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With the worldwide wave of democratization, scholars interested in the preservation of the new democracies dusted off old theories of regime maintenance. While commonly sharing the assumption that democracy requires democrats, researchers proceeded in different directions, depending on their image of the ideal democrat. Today, we know a great deal about who supports democracy, and why. However, the state of our knowledge is incomplete at the point where it matters the most. As might be expected in any emerging area of research, different sets of scholars based their research instruments on contrasting understandings of what it means to be a democrat, and how democrats are best identified and measured. More importantly, they proceeded from differing understandings and underspecified theories as to why democrats are important, how many are needed, and how they actually affect the level and stability of democracy. Thus, while the intuition that democracy requires democrats is strong, the actual state of the evidence is still mixed, at best.
Timothy R. Johnson
The U.S. Supreme Court is but one of three political institutions within the structure of the U.S. federal government. Within this system of separated powers it rules on the constitutionality of some of the nation’s most important legal and political issues. In making such decisions, the nation’s highest court may be considered the most powerful of the three branches of the U.S. federal government. Understanding this process will allow scholars, students of the Court, and Court watchers alike to gain a better understanding of the way in which the justices conduct their business and to come to terms with some of the most important legal and political decisions in our nation’s history. Combining a theoretical account of Supreme Court decision-making with an examination of its internal decision-making process illuminates this opaque institution.
In the last two decades, there has been a significant increase in the number of public opinion surveys in Africa. While experts on economic development and health had long been collecting individual-, household-, and community-level data on the continent, efforts to gather information on what Africans thought about their governments, societies, and political and economic situations, more broadly, were limited before the late 1990s. Certainly, this expansion was enabled by the wave of political liberalizations that hit most African countries at the end of the Cold War, thus creating conditions under which citizens could be more open in discussing attitudes and behaviors, particularly with regard to politics. However, it also coincided with a growth in the popularity of public opinion surveys globally. The distribution of data-collection efforts has not been uniform across countries: more surveys have been conducted in countries with higher levels of economic development, political openness, and security, such as Kenya, Ghana, and South Africa, than in more challenging settings, such as Eritrea, Chad, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Thus, our knowledge of what Africans think about politics and economics varies significantly from country to country.
Myriad organizations have been involved in these efforts. Academic organizations, both on the African continent and overseas, have been at the forefront of such work in Africa. The most prominent among these has been the Afrobarometer, which has conducted dozens of surveys, in about two thirds of the continent’s countries, since 1999. The majority of studies, however, are made up of contributions by other entities, including for-profit companies, media houses, and even political campaigns. In total, these surveys vary in their methodologies, focuses, quality, and the accessibility of their data for researchers, policymakers, and the general public.
These developments have had significant impacts on academic studies, policymaking, and even countries’ domestic politics. Surveys have improved understandings of Africans’ attitudes, assessments of the status quos in their respective countries, decision-making processes, and hopes and priorities for the future. For academics, these data have provided new opportunities for testing theories—oftentimes upending or at least complicating extant conventional wisdom—and catalyzing the development of new research programs. Candidates and parties use enhanced understandings of the electorate to develop different persuasive strategies. Governments frequently attempt to control, limit, or strategically use survey enterprises. Media in some countries regularly report on popular attitudes and campaign-time “horse races.” In some instances, the release and interpretation of public opinion data have become quite politicized. And election observers frequently propose collection of public opinion data before elections as a guard against flagrant rigging. In sum, these developments have, in myriad ways, fundamentally changed how African countries are studied and governed.
T. David Mason
Once a civil war ends, there is high probability that the nation will relapse into renewed war within a few years. For a nation where a civil war has recently ended to relapse into renewed conflict, some dynamic process of contention must emerge that makes a resumption of armed conflict one—but not the only—possible outcome of that contentious episode. We can conceive of the dynamics by which contentious politics can lead to civil war recurrence as a function of three conditions. First, one or more dissident groups must emerge with the organizational and military capacity to mount and sustain an armed challenge to the postwar state. Second, one or more of those groups must have the incentive to resort to armed conflict rather than abide by the post–civil war order. Third, conditions and events in the postwar environment must evolve in a manner such that one or more of these groups must determine that they have an opportunity to revolt. This framework can be used to analyze how, in existing research, the outcome and key attributes of the now-ended civil war and conditions in the postwar environment affect whether dissident groups will resume armed conflict or sustain the peace.
