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From Pacifism to Tyrannicide: Considering Bonhoeffer’s Ethics for the Anthropocene

Issue: Vol 33 No. 3 (2020) Special Issue on Religion and Violence

Journal: Journal for the Academic Study of Religion

Subject Areas: Religious Studies Buddhist Studies Islamic Studies Biblical Studies

DOI: 10.1558/jasr.42288


Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s (1906–1945) engagement in conspiracies to assassinate Hitler appears to some as a distinct movement from his earlier position on pacifism. This article examines the contributing factors to this apparent contradiction and addresses Bonhoeffer’s ethical rationale for religious violence in the context of the Third Reich. The article recognises the currency of Bonhoeffer’s decision-making in contemporary political scenarios and in relation to philosophical positions on ethics. Bonhoeffer’s ethical frames of Christonomy, Stellvertretung and Sachgemäßheit (vicarious representative action and contextuality) are discussed in the context of his engagement with the underground Confessing Church and in opposition to the Deutsche Christen (German Christian) church’s complicity with the Reich. The article then turns towards the seminal issues of the Anthropocene, climate change, mass migration and biodiversity loss, asking whether religious violence might be justified in the face of this existential crisis.

Author: Dianne Rayson

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