Eller’81 Publishes on Religious Violence – Hobart and William Smith Colleges \
The HWS Update

Eller’81 Publishes on Religious Violence

Hobart alum Jack David Eller ’81 recently published his seventh book, “Cruel Creed, Virtuous Violence: Religious Violence across Culture and History.”  Published in 2010 by Prometheus Books, the book is an in-depth study of religious violence that stresses that religion is a social and ideological system that can make violence acceptable.

“My book makes it clear that religion is not the only social force capable of breeding violence but that it is particularly well suited to,” says Eller. 

In addressing religious violence, Eller draws on a broad range of examples from the world’s religions over a wide period of time.  He devotes separate chapters to different violent occurrences in religion such as sacrifice, self-mortification, religious persecution and religious wars, while establishing six dimensions of violence (instinct, integration into groups, identity, institutions, interests, and ideology).  By doing so, Eller presents readers with evidence to understand the nature of violence and its complicated connection to religion. 

Philip Jenkins, Edwin Erle Sparks Professor of Humanities at Pennsylvania State University, endorses the book. “You don’t have to agree with every word of the author’s argument to appreciate the complex and often troubling questions that Dr. Eller raises about the nature of religion, and the potential of so many faith traditions to produce violence, abuse and exploitation. Passionately written, Cruel Creeds, Virtuous Violence is a wide-ranging and obviously timely, text,” says Jenkins.

At Hobart, Eller began as a psychology major intending to go to medical school for psychoanalysis, but thanks to professors such as Professor of Philosophy Eugen Baer, Eller says he discovered his fascination with culture. With this discovery he changed his academic direction and developed an independent major consisting of philosophy, history, religious studies and anthropology. 

“The instructors were wonderful and there were true mentors in the faculty,” remarks Eller.  In addition, he applied for and received the Thomas J. Watson Fellowship, a one-year grant for independent study outside of the U.S. which enabled Eller to spend a year in Australia studying aboriginal psychology by visiting various aboriginal societies and communities.

Eller’s hands-on anthropological experience in Australia led him to graduate school at Boston University, where he continued to study anthropology through their Interdisciplinary Studies program.  In 1987, after four years at Boston University, he returned to Australia for a year of doctoral fieldwork on a Fulbright-Hayes grant.  Three years later, Eller earned his Ph.D and started a full-time teaching position at the University of Colorado, Denver where he shares his passion for anthropology through his teachings. 

“HWS helped turn me into the thinker and scholar that I am today. With the multi-disciplinary nature of the curriculum, I received a very strong foundation in a wide range of subjects and understandings that I still firmly depend on today,” says Eller.