Writing Religion Assignment #4: Examining Religion and Political Violence

For this assignment, you will select a incident of war, terrorism, or other political violence from the past fifteen years that has been linked by some to religion (possibilities include, but are not limited to, the 9/11 attacks; various stages of the wars in Iraq or Afghanistan; various stages of the Israel-Palestine or Israel-Lebanon conflicts; and the attacks carried out by the IRA against British rule in Northern Ireland).  Then, pretend you have been hired by a foreign-affairs think tank to prepare a report on that incident.  Using both our sources in class [Harris’ End of Faith, Hitchens’ God is Not Great, Pape’s Dying to Win, Eagleton’s Reason, Faith, and Revolution] to frame the larger question and extensive research on the particular issue, you will rigorously argue your answer to this question: what role does religion play in this conflict?  Is it the main source of the violence, a supporting cause, or not a significant factor?  If religion is not the main cause, what is?

Audience: policy experts interested in religion and international politics

Format: 6-8 double-spaced pages, MLA style

Deadlines: Draft due in class for peer review on MONTH DAY

Final draft due in class on MONTH DAY (with peer review and first draft attached)

Advice: Our recent readings have examined the debate over whether religion has historically been a primary cause of political violence or whether it is incidental to the real causes (economic conditions, political nationalism, etc.).  In the process, they raise some new angles on many of the questions we’ve been discussing all term.  How do people rhetorically frame the relationship between their religion and their actions?  Can we separate the former from the latter?  Do our religious views inform our political affiliations, or is it the other way around?  Can we use religious rhetoric without being primarily motivated by religion, or is such activity automatically religious in nature?  Keep these questions in mind as you describe the relationship between religion and political violence.


Type: Develop an analytical essay using original research that includes both primary and secondary texts

Rationale: This assignment asks students to reflect on their practice using sources to frame definitions of religion and to draw upon the strategies they have acquired for identifying religion’s relationship to broad notions of morality and scientific “truth” (in order to uncover the issues those categories elide). It also builds upon the basic strategies of original research and source evaluation emphasized in assignment 3.

Pre-draft activities:

Stage 1: Research Proposal

Length: 1 paragraph

This assignment will be ungraded.  Submit to me (either via email or hard copy) a written proposal of what conflict you wish to investigate.  So long as it fits the requirements specified above, I will almost certainly approve it.

Stage 2: Annotated Bibliography

Length: 8 sources

The annotated bibliography will report on at least eight sources possibly relevant to your paper topic.  You are not committed to using all these sources in your paper—in fact, at this stage you do not need to have read them in detail, only enough to confirm that the source may be valuable.  You must include full MLA citations for each source, of which one must be from a reputable general news source (like a high-quality newspaper or magazine), one from an academic journal (something from Education Full-Text, Academic Search Complete, ERIC, etc.), one a book that addresses your subject in some detail, and one a source we have read this year to provide some wider theoretical framing.  Furthermore, after each source, you must write a 2-3 sentence overview briefly indicating what that source is arguing or reporting, its context (e.g., date and intended audience), and how it might relate to your paper.

Stage 3: First Draft (see pre-draft activity 4.2)

Length: 3-4 pages

Each of you will submit to me a draft of the first several pages of your paper, of which I will make copies for the class.  We will workshop these over the last week and a half of the term.  Your draft should not be a condensed version of your final paper—it should be a fleshed-out fragment of it.  For example, you do not need to have a concluding paragraph, but you should have a few well-developed body paragraphs and a provisional thesis.

Stage 4: Final Draft

Length: 6-8 pages

Your final draft must use at least eight sources that fill the requirements for the annotated bibliography, though it need not use the same sources listed there.  Make sure that your paper does not turn into a mere book-report summary of your sources—as with everything else we’ve written this semester, it needs to present your argument on the subject.  Because this is a longer paper, you may require longer quotes and more citations, but you still must build an argument explaining which position you’re taking on the issue and why.  As we have seen in our earlier papers, there is always room for you to synthesize and explain the connections between different sources; there are always opposing viewpoints that need to be reconciled or refuted; and there are always different types of sources that will help your form your argument in different ways.  These apply no less for this paper—they simply must be developed in a longer, more sustained, more complicated way.

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