Karl Magnus Johansson
Membership in the European Union (EU) entails adjustments or changes in national democracies. Sweden joined the EU in 1995, and EU membership has given rise to controversies in the public debate as well as in the academic community. Four main scholarly and related themes are addressed here.
First is the discursive construction of the question of democracy in relation to European integration. In an effort to legitimize membership in the public debate, the consequences in terms of sovereignty were summarized in the official Swedish discourse on EU membership as a loss in formal sovereignty but an increase in real sovereignty. The conclusions became known as the calculus of sovereignty. This conceptual innovation entailed a reinterpretation of popular sovereignty, as stipulated by the Swedish constitution, as well as of democracy, implying that efficiency or problem-solving capacity was emphasized more than procedural democracy. Increased economic and political interdependence had created a situation where independent political decisions were seen as ineffective.
Second is the controversy surrounding the question of influence and the extent to which Sweden is exerting influence in the EU. This issue came to the fore in connection with the euro referendum in 2003. While some argued that remaining outside the euro would come with a political price—marginalization—others emphasized the lack of evidence for such effects. To some extent, this remains a moot point, not least as a result of the expansion and importance of the euro zone.
Third is the question of whether or not there is political opposition, that is, conflict rather than consensus in EU affairs. Recent research claims that (allegedly almost nonexistent) previous research had underestimated the degree of political opposition or conflict, notably in parliament. Moreover, results suggest that there is variation in EU opposition across time and policy areas. However, the key question here should be whether or not there is effective opposition, making a difference to policy outcomes. Several reforms have been initiated to strengthen the involvement of the parliament in EU policymaking, but none has really sought to challenge the balance between parliamentary scrutiny and executive discretion.
Fourth is the state and different interpretations of either decentering or centering effects. Whereas some claim that fragmentation or decentralization is the central feature of the Europeanization of the Swedish state, other researchers submit that the predominant tendency is rather centralization, as the demands of EU decision making—not least EU summitry—on national policy coordination have been a principal driving factor in this process.
These are the main themes in the debate over the EU and EU membership in Sweden. Included here are a series of analytical narratives and counternarratives, as well as a discussion of important implications for the national democracy and for the distribution or redistribution of power among domestic political actors therein. In sum, any interpretation of modern-day politics must now take into account the significance of the EU, operating through Europeanizing impacts.
Clive H. Church
Despite its economic importance, Switzerland is surprisingly little studied. Hence it can be misunderstood. For many, it seems to have a successful relationship with the European Union (EU). In reality, Europe has become a problematic issue for the Swiss. Swiss policy has been reactive and largely driven by a conflict between pragmatic Swiss, inspired by traditional views of the needs of a neutral and federal country, and a growing body of populist Europhobes. The former are, doubtful about the “European idea” but know that a price has to be paid for vital economic advantages. The latter detest the EU and want little involvement with it, regarding political independence as more important than economic gains. The conflict between the two views can be bitter, and destabilizing.
Because of this, the key aim of Swiss policy has been to achieve some kind of third way, combining nonmembership with deep economic integration. Achieving this has become increasingly difficult despite the country’s central geographical and cultural position. This means transport links and population movements are important elements in Swiss relationships with the EU, alongside its economic and legislative involvement. Yet, at the same time, Switzerland has preserved a notable detachment from Europe’s political institutions.
Swiss relations with the EU have been evolving since 1945. The present difficulties are merely the latest, as well as perhaps the most challenging, phase of a long-standing encounter with Europe. There have been four phases in Swiss postwar relations with European integration. Initially, there was considerable reluctance to get involved, but, after some hesitation, the country entered the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) and secured a free trade deal with the European Community (EC). This worked well, bringing Switzerland into what the Swiss liked to see as quasi-membership.
