Terrorism dominates the headlines, but few observers attempt to think critically about the origins, evolution, and variable impacts of terror over the course of history. Alongside many enduring myths and misperceptions about terrorism, the history of this violent technique is rife with puzzles. Why is it so difficult for people to agree on a common definition of terrorism across the globe? Why do groups take up arms against civilians to effect political change? Why do some groups remain fairly restrained in their use of violence while others routinely engage in mass atrocities? Why do some terror groups end within a year of their emergence, whereas others toil along for decades? What is really “new” about the “new terrorism”? What are the most effective ways to combat terrorism? The course takes a theoretical and historical approach, attempting to nest contemporary challenges within the broader global and political context of terrorism as a phenomenon. To this end, the course will acquaint students with the historical evolution of domestic and international terrorism while introducing them to the major analytical approaches to the study of terrorism. The five primary goals of the course are for students to: (1) understand leading theories, approaches, and concepts for understanding the use of terror around the globe; (2) evaluate current approaches to terrorism against prevailing evidence; (3) apply cumulative knowledge to current policy problems and make informed inferences about future developments; (4) deepen their knowledge about particular cases or topics regarding terrorism and counterterrorism; and (5) synthesize their knowledge during in-depth course discussions and several written assignments. By the end of the course, students should understand the fundamental analytical and policy debates surrounding terrorism globally, as well as several policy alternatives that may lead to solutions. Students should also develop substantive knowledge about current trends in terrorism and counterterrorism. By the end of the term, students should be comfortable taking an intellectual stand about topics related to terrorism, defending their positions with evidence, engaging in self-critique, deriving actionable policy recommendations, and communicating those recommendations to both specialist and non-specialist audiences—particularly when the empirical record contrasts with the conventional wisdom. Course assignments are designed to enhance those skills.
Also offered by the Government Department as Gov 1728 and the Divinity School as HDS 3094.