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Coping with Evil in Religion and Culture: Case Studies.

Coping with Evil in Religion and Culture: Case Studies. Edited by Nelly van Doorn-Harder and Lourens Minnema. Amsterdam and New York: Rodopi, 2008. Pp. 266. $81.00, paper.

The essays in this collection highlight a number of perspectives on how the concept of evil is experienced, constructed, and confronted, from Christian, Muslim, secular, and traditional African religious perspectives. The methodological approaches in this volume represent cultural contexts as diverse as Brazil, Indonesia, and Tanzania.

Depending on one's cultural background, the concept of evil is experienced and understood in vastly different ways. The essays in this collection vividly illustrate this diversity, utilizing a variety of methodologies. The case studies in this volume were first presented in 2005 at a conference in Amsterdam on the topic of evil. Despite the authors' strong connections to the Netherlands, their research references diverse cultural contexts. In the words of the editors, these essays look at multiple ways in which "'notions of evil are constructed to answer certain needs in a society" (p. 1). This book would be of interest to readers of comparative theology and might work as an auxiliary text for a world-religions course.

The authors articulate a diversity of ways that religious cultures and subcultures "cope" with evil. Birgit Meyer describes how Christian Ghanaian filmmakers believe that the act of depicting encounters with evil is a means of disarming its power. Edwin Koster argues that the portrayal of evil is insufficient; moral persons must experience the "reality" of evil in order to be motivated to act. Applying Girard's mimetic theory, Andre Lascaris argues that the ethic of forgiveness is the only thing that can help humans overcome the evil of violence. R. Ruard Ganzevoort points to the importance of distinguishing between evil that falls upon a person as the result of tragedy (accident) or by malice (intent to harm). The essays by Martijn de Koning and van Doom-Harder offer insightful analyses of the ways in which religious groups construct and utilize notions of evil in order to negotiate their identities. One of the essays likely to provoke response is "How 'Satanic' is Satanism?" by Reender Kranenborg, who argues that the Church of Satan is wrongly characterized as a source of evil, when, in reality, its aim is to promote human flourishing (p. 130).

Many of the authors' theological assumptions and commitments appear to drive their narratives. Marthinus L. Daneel looks at models of churches that confront and "eradicate" the practice of wizardry in Zimbabwe. He assumes that his readers share the theological convictions undergirding his conclusion that "the saving grace of God is evident" (p. 67) in the lives of those who work to "'rehabilitate" wizards. Daneel's essay powerfully illustrates the worldviews of the religious groups that he observes; however, editorial commentary regarding the methodology and agenda of this and other contributors would have been helpful.

It is regrettable that there is not more critical interaction among the essays. What functions as an introduction, though not labeled as such, is a sparse four pages that make only brief remarks about the problem of defining "evil." This volume would have been more valuable if the editors had engaged in dialogue with the other contributors. Despite this limitation, the essays themselves are insightful, creative, and well-written, contributing to the scholarly discourse about cultural conceptions of evil.

David M. Krueger, Temple University, Philadelphia, PA
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Author:Krueger, David M.
Publication:Journal of Ecumenical Studies
Article Type:Book review
Date:Jun 22, 2009
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