This began to change in the mid-1980s, when Swiss needs and EC change led to a second phase, of seeking a deeper relationship. This led to the European Economic Area (EEA) negotiations and, when this was judged to be insufficient by the government, to a membership application. The defeat of the EEA proposal on December 6, 1992, by an emerging populist force unleashed increasing contestation over Europe. It also forced the country into a third phase of seeking bilateral makeweights for exclusion from the EEA. By the early years of the new century, this led to the present situation, which is more complicated than is often realized and is driven by indirect Europeanization. At the same time, the bilateral approach became both popular with a majority and increasingly contested on the right.
Moreover, a fourth phase has seen bilateralism increasingly contested by the EU as well, causing a long-drawn-out impasse. This was partly because the “Stop Mass Migration” initiative of February 9, 2014, threatened to undermine the existing bilaterals. A solution to this problem was found by the parliament in late 2017, but further problems appeared as, in December 2018, the country found itself apparently being asked to decide about accepting a framework agreement to regularize its sprawling range of EU deals. Given its internal divisions, this may not be possible, so the fourth phase could well persist. In any case, Europe is likely to remain a major source of profit and pain for Switzerland.
Stuart J. Kaufman
The symbolic politics theory of ethnic war starts from the insight that most political behavior is not rational but intuitive, driven by “symbolic predispositions” such as ideological beliefs, normative values, and prejudice. The way leaders lead is by using rhetoric not to appeal rationally to followers’ interests but to appeal emotionally to their symbolic predispositions.
According to symbolic politics theory, the path to ethnic conflict begins with group narratives that are hostile to another group. These narratives help to generate hostile and prejudiced symbolic predispositions. If group members perceive a social threat, such as to their group identity or status, they become more likely to join mass movements agitating for a politics of redistribution—discriminating in favor of their own group at the expense of rival groups. If people feel physically threatened, they become more likely to support a politics of protection leading to violent ethnic conflict. These popular attitudes and moods are turned into social movements or military mobilization if aggressive leaders emerge, framing political issues in terms of these threats, and if those leaders are both credible and supported by effective organizations. A series of case studies has demonstrated that this process—from narratives to prejudice and threat perceptions, harnessed by leadership and organization—is what occurred in ten ethnic civil wars, including the former Yugoslavia, Rwanda, Israel-Palestine, and the Philippines. The theory also explains less violent cases such as Gandhi’s nationalist movement in India.
This theory is hypothesized to apply to international war, as the politics of national identity is similar to the politics of ethnic identity. The theory also suggests a way of reconciling realist, liberal, and constructivist accounts of international relations through political psychology and a scientific realist ontology.
Civil wars in the contemporary world are deeply interpenetrated by international influences. There are six different conceptions of the international system and their effects on civil conflicts: (1) the realist conception and the superpower interventions of the Cold War period, (2) the liberal institutional conception and the diplomatic mediation of the United Nations, (3) global cultural influences such as world religions, democratization and education, (4) the global economy and structural poverty, (5) transnational bilateral relations with neighboring states, and (6) the planetary ecosystem and the effects of climate change. Taken together, these international influences have a weighty effect on the conduct and duration of contemporary civil wars.
William R. Thompson and Leila Zakhirova
System leaders, sometimes referred to as hegemons or world powers, emerge based on a foundation of technological innovation and global military reach. To this foundation energy is now added as a third leg of the power stool. It is not a coincidence that observers posit 17th-century Netherlands, 19th-century Britain, and 20th-century United States as the leading states in political-economy terms of their respective eras. The Dutch used peat and windmills, the British married coal to the steam engine, and the United States added petroleum and electricity to coal to fuel a host of new machines. The greater a country’s lead in technology and energy, the more impactful its tenure as the world economy’s lead economy. These leads, nonetheless, do not make their principal beneficiaries into dominant dictators of world politics. Instead, they focus on policing long-distance commercial routes and the global commons, as well as organizing coalitions to suppress perceived threats to the continued functioning of the world economy. Whether this process, which emerged slowly only in the second millennium
China’s economic rise has been accompanied by the maturation and increasing professionalization of academic disciplines in China, including the discipline of international relations. The emergence of an indigenous international relations discipline in China has led to an intense debate about the development of a distinctive “Chinese School” that draws on China’s intellectual traditions and historical record to inspire the development of new international relations theories. While the debate continues, the outlines of a Chinese School are becoming clear. The Chinese School of international relations theory draws on Confucian concepts of relationality and hierarchy to theorize the character of the relations between countries rather than focus on the attributes of countries themselves. It also highlights the historical existence of interstate systems organized in a hub-and-spoke pattern around a single, central state.
