In response to statements made by Mark Juergensmeyer in his recent interview with Nathan Schneider, Vincent Pecora writes that Juergensmeyer’s “sense that religion alone cannot cause violence does a disservice to religion.”  Specifically, Pecora argues that if Juergensmeyer believes religion is capable of great good, he must also acknowledge that—on the flipside of the same coin—religion “can do great evil.”

Pecora’s comments have since sparked an exchange between himself and Winnifred Sullivan, Associate Professor of Law and Director of the Law and Religion Program at SUNY-Buffalo.

Uncomfortable with claims implying that good and evil are “the possible fruits of religion,” Sullivan asserts that more prudent evaluation involves addressing religion’s role in human history, which in turn necessitates an agreement on what religion really means in the first place.  Sullivan argues that the “power and persistence of religion. . . . comes in part from its capacity to encompass the full range of human activity, that is, to represent the tragedy of human existence,” and that, accordingly, it is difficult to look at “religion alone” as a key motivator for acts of violence or of selflessness.