Book Reviews - James W. Jones, Blood That Cries Out from the Earth: The Psychology of Religious Terrorism

Book Reviews

James W. Jones, Blood That Cries Out from the Earth: The Psychology of Religious Terrorism

Anthony F. Lemieux
State University of New York
Jones, James W. Blood That Cries Out from the Earth: The Psychology of Religious Terrorism New York: Oxford University Press, 2008.

1 Blood That Cries Out from the Earth: The Psychology of Religious Terrorism explores the topic of violence and terrorism through the lenses of religion and clinical psychology. In fact, the author, James W. Jones, is rather uniquely positioned to embark on writing such a book, being a clinical psychologist with expertise in the psychology of religion. One of the main contributions of this work is precisely that it fills a fairly substantial gap between the psychological studies of religion, interpersonal and intergroup violence, and terrorism.

2 The discussion of jihadism in comparative perspective (chapter 2) is truly a standout, in that it addresses many of the themes that are widely discussed in the broader terrorism literature (i.e., humiliation, shame, guilt, demonization, dehumanization, moral disengagement, scapegoating, authoritarianism, etc.) and reinterprets them through the framework of a clinical psychology of religion. Further, this analysis takes a critical look at how religious concepts like sanctification and purification become intertwined with violence, destruction, and death. For example, Jones provides some thematic analyses of key texts, such as Qutb’s Milestones as well as the Left Behind series that is analyzed in the context of American Apocalyptic Christianity. Some of the themes discussed in substantial detail that are especially unique to this work include the importance and function of ritual, the sacred, the importance and expression of purification, the power and meaning of conversion experiences, changes in identity as a result of religious conversion, as well as the heightened intensity of experiences that are linked to expressions of religious faith and devotion.

3 Jones provides well-developed examples of religiously motivated violence throughout the book, with careful attention to the meaning of the acts of violence that are described. For instance, a chapter focusing on Aum Shinrikyo considers how the group transformed over time, moving progressively toward an increasingly apocalyptic vision and use of more potent and destructive weapons, which culminated in the 1995 sarin gas attacks on the Tokyo subway system. While Aum Shinrikyo has received a substantial degree of analysis elsewhere (e.g., Lifton, 2000), Jones provides a fresh perspective that reframes the analysis of Aum within this religious/psychological framework.

4 For those readers without an extensive background in psychology, Jones discusses some of the key and formative studies in the discipline that have been applied in the context of intergroup violence (e.g., Milgram’s classic studies on obedience, Zimbardo’s classic ‘prison experiment’ studies) and describes them in a level of detail that draws out the key methods and findings, while making them accessible to a broad audience. In addition, throughout the book, Jones links his observations and analyses to current theory and research, including some of the more modern studies of intergroup violence and terrorism (e.g., Moghaddam and Marsella, 2004; Waller, 2002), which provides a fairly succinct summary of the key literature. Taken together, these elements make Blood That Cries Out from the Earth a unique and valuable contribution to the broader terrorism literature.

5 However, there are several aspects of the book that may provoke some controversy. Specifically, Jones provides a critical analysis of Pape’s (2005) widely cited data on the motivations for suicide attacks. In essence, Jones re-examines the factors that have been considered especially relevant in the context of the LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam), and through careful example and analysis, Jones finds that there are some salient features of the LTTE that strongly suggest significant religious themes, in addition to the ethnonationalist elements that form the basis of Pape’s conclusions about the factors that are the prime motivators for suicide terrorism.

6 Perhaps the most conceptually and practically related works are Mark Juergensmeyer’s Terror in the Mind of God and Jessica Stern’s Terror in the Name of God. In Blood That Cries Out from the Earth, Jones has crafted a complimentary work that is more clearly tailored to facilitate a broader understanding of the meaning of religion in the context of violence and terrorism as it primarily focuses on the individual level of analysis, while touching upon other levels of analysis that are more centrally covered elsewhere (such as group, societal, etc.). Finally, the book is organized in a way that makes it readable in a cover-to-cover manner, but selected chapters could also be used to teach classes within a semester course. Precisely because it fills a unique place in the field, this book is a great resource for those who are seeking to develop a more nuanced understanding of the role of religion, not only in the context of terrorism — as the title clearly suggests — but also in the context of other forms of intergroup violence that have religious elements.

Anthony F. Lemieux is Assistant Professor of Psychology with the School of Natural and Social Sciences at Purchase College, State University of New York.
Juergensmeyer, M. Terror in the Mind of God: The Global Rise of Religious Violence. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2003.
Lifton, R. J. Destroying the World to Save It: Aum Shinrikyo, Apocalyptic Violence and the New Global Terrorism. New York: Henry Holt & Company, 2000.
Moghaddam, F. and A. Marsella, eds. Understanding Terrorism: Psychosocial Roots, Consequences, and Interventions. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association, 2004.
Pape, R. A. Dying to Win: The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism. New York: Random House, 2005.
Stern, J. Terror in the Name of God: Why Religious Militants Kill. New York: Harper-Collins, 2003.
Waller, J. Becoming Evil: How Ordinary People Commit Genocide and Mass Killing. New York: Oxford University Press, 2002.