The premodern East Asian world-system in which China was embedded and classical Chinese scholars developed their ideas was a central state system. Premodern China was always by far the dominant state in East Asia, with the result that international relations in the East Asian world-system exhibited a hub-and-spoke pattern centered on China, as in the tributary system of the Ming and Qing Dynasties. Moreover the Confucian worldview that ultimately came to be China’s state ideology served in effect as the governing moral code of the system as a whole. The combination of a central state structure with a universal moral code created what in Chinese is called a tianxia (“all under heaven”), a world-embracing system of governance centered on a particular state, in this case China.
In a tianxia system international relations tend to be hierarchical because of the clear power differentials between the central state and other states. They can be either expressive (showing social solidarity) or purely instrumental, depending on the stance taken by the central state. Chinese School international relations theorists tend to assume that the “best” (most stable, most peaceful, most prosperous, etc.) world-system configuration would be a tianxia system dominated by expressive rationality and centered on China, but this is no more self-evident than the widely held Western preference for a liberal, rules-based order. What Chinese School international relations theory really offers the discipline is a new set of concepts that can be applied to the theorization and empirical analysis of today’s millennial world-system. This postmodern interstate system appears to be a central state system with a universal moral code, an American tianxia based on individualism. The historical Confucian Chinese tianxia may be the best precedent for modeling this system.
The battle over state redistribution, and the means to pay for welfare transfers, lies at the heart of contemporary political economy. This has been one of the central plinths of political science research on the advanced industrial democracies, and we now have a good understanding of the dynamics of spending and taxation in these countries, rooted in the power of the left and labor movements, together with the embedded liberal compromise. These explanations, however, struggle to explain tax and spending outcomes across Latin America. This is largely because the pressures of globalization, rather than embedded liberalism, drive efficiency concerns in Latin America; across the region, the left often behaves in unanticipated ways, and redistribution comes in many forms. These effects are compounded by the power of business interests across the region and the heterogeneity of voter preferences when it comes to spending and taxation. More research is needed on both the macro and micro level dynamics of taxation and social spending in Latin America.
Though traditionally thought of as the preserve of technical experts—lawyers, economists and accountants—the study of taxation has recently attracted growing attention, with mounting recognition that taxation is fundamentally political, and lies near the core of the relationship between states and citizens. The first, and most common, question about the politics of taxation is: what are the political barriers to more effective and equitable taxation, and how can these political barriers may be overcome? However, it is important that any discussion of the politics of taxation also consider a second question: How can the expansion of tax collection be linked to the construction of stronger fiscal contracts, thus ensuring responsiveness and accountability in the use of tax revenues? The expansion of taxation represents a transfer of wealth from private citizens to the state, but becomes publicly desirable only if it is then consistently translated in improvements in publicly provided goods and services, and broader improvements in the quality of governance. This makes it incumbent on those interested in taxation to consider not only how best to raise additional revenue, but how best to raise additional revenue in ways that increase the likelihood that new revenue will be translated into broader public benefits.
It is now widely accepted that in many cases political resistance represents the most important barrier to more effective taxation in Africa—particularly with respect to the taxation of elite groups. This, in turn, reflects two broad political challenges: the expansion of taxation frequently confronts resistance from influential political and economic elites, while it has historically been very difficult to build popular coalitions in favor of taxation in contexts of limited transparency and significant distrust of taxation and the state. That said, recent research has shed growing light on the contexts in which reform is more likely, and the reform strategies that may contribute to overcoming political resistance. This has been accompanied by the growth of parallel research that has highlighted the contexts in which the expansion of taxation is most likely to spur public mobilization and demand-making—and thus the strategies that reformers might adopt in seeking to strengthen the links between revenue-raising and improvements in public services and accountability. Ultimately, it increasingly appears that the kinds of political strategies that can support more effective and equitable taxation are also likely to contribute to encouraging encourage expanded popular engagement and stronger links between taxation and public benefits. These include efforts to stress horizontal equity in tax collection, to expand transparency and popular engagement in tax debates and to more clearly link expanded revenue to specific public uses, in order to build popular support for reform. Such strategies have the potential to contribute to virtuous circles of reform in which new taxation is translated into valued public benefits; thus building popular support for the further expansion of more equitable taxation.
