Mary Jane Engh came up with the idea for her most recent book, “In the Name of Heaven: 3,000 Years of Religious Persecution,” right after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
“I was hearing newscasters, politicians and religious leaders talk, and they did not know how to deal with such a huge act of terrorism by a religious group,” said Engh, who will speak at MU this week. “And, I thought, don’t these people know history?”
After a trip to the library, Engh, who has written four books of fiction as well as articles and poems, discovered the problem: Although there were plenty of books about specific instances, no general history of religious persecution existed in the English language.
“We tend to focus too narrowly,” she said. “By focusing only on a specific example, we are missing the lessons that can be learned by comparing different situations.”
Engh’s speech, “What Gets Left Out: Religious Persecution in Context,” will cover examples of religious persecution both ancient and modern. Engh will highlight the dangerous conditions that spurred religious persecution in each example, creating a pattern. She hopes this pattern will help prevent future persecution.
“I want people to know what they should be cautious of,” Engh said. “If religion is too closely connected with a government or an ethnic group, it is a dangerous situation.”
The speech, sponsored by the MU Center for Religion, the Professions and the Public, suits the center’s goal to improve people’s understanding of religion and the role it plays in their lives and the world, said outreach coordinator Amy White.
In her book, Engh explains the circumstances surrounding religious persecution up to the 20th century. However, her speech will address persecution in the 20th and 21st centuries, White said.
“It will include trends and signs she saw while researching past persecutions to help people in the present day recognize persecution on a global, national, local and even campus level,” White said. “We want people to get the background to current religious-based debates and arguments.”
From her research of past persecutions, Engh realized that situations today are different.
“It is more a matter of being aware in the modern world,” Engh said.
“We are in a much better position to prevent persecution today than in the past,” she said. “People have a say in what goes on. It is within our control.”