PUBPOL 762: Transnational Terrorism, Religion and The Limits of Reason

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Fall 2006
Credit Hours

Spectacular and theatrical displays of terror, such as suicide bombings, are now banner actions for a thoroughly modern global diaspora that is religious in inspiration, and which claims the role of vanguard for a massive, transnational political awakening spurred by near universal access to world media. Why are so many enraptured by the jihadi message of martyrdom? Contemporary terrorists who target civilians are often publicly perceived to be crazed cowards bent on senseless destruction who thrive in poverty and ignorance. Recent research indicates that they have no appreciable psychopathology and are as educated and economically well-off as surrounding populations. Why do so many in our society, including political leaders and media analysts, appear to be willfully ignorant of this. If terrorists are generally ordinary people, who span a society's normal distribution (education and intelligence level, economic and social status, etc.), then what makes so many of them ready to die in order to kill even children and other noncombatants? In particular, what psychological and anthropological insights from the study of religion might be used to effectively understand and eventually diminish terrorism, including our own society's contribution to the genesis and growth of terrorism at home and abroad? How may religiously-motivated moral reason override or interact with instrumental forms of reasoning to generate, or parry, terrorism?