Empire of Sacrifice: The Religious Origins of American Violence
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J on P ahl. Jeffrey Williams.
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Purchase Subscription prices and ordering Short-term Access To purchase short term access, please sign in to your Oxford Academic account above. This article is also available for rental through DeepDyve. View Metrics. Email alerts New issue alert. Advance article alerts. Sacred Violence in Early America offers a sweeping reinterpretation of the violence endemic to seventeenth-century English colonization by reexamining some of the key moments of cultural and religious encounter in North America.
Susan Juster explores different forms of sacred violence--blood sacrifice, holy war, malediction, and iconoclasm--to uncover how European traditions of ritual violence developed during the wars of the Reformation were introduced and ultimately transformed in the New World. Juster's central argument concerns the rethinking of the relationship between the material and the spiritual worlds that began with the Reformation and reached perhaps its fullest expression on the margins of empire. The Reformation transformed the Christian landscape from an environment rich in sounds, smells, images, and tactile encounters, both divine and human, to an austere space of scriptural contemplation and prayer.
When English colonists encountered the gods and rituals of the New World, they were forced to confront the unresolved tensions between the material and spiritual within their own religious practice. Accounts of native cannibalism, for instance, prompted uneasy comparisons with the ongoing debate among Reformers about whether Christ was bodily present in the communion wafer.
Sacred Violence in Early America reveals the Old World antecedents of the burning of native bodies and texts during the seventeenth-century wars of extermination, the prosecution of heretics and blasphemers in colonial courts, and the destruction of chapels and mission towns up and down the North American seaboard.
At the heart of the book is an analysis of "theologies of violence" that gave conceptual and emotional shape to English colonists' efforts to construct a New World sanctuary in the face of enemies both familiar and strange: blood sacrifice, sacramentalism, legal and philosophical notions of just and holy war, malediction, the contest between "living" and "dead" images in Christian idology, and iconoclasm. Writing a book on religious violence can be a dark enterprise.
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But it has also been a profoundly inspiring experience. I am not writing a brief for or against the argument that organized religion is inherently violent, nor am I trying to understand modern episodes of religious violence through the lens of the past. But it can be just as hard to remember that these men and women, living on the very edges of the known world and struggling to survive, were not always preoccupied with religious matters, as historians of the early modern world have sometimes assumed. We know that their exposure to scripture and their grasp of theology were impressively deep, and we know that the vast majority of the books they read and the letters and journals they wrote concerned religious topics.
But we also know that they worried about whether their children would live and their crops flourish, about whether. An unknown error has occurred.