Senses in/of religious violence

Peace and Violence in the Name of Gods. Analyses from the perspective of Religious Studies. International lecture series at the University of Heidelberg. January 15, 2009

Francisco Díez de Velasco. Institute of Political and Social Sciences. University of La Laguna, Canary Islands, Spain (;


This presentation titled " Senses in/of religious violence" is a complement, focused in the perspective of the study of the sensorium implied, and based in images, of my paper "Theoretical Reflections on Violence and Religion: Identity, Power, Privilege and Difference (With Reference to the Hispanic World)" Numen 52, 1 (2005), 87-115. In the line of the comparative approach proposed in the paper I try to decypher the senses implied in the religious violence from a double perspective.
Senses in the first approach have to do with the sensorium, with an embodied perspective of analysis focused in the interfaces between brain and the world beyond the skin. Seven senses are proposed to analyze the construction of the violent religious experience: the fifth common senses, adding two extra ones, the mental sense and the "imaginal" sense. Religious violence touches all of them, violence implying a total sensorial experience redefining identity, difference and also implying privilege and power. The power and the privilege lets the practitioner use violence in a religious context without remorse. For example in sacrificial rites the imaginal construction of the relationship between gods and humans needs animals (or even humans) as mediator victims of acceptable violence. In a presentation based on images, the most readily depictable sense is sight, violence constructed as an experience of the eye. Religions are interfaces of visibilization but also of invisibilization, proposing iconoclastic perspectives banning image from the religious panoply (promoting the destruction of images, as in Bamiyan) but also in other cases representing gods, embodying gods (in proportion to eye), a violence for those who only accept to "see" god with the mental or the imaginal senses. Sight and hearing combines in blasphemy, globalization of images and information disseminate violence depicted and also violence produced as a response, in a clash of imaginaries. Violence is also made touch and suffering, as in the case of the Greek pharmakós, of the scapegoat, of the religions of violent expiation and violent quest. Taste and smell are also implied in the religious violence over diet, focusing the effort on purity, requiring a transformation of taste.
The second perspective, perhaps more difficult to demonstrate, is a tentative effort of granting sense to religious violence, beyond senses (in plural) and from a contextual perspective. Identity, difference, privilege and power are the tools to build an approach trying to go beyond the perplexity produced by the occurrence of violence in religious contexts.


March, 11 in Spain... memory against the violence of oblivion: names in the monument in Atocha (Madrid)

Santiago Matamoros in the cathedral-mosque of Cordoba

Festivities of Moros y Cristianos in Valverde de Júcar (Cuenca), Calpe (Alicante) Mojacar (Almería) and Alcoy (Alicante)

Genre violence againt the eyes: hiding, protecting, de-identifiying (Momja (nun), Sorolla 1883-1913)



Kali: violence and avidya


Rushdie, Jylland Posten and blasphemy


Cultural Revolution and its effects: Tsaparang, Lhakang Marpo / Lhasa, burning the heritage

Sarajevo: library in flames

Rothko Chapel, Houston (Texas, USA)

Borobudur: Amitabha in padmasana and dhyani mudra

Pre-Buddha: avidya as violence against the body

The violence of the keisaku

The immortality's embryo (Huiming Jin of Lin Huayin)

Passion imagined, skin anhilation

Without skin: violence against the body in the Mexica culture

The stone of sacrifice, Museo del Templo Mayor, México

Diego Rivera: Historia de la Religión V (1956): religion equal violence

Jim Jones' religious violence at Guyana


The bushman of the Museum of Bañoles (no grave for a product of the taxidermist)

Morro Jable (Fuerteventura, Canary Islands). Without a name... lost identity

Withot a name but with a cross as (erroneous) religious identity

Parthenon frieze: to the ritual abatoir

Body rebuilt in the Heaven's Gate

Francisco de Goya, La circuncisión del Señor

Religious violence against the skin: cilice

Mimesis of the passion at Taxco (México)

Ashura in lands of Islam

Certificate of kasherization

Kasher products

Certificate of halalization

Halal butcher's shop. Barcelona, Raval.

 Yo soy Español (I'm a Spaniard) of Agustín Serrano de Haro, first book of History in National-Catholic Spain: chapter 18: "The Jews kill a child"

Edict of expulsion of the Jews, Granada, 1492 (March 31)

Francisco Rizi (1614-1685), Auto de fe en la Plaza Mayor de Madrid (Museo del Prado)

 Francisco de Goya, La santa Inquisición, 1794 
(Madrid, Academia de San Fernando)
Suppression of the Inquisition, (1834) by the regent María Cristina de Borbón
(instauration: 1478, previously supressed by Joseph Bonaparte from 1808 to 1814)