Ariel Glucklich

Author of
  • Dying for Heaven
    HarperOne (11/09)

In Dying for Heaven, Georgetown scholar and advisor to the defense community Ariel Glucklich explains the religious motivation of terrorism. This provocative work of political science argues that the very best qualities of religion–its ability to make people feel good and bring them together–are in fact its most dangerous. Glucklich, author ofSacred Pain and Climbing Chamundi Hill, offers a new understanding of religion and provides a vision for preventing further religiously-inspired violence.

Why do terrorists do what they do? Not only are religiously motivated terrorists willing to self-destruct to achieve their goals, but neither threats nor incentives consistently prevent their devastating acts. Compounding this is the fact that soon extremist nations and terrorist groups in the Middle East and Asia will have nuclear weapons and may be driven by religion to use them. Is nuclear terror inevitable or can it be prevented?

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Dying for Heaven

Holy Pleasure and Suicide Bombers--Why the Best Qualities of Religion Are Also Its Most Dangerous

Ariel Glucklich, Georgetown professor of religion and advisor to the U.S. defense community, reveals the fallacy of our country’s three major assumptions about the motivations that lie behind terrorism: that religious terrorists are acting out of hatred for us, that belief in paradise is the chief factor in their willingness to die for their cause, and that religious extremism is always irrational. The astonishing reality Glucklich reveals is that these radicals sincerely believe they are motivated by love,actually are attempting to fight internal enemies or heretics within their own societies, and desire fame and honor in the here and now, rather than a promised afterlife in heaven.

Dying for Heaven offers a groundbreaking theory of religion and religious destructiveness; the book examines the motivations fueling those who perpetrate religious violence around the globe–from Al Qaeda and other Islamic terrorists to violent Hindu nationalists, from Jewish-Zionist fundamentalists in Israel to leaders in Iran’s race for nuclear weapons, and to Christian messianic defenders of American power. The continuing rise of religion as a global force and the proliferation of nuclear weapons create a unique challenge for policy advisors, who now must understand how far religious extremists will go toward nuclear annihilation. Dying for Heaven provides the key for understanding the religious drive to self-destruct and offers ways to combat the culture of suicide terrorism.

Ariel Glucklich discusses Dying for Heaven

Praise for Dying for Heaven

In this provocative book, theologian Glucklich tries to understand one of the most unsettling and disturbing behavioral trends of our time. What makes suicide bombers tick? he asks. To answer, he examines the impetus behind religion (why be religious?) and explains what happens when religious feelings lead to self-destruction. Throughout, he maintains that it is crucial that society take religion seriously–that is, to take a scientific approach to itóand avoid oversimplification, especially when it comes to vilifying that which we don’t understand. He notes that, with the possible exceptions of certain European countries, religious activity is on the rise around the world, a development he attributes to religion’s tendencies not only to make people feel happier but to give them purpose and a sense of belonging. In a nutshell, Religion makes us feel good. Unfortunately, religious pleasure and spiritual devotion sometimes lead to bloodshed. So Glucklich discusses the destructive aspects of religion; that is, the various theories of the pleasure of group behavior and its consequences, and the surprisingly close linkage between heaven and violence. An important and enlightening book for a dangerous age.

June Sawyers, Booklist Starred Review

In Dying for Heaven, Ariel Glucklich argues against the misconception that religious terrorists fight their enemies out of hatred. Rather, it is the positive aspects of religion that inspire the most heinous actions.


A new and major treatise on what it takes to become a suicide bomber and what it takes to counter it. Glucklich combines religion, terrorism, hope and despair in a breathtaking and highly readable manner.

Ahmed Rashid, author of Taliban and Jihad

Ariel Glucklich’s Dying for Heaven offers a provocative explanation of religion and terrorism based on a Darwinian approach. Although not all readers will embrace this analysis, it provides absorbing food for thought and a surprisingly attractive solution for the problem it addresses.

Carl W. Ernst, the William R. Kenan, Jr., Distinguished Professor of Religious Studies, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill

Extremely well written, and at times quite funny, this book is an absolute necessity for a public seeking to understand religious nuance and zealotry; it deserves careful attention and a broad readership. Highly recommended.

Library Journal

This brilliant and gracefully written study sheds new light on religious behavior . . . Rich with examples and scholarly detail, this study should be read by policymakers, social scientists, and anyone fascinated with what lies behind the awesome power of religious faith.

Mark Juergensmeyer, author of Terror in the Mind of God: The Global Rise of Religious Violence

[Dying for Heaven] is more than 300 pages of gripping analysis about the inner motivations–the high-octane rocket fuel–within religion.

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