Political author talks religious oppression, media bias

In a sea of misleading news stories and faulty perceptions, Mark Juergensmeyer stands out with a raw, sincere voice.

He will share his refreshing insight on the weighty topics that flood today’s media, along with an outline of his new book, “Global Rebellion: Religious Challenges to the Secular State,” on Thursday at the Newman Alumni Center. The event, which starts at 7 p.m., is free and open to the public.

The Miami Hurricane had a chance to talk to Juergensmeyer before his event and discuss recent events in the Middle East, religious oppression, and the ways in which misconceptions lead to social discord on a global level.

The Miami Hurricane: You recently wrote the book “Global Rebellion: Religious Challenges to the Secular State,” which provides us with an in-depth look at how religious conflict is affecting the 21st century. What made you want to study religious violence in the first place?

Mark Juergensmeyer: I’d been interested in issues of religion and politics pretty much all of my adult life. It’s something I’d studied in graduate school, something I’d been interested in … To tell you the truth I came from a family in which on my mother’s side there were preachers, and on my father’s side there were politicians. Religion and politics were already in my blood.

TMH: How biased is the media, and how does it influence the way we as Americans feel about what goes on in terms of our relationships with other countries?

MJ: Well, everybody’s biased. I’m biased, you’re biased … because you look at things through your own frame of reference. That’s the advantage of talking with people directly who have a totally different perspective than you do, and sometimes you’re jolted into seeing the world quite differently than they do. For example, most of the people who are involved in acts of violence, even terrorism – what looks like terrorism to us – see their community and maybe even themselves personally as under siege, as oppressed, under attack, under violence. And they feel like they’re trying to defend or protect themselves. That’s totally different from the way we see them, if we see them as horrible, evil people out to get us. [Laughs] And if somebody’s out to get you, of course you see them that way, but they don’t see themselves that way. So it’s very helpful to see how they see things.

TMH: What ideas do you wish to leave your audience with after coming to see you speak? Do you want to change how they view what’s going on in the world right now?

MJ: Sure, yes, and to see that these events don’t come out of nowhere, they come out of somewhere, they come out of people’s perceptions, and sometimes these perceptions have a certain validity in their own — in a sense of oppression, or invitation, but in any event to magnify their conditions through images of cosmic war, is a fantasy. And we shouldn’t buy into it, and to exaggerate it, and our response to it, is a way of buying into it, and that’s equally bad. We then become part of the problem. And that’s why you say, “Is this situation in the Middle East going to continue?” It depends in part on how we respond.

TMH: What would be the best way to respond?

MJ: To say, “We know most Muslims don’t behave like this.” The initial response of the American embassy in Egypt was absolutely the right response. And that is to say that, “Look, this stupid film has nothing to do with us. We are as shocked and horrified as you are. Islam is part of the fabric of American religious life. … This offends us as much as it does you.”

For more information about Juergensmeyer’s lecture, visit humanities.miami.edu/calendar.