In The Myth of Religious Violence, William Cavanaugh argues that the assumption that religion is inherently authoritarian, divisive, and predisposed to irrational violence is a myth. This myth has its origins in the so-called “Wars of Religion,” which, he states, did not precipitate the rise of the modern state as is commonly assumed. Rather, he argues that these wars served as a justification for the nascent nation-state, which then used them to assert its power over the church. The church, correspondingly, was either absorbed into the state or relegated to an essentially private realm. It was only through the creation of a distinct private sphere for religion that the divisive properties of religion could be kept at bay—or so it was claimed. The myth of religious violence, propagated by political theorists of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, has been used to legitimize the state’s claim to a monopoly on violence, lawmaking, and public allegiance in the name of Western secular ideals.Read the rest of Narratives of the Egyptian constitution.
Rachel Scott is an Associate Professor at Virginia Tech where she teaches on Islam, Islamic political thought, and comparative religion. Her general area of research is modern Islamic—mainly Arab Sunni—thought, focusing on contemporary Islamic thinking on pluralism, citizenship, religious authority, and the relationship between religion and state. Her book, The Challenge of Political Islam: Non-Muslims and the Egyptian State was published in 2010 by Stanford University Press and her most recent article, entitled, “Managing Religion and Renegotiating the Secular: The Muslim Brotherhood and Defining the Religious Sphere,” is forthcoming with the journal Politics and Religion.