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Lecture: ‘Misunderstanding the Role of Religiosity in the Explanation of Religious Terrorism’ by Lorne Dawson

Datum evenement: 21 June 2022
Locatie: Online via zoom


Misunderstanding the Role of Religiosity in the Explanation of Religious Terrorism
Lorne Dawson
Lorne L. Dawson is a Professor in the Departments of Religious Studies, Sociology and Legal Studies, at the University of Waterloo (Canada).

Online; 15:00 CET (Amsterdam). NEW DATE: 21ST OF JUNE
Registration: extremebeliefs.fgw@vu.nl

We have been living through the age of religious terrorism, manifesting primarily as jihadism. While our grasp of the multiple factors involved in motivating this terrorism has improved, the specter of jihadist religious terrorism in the West still eludes full understanding. There are many reasons for this situation, and one is the ambivalence of most researchers about religious motivational claims. The explanatory challenge of coping with a situation where the primary datum is the actor’s assertion of the role of religiosity in guiding their actions, especially ones involving mass murder and the sacrifice of one’s life, has set off a suspicion of religious motivations that is counterproductive, if we wish to ameliorate the problem of specificity gripping studies of religious radicalization. Adopting a schematic approach to a complex problem in this limited context, I argue there is an unacknowledged secular bias in much of the research on jihadist radicalization, which minimizes the significance of religiosity in explaining religious terrorism, which is blocking explanatory progress. This bias is commonly displayed by three interpretive mistakes, present in different ways and combinations, in the research literature. First, there are arguments that treat the religious background and knowledge (or lack thereof) of homegrown jihadists as an accurate indicator of their religiosity. Second, there are arguments that implicitly misapply modern Western normative conceptions of religion to homegrown jihadists. Third, there are arguments that conceptualize the relationship of social processes and ideology in the process of radicalization in an overly dichotomist manner. In the end, if we wish to reduce the problem of specificity in the study of the process of religious radicalization, we must recognize, in principle at least, the sui generis nature of religious motivations (see, e.g., Dawson 2017, 2018, 2019, 2021a, 2021b).