Torture and Religious Practice


  • William Schweiker

    1. William Schweiker is the Edward L. Ryerson Distinguished Service Professor of Theological Ethics at the University of Chicago. He is also the Director of the Martin Marty Center. His most recent books include Theological Ethics and Global Dynamics: In the Time of Many Worlds (Blackwell 2004) and, with David Klemm, Religion and the Human Future: An Essay on Theological Humanism (Blackwell, 2008).
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Abstract:  This essay explores the connection between religious practices and torture with specific reference to the debate in the USA about ‘waterboarding’ as part of the so-called War on Terror. After isolating some defining features of torture, the essay examines the historical background of waterboarding in the symbolism of Christian baptism and how this symbolism was used during the Inquisition and the Reformation as part of the torture of heretics and others. Mindful of this sordid use of a Christian rite meant to celebrate new life, the essay thereby clarifies Christian responsibility in the political order. That responsibility requires uncovering the religious roots of some forms of torture, resisting their use by the State, and, further, seeking to render current Christian practice both humane and life giving.