecture, he wished there would have been more of a discussion on local terrorism.

“I wish he would have spoken more about the KKK or other groups that have this tie [to religious violence] and maybe connecting the dots to these Muslim groups because I feel like there is this dissociation,” Bonilla said.

In Bonilla’s opinion, the dissociation he believes exists. For example, when person of color commits a violent act, they are a terrorist, but when a Caucasian person commits the same act, they are described as mentally disturbed.  

Jerryson said one of the goals of the lecture was to bring awareness to the overall study of religion and belief.

He referenced a PEW Research study that found most faculty and students across the country who attend a college with a religious studies department “do not have a clue” as to what is specifically studied within the department.

“Due to this continued confusion over my discipline, I feel compelled to explain a little bit about what we do,” he said. “The goal is to examine religion and its relevance in economics, politics, psychology and society at large.”

“Whichever way we turn,” Jerryson continued. “Religion has had quite an impact.”