Comparing Cases of Violence: Assessing Chidester’s Analysis of Violence and Religion in Jonestown and Apartheid South Africa

Tuesday, 17 July 2018: 16:15
Oral Presentation
Johan STRIJDOM, University of South Africa, South Africa
After mapping philosophical and political definitions and theories of violence, from physical harm to systemic violation on one axis, and from immoral to ethically legitimate on another axis, David Chidester proceeded with a social-anthropological analysis of sacred beliefs, practices and institutions that were used by groups to justify or resist violence in apartheid South Africa. Preceding the publication of this analysis in Shots in the Streets: Violence and Religion in South Africa (1991), Chidester had in Salvation and Suicide: An Interpretation of Jim Jones, the People's Temple and Jonestown (1988) published his award-winning examination of violence in Jim Jones's religious movement within its social, economic and political context. Although Chidester noted that his emigration from the USA to South Africa occasioned his shift in focus from one case study to the other, with both cases focusing on the problem of violence, he has not offered us an account of how a comparison of these case studies might shed new light on the key term 'violence'. If JZ Smith is correct in claiming that the purpose of a comparison of historically contextualized cases is to do precisely this, this contribution will probe Smith's claim by asking in which ways a comparison of Chidester's analysis of these two case studies could help us to reconsider and see the problem of violence in a new light.