Some people would walk through fire for their religion. Christians in the Greek village of Agia Eleni do walk through fire during their ritual of the Anastenaria (see Figure 10.1). Brought to Greece a century ago by northern refugees, fire-walking is obviously not part of Orthodox Christianity, and the Anastenaria “have no sacred texts or written traditions” but acquire their special religious knowledge from experience as well as myths and legends (Xygalatas 2012: 91). Because the ritual was seen as unorthodox and even pagan, for years the church “persecuted the Anastenaria, often violently, beating the fire-walkers and burning their icons” (16). However, church leaders eventually accepted this vernacular expression of faith and even assumed some control over it, holding the ritual’s icons of saints Constantine and Helen between performances. Walking on fire is the culminating act in a festival that lasts for three days and includes “various processions, music and dancing, an animal sacrifice, and ecstatic ritual dance” (90). Finally, the adepts walk barefoot over red-hot coals carrying the icons of their saints. Some walkers cross the coals more than once, some in pairs. Xygalatas noticed afterwards that “their feet showed no signs of burns whatsoever” (84). In the early twentieth century, it is impossible to ignore the relationship between reli-

gion and violence. For example, according to Magnus Ranstorp (2003), the number of extremist religious movements of all types around the world tripled from the mid-1960s to the mid-1990s. At the same time, the number of religiously inspired terrorist groups grew from zero to about one-quarter of all known terrorist organizations. In the period from 1970 to 1995, religious groups accounted for over half of the total acts of world terrorism-all this before 9/11. Not surprisingly, a virtual industry of literature on religious violence has appeared.

However, all of these treatments, valuable as they are, suffer from three limitations. First, they tend to examine a limited variety of religions, usually only Christianity and Islam, with some mention of Judaism. Second, they tend to consider a limited variety of violence, mostly “terrorism” and “holy war.” Third, they tend to defend one of two positions in regard to the relationship between religion and violence, either blaming religion for violence or excusing religion from violence. Anthropology regards the issue of religious violence as more diverse and more compli-

cated. A thorough comprehension of the violence that flows from religion requires a more comprehensive examination of religions. Furthermore, although understanding terrorism and holy war is vital, they hardly exhaust the variety of religion-based violence; rather, they are comparatively rare forms of violence. Finally, it is crucial to see that violence is neither inherent in nor inimical to religion. Rather, violence is a culturally constructed behavior, which arises out of specific social conditions that are not unique to religion but that are unfortunately common to religion.