The use of suicide attacks by militant groups has been a source of profound consternation in the West. That certain individuals should voluntarily embrace death to fulfill a mission seems at once repugnant and highly perplexing to many of our contemporaries. This seminar will examine how, far from being a phenomenon characteristic of contemporary “radical” Islam, the practice of militant martyrdom attests to a wider pattern of behavior across religions, both historically and today.

Speakers: Rebecca Bryant (LSE) and Kaushik Roy (Jadavpur University)
Comments: Glenn Hughes
Chair: Greg Reichberg (PRIO)

Rebecca Bryant will speak on “Secular Martyrdom in Turkish Modernity.Drawing on connections between sacrifice, the sacred, and the ritual community, she will show how in the Turkish nation-building process, the shedding of blood is viewed as historically creative (“what makes a homeland a homeland is the blood of martyrs,” a popular phrase in Turkish). Kaushik Roy will speak on “Martyrdom in Hinduism: Rajput Warrior Ethics Today” Drawing on the Bhagavad Gita and other ancient texts, Roy will explain how the Hindu tradition justified martyrdom in war by linking it with the concept of nishkakarma (doing duty without thinking of enjoying the fruits of one’s labour). Similarly, classical and medieval Hindu philosophers have urged men of the Hindu warrior caste (Rajputs) to die in combat rather than face humiliation in defeat, while the women were ordered to perform self-immolation rather than be defiled by the enemy. In our contemporary period, this Rajput ethos has been appropriated by various Hindu groups (e.g., the Rashtriya Syamshevak Sangh) who have aspired to “martial” status in colonial and post-colonial India.Rebecca Bryant is Senior Research Fellow at the London School of Economics. Her most recent book is The Past in Pieces: Belonging in the New Cyprus (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2010). In several articles, she has dealt with the issue of sacrifice and martyrdom in relation to the Cyprus conflict.Kaushik Roy is Associate Professor in history at Jadavpur University, Kolkata. His latest book is Hinduism and the Ethics of Warfare in South Asia: From Antiquity to the Present (Cambridge University Press, 2012).Glenn Hughes, Professor of philosophy at St. Mary’s University, San Antonio, USA, will be a commentator. He has, among several other books on religion and politics, written Transcendence and History (University of Missouri Press, 2003).