The surge in the appointments of technocrats to the top economic portfolios of finance since the 2009 Great Recession, and even the formation of fully technocratic governments in Europe, raises questions regarding the role of technocrats and technocratic governments in economic policy in democracies. Who are the technocrats? Why are they appointed in the first place? What is their impact on economic policy, and finally what are their sources of policy influence?
Surprisingly, we know little about the role of technocrats in economic policy despite their prominent presence in Eastern Europe since the early 90s and in Latin America since the early 80s. Technocrats were behind major market-conforming reforms in Latin America with lasting economic and political effects in the region. Technocrats we also appointed in many former Eastern European countries to reform the system of production and the labor market. Yet, to this day, we have little systematic knowledge and even less cross-regional comparative work on the policy effects of technocratic appointments.
Moreover, the term “technocrat” itself does have a shared meaning and is not uniformly used by scholars across the European and American continents, further inhibiting the study of technocrat policymakers. This article seeks to advance the study of technocratic government by providing a clear definition of a technocrat and of technocracy more generally; by reviewing the extant literature on the role of technocrats in economic policy with a special focus on the sources of their policy influence and finally by proposing a theoretical framework for understanding the role of technocrats as policymakers.
Douglas M. Gibler
The first argument that the democratic peace may, in fact, be the product of a larger, territorial peace among states was published in 2007. The argument was based on the strong findings associating territorial issues with conflict. Territorial issues may, in fact, be so salient to the domestic population that they force political centralization and the maintenance of non-democratic governments. This also implies that democracies are likely to be members of a group of states that have resolved their latent territorial issues with neighbors; absent these threats to the state, democracies are faced with few issues over which to fight. That argument is described here, providing a comprehensive discussion of why territorial issues are so salient to the domestic population and the effects of that salience on the polity.
Marc L. Hutchison and Daniel G. Starr
The territorial peace theory predicts that neighboring states with stable borders not only avoid conflict but that the removal of territorial threat facilitates the democratization process within those countries. The strongest and most controversial implication of this argument is that the observed peace between democracies (e.g., the democratic peace) is actually epiphenomenal or spurious to the removal of contentious territorial issues between contiguous states.
Building on observations within the international conflict literature, the territorial peace theory argues that disagreements over borders and other territorial issues are considerably more likely to lead to conflict than other types of issues because of their salience to both government elites and the domestic public. During crises in involving external territorial threats, opposition parties and the public turn to the government for protection and rally in support allowing the state to further centralize the regime and develop large standing armies which, in turn, can be wielded to repress the citizenry and maintain the status quo. Thus, states sharing unstable borders and experiencing high levels of territorial threat tend to become or remain autocratic as they are constantly defending their borders, centralizing their power, and maintaining their state control by repressing their citizenry. Conversely, in states with settled stable borders, they not only experience less conflict but ameliorating the territorial threat subsequently reduces government incentive to maintain a high level of centralization, thereby facilitating democratization. Thus, it predicts that both democracy and peace should form around stable borders and observe regional and temporal clusters. Empirical support for the theory has been consistently strong across a wide range of studies and researchers increasingly apply its arguments to explain a wide variety of different political phenomena.
Critics of the territorial peace cite some methodological and theoretical weaknesses. These critiques highlight difficulties replicating the results of early models of the territorial peace theory, point out empirical inconsistencies related to the effect of joint democracy on conflict onset, and cite several methodological and empirical issues. Defenders of the theory argue the theory has become more nuanced and more effectively operationalized over time and that these critiques may no longer be relevant. Finally, other critics charge that the use of large N statistics rather than comparative case studies detracts from the strength of the argument of the territorial peace. However, rather than framing the theories as competitors in opposition to one another, Andrew Owsiak contends that the disagreements between the democratic peace and territorial peace may be reconciled and demonstrates how the key factors from each theory compliment the other. His approach offers a promising pathway moving forward to further deepen our understanding of conflict onset, peace, and democratization.
