Terrorism and Modern Society - SO825

Location Term Level Credits (ECTS) Current Convenor 2019-20
(version 2)
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7 20 (10) DR S Cottee







This module explores key issues, debates and controversies in the cross-disciplinary study of terrorism and political violence. Since 9/11, terrorism and jihadist violence in particular has become one of the most contentious and politically charged issues of our time. Yet it remains poorly understood, in part because of the contention and consequent polarization surrounding it, but also because of the methodological challenges in researching the individuals and groups involved in terrorist activity. One of the core aims of the module is to help shed a light on the challenges - methodological, practical and ethical - of researching an issue saturated in danger, secrecy and stigma.

What is terrorism and how should it best be defined? Why does the term "terrorism" carry such a potent stigma? What are the master cultural and intellectual narratives for thinking about terrorism and terrorists?

Does it make sense to talk of "the terrorist" as a category of person, and what are the problems inherent in efforts to "profile" those who engage in terrorism? What do terrorists and terrorist groups want? Is terrorism rational? What is suicide bombing and what explains it? How do terrorist rhetorically frame the use of violence against civilians? What is ISIS and is it Islamic? What is radicalization and how should it be conceptualized? Can terrorism ever be morally justified?

The purpose of this module is to provide a framework for thinking about these and other crucial questions about terrorism and political violence.


This module appears in:

Contact hours

21 hours in total
11 hours of lectures
10 hours of seminars (no seminars in Week One or Reading Week)



Method of assessment

5000 word essay (100% of the final module mark).

Indicative reading

Abrahms, Max (2006), "Why Terrorism Does Not Work," International Security, 31 (2).
- (2008), “What Terrorists Really Want: Terrorist Motives and Counterterrorism Strategy,” International Security 32(4).
Bandura, Albert (1990), “Mechanisms of Moral Disengagement,” in Walter Reich, ed., Origins of Terrorism: Psychologies, Ideologies, Theologies, States of Mind. Washington: The Woodrow Wilson Centre Press.
Coady, C. A. J. (2004a), “Defining Terrorism,” in Igor Primoratz, ed., Terrorism: The Philosophical Issues. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.
Cottee, Simon, (2017), “Religion, Crime and Violence,” in A. Liebling, L. McAra and S. Maruna, eds., Oxford Handbook of Criminology. Oxford University Press.
- (2016), “'What ISIS Really Wants' Revisited: Religion Matters in Jihadist Violence, But How?”, Studies in Conflict & Terrorism, 40 (6).
Cottee, S. and Hayward, K.J. (2011), “Terrorist (E)motives: The Existential Attractions of Terrorism,” Studies in Conflict & Terrorism 34:963-986.
Crenshaw, Martha (1981), “The Causes of Terrorism,” Comparative Politics 13(4).
Gambetta, Diego (ed.), Making Sense of Suicide Missions. New York: Oxford University Press.
Hegghammer, Thomas (ed.) (2017), Jihadi Culture: The Art and Social Practices of Militant Islamists. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Horgan, John (2004), “The Case for Firsthand Research,” in Andrew Silke, ed., Research on Terrorism: Trends Achievements and Failures (London: Frank Cass).
Juergensmeyer, Mark. (2001), Terror in the Mind of God. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.
Neumann, Peter (2013), “The trouble with radicalization,” International Affairs, 89 (4), 873–893.
O’Brien, Conor Cruise (1986), “Thinking about Terrorism,” The Atlantic Monthly, June
Sageman, Marc (2004), Understanding Terror Networks. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.
Silke, Andrew (ed.) (2004), Research on Terrorism: Trends Achievements and Failures (London: Frank Cass, 2004),
Wood, Graeme (2015), “What ISIS Really Wants,” The Atlantic, March.

See the library reading list for this module (Canterbury)

Learning outcomes

On successful completion of the module, students will be able to:

· Understand the problems and challenges in defining terrorism;
· Understand and critically assess the main cultural and intellectual master narratives for thinking about terrorism and terrorists;
· Appreciate the practical, intellectual and ethical challenges in doing research on terrorists and terrorist groups;
· Critically assess the scholarship on contemporary suicide bombing;
· Understand key debates on the meaning and nature of radicalization;
· Reflect critically on the relationship (if any) between ISIS, religion and Islam;
· Critically assess arguments over the moral permissibility of terrorism

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