UMass Amherst Professor Explores Politics and Religious Violence in 14 Countries Around the World

AMHERST, Mass. - The new book, "Crossing the Gods: World Religions and Worldly Politics," by UMass sociologist N.J. Demerath III, takes a timely look at what may be the leading source of conflict and violence in the world today.

Demerath examines a series of instances in which "religion and politics play moths to each other’s flame." He also contrasts the old canonical accounts of world religions, relying on ancient texts, doctrines, and rituals, with a new contextual treatment that examines how the same religion differs from country to country.

The first half of the book illustrates this with a personalized tour of religion and politics in some 14 countries. "There are gaping differences between Christianity in Latin America and Europe, Judaism in the United States and Israel, Islam in Turkey, Egypt, Pakistan or Indonesia, Hinduism in north and south India, let alone Nepal or Indonesia’s Bali, or Buddhism in Thailand, Japan, and China," Demerath says.

The book’s second half offers essays reflecting on these comparative and cross-cultural differences. In its relation to violence, Demerath says that religion can be "an impulsive trigger, a deep-seated cause, or a deceptive proxy for more secular grievances."

In urging religious politics without a religious state, Demerath argues that "while religion has a rightful and undeniable place in politics, religion functions best outside the state nexus rather than within it." As he notes, "This is part of the genius of the U.S. First Amendment, but something many Americans fail to understand."

Finally, Demerath critiques America’s status as the "world’s most religious nation." From a global perspective, the United States is not more religious than other nations, but differently religious with its combination of congregational religion, religious pluralism, and civil religion.

But even these differences are beginning to ebb, Demerath says. As he suggests, "It is hard for any country to nurture delusions of singularity in a globalizing world. The once glorious doctrine of American exceptionalism has given way to an increasingly serious problem of American provincialism."

Demerath can be reached at 413/545-4068 or demerath@soc.umass.edu.