Paul R. Hensel
Territorial issues have been prominent causes of armed conflict and war in the modern era. This observation has led to a rapidly growing body of academic literature on the sources, management, and consequences of such issues. Although territory has gotten most of the scholarly attention, this literature has its roots in research on contentious issues that began in the 1960s. Academic research on contentious issues began with studies on issue areas in foreign policy analysis, focusing on such questions as how the foreign policy process differs from more traditional domestic policy processes. This line of research struggled to find mainstream acceptance until scholars began adopting a more substantive conception of issues, focusing on the nature of the values at stake. General patterns of foreign policy conflict and cooperation have been found to differ substantially across different issues. Importantly, territorial issues are the most frequent and most dangerous issues in armed conflict and war, leading scholars to focus much of their issue-related research on the dynamics of territorial contention.
Research on territory has stemmed from the main elements of issues theory that were developed earlier: issue salience, or the importance of the issue under contention; issue context, or recent interactions over the same issue; and institutional context, or the extent to which other actors and institutions are able to influence contention over this type of issue. Armed conflict is much more likely when the issue at stake is more salient, particularly when this salience involves intangible dimensions such as the presence of a state’s ethnic kin in the claimed territory. Greater issue salience also increases the likelihood of peaceful negotiations and nonbinding conflict management techniques like mediation. A recent history of armed conflict or failed negotiations over an issue increases the likelihood of armed conflict, bilateral negotiations, and nonbinding management. The normative and institutional context also appears to affect the likelihood of conflict and peaceful management over issues, although more remains to be done in this area.
The issues literature is beginning to make important strides beyond this initial work on territorial claim management. Scholars are beginning to geocode data on international borders, raising important potential benefits for the study of territory and perhaps other issues. International legal arguments appear to affect the management of territorial claims in systematic ways, and ending territorial claims seems to produce substantial improvements in relations between the former adversaries. The same general patterns seem to hold for river and maritime issues, as well as territorial issues, and these other issue types have more promising institutional contexts. Future research could benefit from considering additional issue types (including a recent effort to collect data on identity claims), as well as studying domestic and interstate issues.
The effect of foreign policy on terrorism is an important area of research that bridges work on international relations and intrastate conflict by highlighting how an outside country can influence attacks from a nonstate actor in another country. Research in this area is important for understanding how countries like the United States can best deal with the threat of international terrorism.
Research has generally demonstrated that states with active foreign policies are more likely to experience international terrorism, particularly democracies and the United States. This has been hypothesized to occur because active foreign policies create blowback, or negative feelings toward a state, leading to greater acts of terrorism against that state.
Beyond the effects of a state’s general foreign policy, others have looked at more specific policies, such as military occupation and intervention. This body of research argues that international terrorism is often a response to perceived occupation of an area. Groups see terrorism as a method to dislodge the occupying force. This argument has been refined by other scholars, who have presented conditions or extensions of this argument. Others have focused on military intervention, arguing that the presence of troops, the negative sentiment that they evoke, and their effect on strengthening the government all create incentives for groups to attack the foreign power that has deployed troops.
Foreign aid has been seen as a policy that can address the threat of terrorism. Aid has been argued to be able to improve local conditions and incentivize and reward local states for engaging in counterterrorism. Others have presented conditions under which aid is more or less likely to be effective, including the idea that military aid might actually increase the amount of terrorism, for reasons similar to military intervention, and create an incentive for states to maintain a terrorist threat.
Other foreign policy approaches have focused on legal attempts to stop terrorists from financing their organizations. These policies have been driven by the United Nations, coalitions of states, and individual states. This article also focuses on the methodological issues that all these studies face, as well as future research directions.
The terrorist attacks of 9/11—in which al-Qaeda operatives flew airplanes into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon and attempted to crash an additional plane into the Capitol Building in Washington, DC—highlighted for many the role religion could play in terrorism. Al-Qaeda, an Islamist terrorist network striving to undermine U.S. influence in Muslim countries, combined a global religious ideology with brutal violence in a way that caught the attention of policymakers and scholars. Since then, academics have been attempting to analyze and understand how religion and terrorism intersect.
Scholars have debated whether religion is a distinctive aspect of contemporary terrorism or is secondary in importance to other factors, such as nationalism and rational calculations. Some scholars take a critical approach to the topic, pointing to normative concerns with the study of religion and terrorism, and disparate other scholars have analyzed how religion and terrorism relate to a vast array of topics from public opinion to political repression.
