Dying for God: Martyrdom, Terrorism and Religious Violence
Course infoSchedule
Course moduleFTR-FIPPSB218
Credits (ECTS)5
Language of instructionEnglish
Offered byRadboud University; Faculty of Philosophy, Theology and Religious Studies; Opleiding Filosofie;
dr. S.A. Bledsoe
Other course modules lecturer
dr. S.A. Bledsoe
Other course modules lecturer
Contactperson for the course
dr. S.A. Bledsoe
Other course modules lecturer
Academic year2020
SEM2  (25/01/2021 to 29/08/2021)
Starting block
Course mode
Registration using OSIRISYes
Course open to students from other facultiesNo
Waiting listNo
Placement procedure-
In addition to becoming familiar with narratives of violence in these three religious traditions, a significant goal of the course is to understand how the concept of "religious violence" functions in a broader discourse of religion, politics, and society. By the end of the course, therefore, you will be able to:
  • identify and describe a wide range of primary texts written by Jews, Christians, and Muslims from antiquity through today that comprise stories of martyrdom and religious violence;
  • discuss in a critical manner why the terms "martyrdom", "terrorism", and "religious violence" are more than simple, descriptive labels;
  • understand how the concept of "religious violence" functions in a broader discourse of religion, politics, and society.
  • summarize how different religious traditions, political groups, and modern audiences have employed stories about dying/killing for God in the respective historical contexts;
  • evaluate and explain the various uses of these texts in contemporary discourse, especially political, social, and ethical discussions;
  • clearly and effectively respond to the course materials, both orally in the context of class discussion, and in written form.
What makes a martyr? What makes a terrorist? How and why would an individual be willing to die and/or kill for God? These are some of the questions this course explores as we consider how martyrdom, terrorism, and violence (more broadly defined) are significant concepts in the discourse of religious identity, from antiquity until today. During the course students will read and discuss several ancient, medieval, and modern narratives of violence and self-sacrifice in Jewish, Christian, and Islamic contexts. In analyzing these texts will not only consider what function their tellings (and retellings) may have for their respective religious communities, but we will also question why such accounts of violence are considered so striking. Why are certain actors defined as "martyr" and others as "terrorist", who is doing the labeling, and why. What are the ideological or political motivations for such designations, and what kinds of conflicts arise when communities compete over them? Thus, a major goal of this course is to uncover and describe why religious communities, political groups, and/or scholars of religion are invested in making such identifications. This course will consider the intersection of religion and violence in stories about dying and killing for God, and the impact of these images on political, and social discourse in both historical and contemporary contexts.

Presumed foreknowledge

Test information

This course is part of a three course module in the Philosophy, Politics and Society bachelor programme. Students can only be admitted if they also take the two associated courses during the same semester (retakes excluded). Students who are NOT enrolled in a bachelor, master, or exchange programme of the Faculty of Philosophy, Theology and Religious studies cannot register directly for PPS modules. Instead, they can apply for admission by sending an e-mail to Such applications must contain a separate document in which you (1) inform us about your current studies, (2) explain which module you want to take and why it is relevant to your studies, and (3) describe what you bring to the classroom. The document must be written in English.
Required materials
The reading list & required course materials will be distributed before the first course meeting.

Instructional modes
Attendance MandatoryYes

Test weight1
Test typePaper
OpportunitiesBlock SEM2, Block SEM2