Universiteit Leiden

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Research programme

Terrorism and Political Violence

Understanding the evolving landscape of extremism in the 21st century.

Bart Schuurman

The research group on terrorism and political violence is dedicated to conducting rigorous empirical research on the complex and ever-changing landscape of radicalisation, extremism, and terrorism in the modern era. With a focus on contemporary manifestations of these phenomena, the group seeks to shed light on the underlying factors, dynamics, and consequences of political violence in the 21st century.

Terrorism and other forms of political violence have had a profound and far-reaching impact on the world since the dawn of the new millennium. Over the past 20 years, the devastating September 11 attacks and the subsequent 'war on terror' that Western states launched have fundamentally altered global geopolitics and foreign policy priorities. The reverberations of these events continue to be felt to this day, influencing international relations, security policies, and public discourse around the world.

On the domestic front, the extremist threat landscape has been in a constant state of flux, presenting new challenges and concerns for governments, law enforcement agencies, and civil society. The early 2000s saw the emergence of ‘homegrown’ Islamist extremism, with individuals born and raised in Western countries becoming radicalised and engaging in terrorist activities. This trend reached new heights in the mid-2010s, as thousands of individuals from around the world travelled to Iraq and Syria to join the ranks of the so-called Islamic State as foreign fighters.

In recent years, the focus has shifted to the growing threat of right-wing extremism and anti-government movements, which have gained momentum against a backdrop of increasing societal polarisation and political instability. The rise of populist and nationalist sentiments, coupled with the spread of conspiracy theories and disinformation through social media, has created fertile ground for the radicalisation of individuals and groups across the ideological spectrum.

Disciplinary backgrounds

To grapple with these complex and multifaceted issues, our research group brings together scholars from a range of disciplinary backgrounds, including sociology, criminology, psychology, political science, and critical terrorism studies. By combining applied research with theoretical insights, we aim to contribute to both academic debates and policy discussions on the prevention of radicalisation and terrorism.

Our work focuses on several key areas, including:

We examine the psychological, social, and structural factors that contribute to the radicalisation process, seeking to identify the pathways and mechanisms through which individuals become involved in extremist movements and terrorist activities.

We study the ways in which terrorist organisations and extremist networks adapt to changing circumstances, exploit new technologies, and innovate in their tactics and propaganda efforts.

We evaluate the impact and unintended consequences of various counter-terrorism measures, from surveillance and intelligence gathering to de-radicalisation programmes and community engagement initiatives.

We investigate how media coverage, political rhetoric, and public attitudes shape perceptions of terrorism and extremism and how these narratives influence policy responses and societal reactions.

Through our research, we strive to generate evidence-based insights that can inform the development of more effective and nuanced approaches to preventing and countering terrorism and political violence. By shedding light on the complexities and challenges of this evolving threat landscape, we hope to contribute to a deeper understanding of these pressing issues and to the building of more resilient and inclusive societies.

The research group is also proud to partner with our colleagues at the International Centre for Counter-Terrorism (ICCT) and the Handa Centre for the Study of Terrorism and Political Violence (CSTPV) at the University of St. Andrews, in publishing Perspectives on Terrorism. Appearing quarterly, Perspectives is one of the leading academic journals on terrorism and published on a uniquely open-access basis. Please find the latest issue here.

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