After surveying the literature, it is difficult to question the distinctiveness of religious terrorism. Yet it also appears that terrorism does not arise inevitably from religious beliefs, nor is it unique to Islam. Moreover, religion seems to be connected to the transnational nature of contemporary terrorism. One particularly useful approach moving forward may be to draw on the relational approach to contentious politics that scholars such as Charles Tilly have formulated.
This article’s approaches religious terrorism as violence or the threat of violence motivated by religion that intends to effect political change. This article will thus focus on how acts of violence that fall within the above definition relate to “religious imperatives,” and what the effects of these connections are. Charles Tilly’s approach to political violence, which conceptualizes terrorism as one manifestation of the range of political violence types, extends from brawls and riots to full-scale civil war. As a result, insights into how religion affects related forms of political violence can inform our understanding of religion and terrorism. Terrorism can also be understood as a nonstate phenomenon. Although states can commit terroristic acts, terrorism as a distinct tactic involves nonstate actors. State behavior—particularly religious repression—can have significant impact on the incidence and severity of religious terrorism in a country, however.
Despite operating as a regional terrorist organization in Nigeria, Boko Haram has gained international attention since kidnapping 276 schoolgirls in 2014. Scholarly research on the organization has since surged, but the literature is still in its formative stages in that it remains fractured and in need of greater synthesis. This assessment of the scholarly literature focuses on two of the most pressing questions concerning religion and Boko Haram and concludes by raising a third question concerning foreign influences that deserves greater scholarly attention.
First, what are the causal implications of religion for explaining Boko Haram’s genesis, evolution, and particularly its violent tactics, as opposed to alternative explanations—economic inequality and depravation, political corruption, anti-imperialism, educational disparities, etc.? Second, to what degree is Boko Haram the latest iteration of Islamist violence in Northern Nigeria versus an organization with distinctive origins requiring fresh analysis?
Neither question has been definitively answered. While religion is a clear motivation for Boko Haram, questions remain concerning whether it is a root motivation or a symptom of secular causes. Additionally, Boko Haram’s synthetic character—as a Nigerian Islamist group that is simultaneously networked with multiple transnational terrorist organizations—makes it difficult to categorize. Finally, questions concerning foreign influences over Boko Haram—both ideological and financial—have been raised but few empirically validated answers have been produced, offering fertile ground for future research.
Terrorism is a multifaceted phenomenon. It is by no means the sole province of religious fundamentalism although it can be (and sometimes is) the end result of an ideological trajectory identified as “fundamentalist.” Following a “higher dictate” or a “divine command” may obviate otherwise normal attributions of culpability. Thus, Christian extremism can issue in terrorism, where an otherwise negatively valued destructive act can be transformed and rendered acceptable, even laudable. Such acts may qualify as terrorist, at least in some respects. An analysis of the ideology of religious fundamentalism reveals that an extreme perspective can originate as simply a passive viewpoint, manifest as an assertive identity orientation, and emerge to be a fanatically imposed program of aggressive behaviors and actions. Christian fundamentalism is a specific variant of religious fundamentalism and, indeed, it is from within modern Christian history that the term “fundamentalism” arose. Its use today is much broader, denoting a generic phenomenon with wide application, even beyond religion.
The motif of exclusivism, which is inherent to fundamentalist ideologies and values, is an important dimension to be taken account of. It is critical to understanding the specifics of Christian extremism and terrorism. Similarly, the issue of theological justification for Christian extremism and violence, together with biblical motifs and references for violence and extremism, are important dimensions for critical study. Christian extremism rests on select biblical models and references, such as that of Phineas (Num. 25) and proffers self-justifying theological support. In short, Christian fundamentalism manifests an ideological sequence of factors whose cumulative impact once (or if) the final factor of enacting violence is reached, can be devastating. There is historical evidence for this as well as contemporary examples. The ideological and behavioral trajectory of 21st-century fundamentalist Christians can—and in some situations does—result in deadly terrorist behavior. And as with any religion, such ideology leading to terrorism is necessarily extreme: a deviance from the norm of religious values and behaviors.