In the Name of Heaven: 3,000 Years of Religious Persecution. By Mary Jane Engh. Amherst, N. Y.: Prometheus Books, 2007. 235 pp. $25.00.
Mary Jane Engh introduces In the Name of Heaven by promulgating the dearth of general histories of religious persecution. She concedes that the subject is too vast for an author to summarize in one volume. Undeterred by the scope of the task, Engh pushes forward with this enterprise by identifying the consequential stories of religious persecution, while necessarily excluding others that may have further enriched her work.
Engh creates synthetic boundaries to demarcate the scope of this primer. The terminus ad quern of this project is not the modern horrors of the twentieth century, but the American persecutions of the nineteenth century. In this one-volume survey of the history of religious persecution, the author offers the sobering assessment that the twentieth century contains too many substantial examples of persecution to be compressed into a couple of chapters.
In addition to the demarcation of time, Engh chooses to limit her definition of religious persecution to "repressive actions initiated or condoned by authorities against their own people on religious grounds" (8). Therefore, wars of religion, terrorism, mob violence, and reciprocal massacres are not covered in this volume.
Chapters are organized by chronology and geography. The first chapter identifies fourteenth-century B.C.E. Egypt as history's first persecutor. The last chapter surveys North and South America during the nineteenth century C.E. The twenty chapters in the middle are devoted to the Roman Empire, Greece, the Byzantine Empire, medieval Europe, modern Europe, as well as Asia and Africa. Each chapter concludes with a list of sources and suggestions for further reading.
Engh admits that the bulk of her book is devoted to the persecutions in Western civilization, due to her lack of knowledge in non-European languages. Of the aforementioned twenty-two chapters, religious persecution in Asia is covered in a mere two chapters, while Africa and Oceania/Australia receive one panoramic chapter apiece.
Engh's writing style reveals...