Wednesday, 2 May 2018

The Hermeneutics of Radicalization

Presentation by Arton van Harten, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam


Influential authors portray religion as an overestimated factor in radicalization processes, or even dismiss religion as a real cause. In comparison to anthropological, philosophical and theological theories on religion, these authors define religion too narrowly. Such narrow definitions of religion lead to false contradictions, such as the dichotomy between religion and factors that ‘really’ move people. Measuring ‘religion’ in radicalization processes demands a more comprehensive approach to religion.

Theoretically, religion could be an important cause in radicalization processes, interacting with other important causes. This hypothesis is not only based on the more comprehensive definitions of religion, but also on the hermeneutic circle, a well-known concept from theology and philosophy that describes  ‘understanding’. Following this line of thought, the interpretation of religious texts could be an important factor in radicalization processes. Therefore, it is relevant to know how Sunni Islamic theology engages with the texts that are invoked by jihadist terrorists as motivation for their actions, and are criticized for their intolerance and violence by non-Muslim critics of Islam and by Muslims who call themselves reformers. To what extent does Sunni Islamic theology offer a barrier against intolerant and violent interpretations?