In This Review

Religion on the Battlefield
Religion on the Battlefield
By Ron E. Hassner
Cornell University Press, 2016, 232 pp

This short but thoughtful book invites readers to reconsider their ideas about the role of religion in war. Ever since the 9/11 attacks, the intersection of religion and organized violence has been understood in ideological terms, with a focus on extremism; unsurprisingly, Islam has attracted most attention of this kind. Hassner wants readers to instead think of religion as a set of practices that appear in a variety of forms but have something to do with the sacred—and serve as sources of motivation and inhibition and also exploitation and provocation. He concentrates on major wars with a particular, but not exclusive, emphasis on Christianity and Western attitudes. He divides the discussion into four areas where the practice of religion interacts with the practice of war: sacred time (respect for the Sabbath during the American Civil War, Egypt and Syria choosing the holy day of Yom Kippur to attack Israel in 1973); sacred places (the special meaning of Jerusalem as a prize to capture, efforts to attack Rome in 1944 without hitting the Vatican); sacred leaders (the role of chaplains); and sacred rituals (prayer before battle). He notes that in any conflict, religious practices can act as force multipliers.