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Jones, J.W. (2006). Why Does Religion Turn Violent? A Psychoanalytic Exploration of Religious Terrorism. Psychoanal. Rev., 93(2):167-190.

(2006). Psychoanalytic Review, 93(2):167-190

Why Does Religion Turn Violent? A Psychoanalytic Exploration of Religious Terrorism

James W. Jones, PsyD, Ph.D., ThD

This is a work in progress. It may look like a finished academic paper with its text bristling with citations and references, but that is an illusion—in Freud's sense. It is a wish—a wish to be done with this terrible topic. Over the summer of 2001 a book of mine was completed titled Terror and Transformation: The Ambiguity of Religion in Psychoanalytic Perspective (Jones, 2002). Because it had the word Terror in the title and came out a few months after 9/11, I have been swept up into a vortex of discussions about religion and terrorism, a topic I find extremely foreign to my experience and very aversive. Also, like many in the New York metropolitan area, I find that 9/11 still casts a longer shadow over my life (in ways that I still find hard to talk about) than the World Trade Center towers ever cast when they stood erect over lower Manhattan. As much as I want to escape from these discussions, I have been unable to.

I am writing as a clinical psychologist of religion, interested in the psychological dynamics involved in religion and especially in religiously motivated violence and what that might contribute to the psychology of religion. I am not proposing a general theory of terrorism but rather asking what a psychological, primarily psychodynamic, exploration of religious terrorism might tell us about that phenomenon and about the psychology of religion in general. Reading the literature on this topic I am struck by the paucity of discussion of both of these factors—the psychodynamics of religious terrorists and the religious aspect itself. In part that is because most of the mainstream, scholarly literature is written by social psychologists, not clinicians, and political scientists rather than by scholars of religion or psychologists of religion.

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