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The Matrix of Methodological Problems in the Study of Extreme Beliefs: Lecture Lorne Dawson 16-09-22
Lecture by Lorne Dawson, for the Explaining Extreme Beliefs and Extreme Behavior Workshop, at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam on 16-09-22, titled: ‘The Matrix of Methodological Problems in the Study of Extreme Beliefs: From the Vantage Point of the Study of Violent Extremism’.
Despite decades of copious research the social scientific study of terrorism and violent extremism is struggling to cope with a series of interrelated methodological challenges. Progress has been made on all fronts, but the problems may be endemic in some sense and careful awareness of them needs to be recurrently encouraged in ways that are instructive for all efforts to understand and explain extreme forms of human belief and behavior. I can detect at least five such challenges or problems: (1) the normative challenge; (2) the primary data problem; (3) the heterogeneity problem; (4) the complexity challenge; and (5) the problem of specificity. These problems are dialectically related and their interaction, in different bodies of research, shape the overall matrix in which research occurs. In this presentation, I briefly delineate the nature and implications of each challenge/problem and how progress in ameliorating the issues raised in each case depends on being more open to, and investigating more effectively, the first-person accounts provided by those holding extreme beliefs and engaging in extreme actions.
Lorne L. Dawson is a Professor in the Departments of Religious Studies, and Sociology and Legal Studies, at the University of Waterloo (Canada). He has published three books, five edited books, and eighty-seven academic articles and book chapters. He is the Co-Founder and Co-Director of the Canadian Network for Research on Terrorism, Security and Society (www.tsas.ca), and his recent research focuses on foreign fighters, the role of religion in motivating religious terrorism, and the social ecology of radicalization.