Religious Terrorism

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Religious terrorism is terrorism inspired by religious doctrines and/or motives. Examples of religious terrorist groups at Al Queda, Aum Shinrikyo and the quasi-religious Lord’s Resistance Army.


For articles on this topic regarding individual religions, groups and movements see their own entries.

  • Apocalypse Now: Armageddon Enters the New Age of Terrorism
  • Can Utilizing Knowledge of Cults Help Us with Terrorist Groups?offsite by cult expert Steven Hassan

    When is it time to start recognizing that Al Qaeda and other Islamist terror groups are cults? The Times Square bombing attempt is another example of a well-off American who was recruited into the black and white, us versus them and good versus evil thinking that cultists use. We ought to start addressing the root of the problem: people are most susceptible to destructive influence at the most vulnerable times in their lives.

    Our military efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan may have largely moved the war on terror overseas. But we will continue to see radical Islamist terror groups recruiting on our own soil if we don’t equip children, parents and teachers with the tools to combat this phenomenon.

    Do we know how to deal with destructive mind-control groups? Yes. As it happens I’ve been doing it for 36 years. We know how to inhibit their recruitment of new “soldiers.” We know ways to undermine their indoctrination methods and ways to educate the general public. The tools are available to educate children and parents. What we need is the will to dedicate adequate resources to inoculate Americans against the tactics of cult recruiters.


  • Blood That Cries Out From the Earth: The Psychology of Religious Terrorismoffsite James Jones

    Religious terrorism has become the scourge of the modern world. What causes a person to kill innocent strangers in the name of religion? As both a clinical psychologist and an authority on comparative religion, James W. Jones is uniquely qualified to address this increasingly urgent question. Research on the psychology of violence shows that several factors work to make ordinary people turn “evil.” These include feelings of humiliation or shame, a tendency to see the world in black and white, and demonization or dehumanization of other people. Authoritarian religion or “fundamentalism,” Jones shows, is a particularly rich source of such ideas and feelings, which he finds throughout the writings of Islamic jihadists, such as the 9/11 conspirators.

    Jones goes on to apply this model to two very different religious groups that have engaged in violence: Aum Shinrikyo, the Buddhist splinter group behind the sarin gas attacks in the Tokyo subway system, and members of the extreme religious right in the U.S. who have advocated and committed violence against abortion providers. Jones notes that not every adherent of an authoritarian group will turn to violence, and he shows how theories of personality development can explain why certain individuals are easily recruited to perform terrorist acts.
    – Source: Book description cited by

  • Investigating Religious Terrorism and Ritualistic Crimesoffsite Dawn Perlmutter

    The legalities of particular religious practices depend on many factors, such as the type of occult or religious activity, the current laws, and the intention of the individual practitioner.

    Written by the director of the Institute for the Research of Organized and Ritual Violence, Investigating Religious Terrorism and Ritualistic Crimes is the first complete resource to assist in crime scene identification, criminal investigation, and prosecution of religious terrorism and occult crime. It analyzes occult and religious terrorist practices from each group’s theological perspective to help you understand traditional and contemporary occult groups and domestic and international terrorist religions, demarcate legal religious practice from criminal activity, and acquire techniques specific to occult and terrorist religion crime scene investigation.
    – Source: Book description cited by

  • Terror in the Mind of God: The Global Rise of Religious Violenceoffsite Mark Juergensmeyer

    This dark, enthralling book not only documents the global rise of religious terrorism but seeks to understand the “odd attraction of religion and violence.” Juergensmeyer bases his study on scholarly sources, media accounts and personal interviews with convicted terrorists. He exercises caution with the term “terrorist,” preferring to emphasize the large religious community of supporters who make violent acts possible rather than the relatively small number who carry them out.

    Juergensmeyer identifies certain “cultures of violence” via case studies along the spectrum of Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Sikhism and Buddhism. Such religious communities often perceive themselves and their way of life as under attack. In Japan, for example, a new branch of “socially prophetic” Buddhists released toxic sarin gas in the Tokyo subway system in 1995, shattering their own nonviolent ethic and harming thousands because they had adopted millenarian prophecies about an imminent end to the world.

    Juergensmeyer is a powerful, skillful writer whose deeply empathic interviewing techniques allow readers to enter the minds of some of the late 20th century’s most feared religious terrorists. Yet he is also a sensitive scholar who aptly dissects religious terrorism as a sociological phenomenon. Later chapters pay special attention to issues of “performance violence,” enemy formation, martyrology, satanization and “images of cosmic confrontation.”
    – Source: Publishers Weekly, cited by

  • Terror in the Name of God: Why Religious Militants Killoffsite Jessica Stern

    This sophisticated examination of religiously motivated terrorism is a welcome antidote to the armchair analyses of Islamic extremism that surfaced in the wake of September 11th.

    Stern spent five years interviewing religious terrorists of all stripes, including anti-abortion crusaders, Hamas leaders, and militants in Pakistan and Indonesia. She found men and women who were driven not by nihilistic rage or lunacy but by a deep faith in the justice of their causes and in the possibility of transforming the world through violence. That faith, Stern suggests, is fuelled by poverty, repression, and a sense of humiliation, and then exploited by “inspirational leaders” who turn confused people into killers.

    The West cannot fight terror by intelligence and military means alone, she argues; a “smarter realpolitik approach” toward the developing world would use policy to deprive terrorists of not only funding and weapons but potential recruits.
    – Source: The New Yorker, cited by

  • Unholy War: Terror in the Name of Islamoffsite John L. Esposito

    Esposito (professor of religion and international affairs and director of the Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding at Georgetown University) has condensed the wealth of knowledge of the Islamic world evinced in his Oxford Illustrated History of Islam (1999), producing a book that can admirably serve as an extremely valuable primer in this new world order in which communists have been replaced by terrorists as the planet’s resident evil.

    Esposito methodically leads the reader through the complicated history of Islam. He explains the various conceptions of jihad, or holy war, ranging from internal movements for community reform to the modern explosive threat to all things external to Islam.

    One of the more useful elements of this account is the author’s review of the seminal thinkers of the Islamic world whose writings have given rise to the real-world events we have come to know all too well. Though Esposito’s conclusions are somewhat platitudinous, his strength lies in his vast knowledge and in his ability to render it in an understandable format for the rest of us.
    – Source: Booklist, cited by

  • When Religion Becomes Evil: Five Warning Signsoffsite Charles Kimball

    Wake Forest religion professor Kimball has made something of a career out of speaking about the ways in which religion becomes evil. Every religion has the capacity to work either for good or evil, and he contends that there are five warning signs that we can recognize when religion moves toward the latter.

    Whenever a religion emphasizes that it holds the absolute truth-the one path to God or the only correct way of reading a sacred text-to the exclusion of the truth claims of all other religions and cultures, that religion is becoming evil. Other warning signs include blind obedience to religious leaders, apocalyptic belief that the end time will occur through a particular religion, the use of malevolent ends to achieve religious goals (e.g., the Crusades) and the declaration of holy war.

    Kimball focuses primarily on the three major Western monotheistic religions, although his examples also include new religious movements such as the People’s Temple, Aum Shinrikyo and the Branch Davidians. Religion can resist becoming evil by practicing an inclusiveness that allows each tradition to retain its distinctiveness while it works for the common good. Kimball’s clear and steady voice provides a helpful guide for those trying to understand why evil is perpetrated in the name of religion.
    – Source: Publishers Weekly, cited by

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This post was last updated: Jun. 11, 2010