Terrorism and Religion

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Critical Studies on Terrorism
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What's so ‘religious’ about ‘religious terrorism’?
Jeroen Gunning & Richard Jackson
a a b

School of Government and International Affairs, Durham University, Durham, UK b

Department of International Politics, Aberystwyth University, Aberystwyth, UK Version of record first published: 16 Dec 2011.

To cite this article: Jeroen Gunning & Richard Jackson (2011): What's so ‘religious’ about ‘religious terrorism’?, Critical Studies on Terrorism, 4:3, 369-388 To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/17539153.2011.623405

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Critical Studies on Terrorism Vol. 4, No. 3, December 2011, 369–388

ARTICLE What’s so ‘religious’ about ‘religious terrorism’? Jeroen Gunninga,* and Richard Jacksonb
a School of Government and International Affairs, Durham University, Durham, UK; b Department of International Politics, Aberystwyth University, Aberystwyth, UK

(Received 26 July 2011; final version received 4 September 2011) This article assesses the validity of the concept of ‘religious terrorism’ and its consequences for research and policy practices. It explores the origins, assumptions and primary arguments of the term and subjects them to an analytical assessment. It argues that the distinctions typically drawn between ‘religious’ and ‘secular’ terrorism are problematic, both conceptually and empirically, and that the term is misleading in its typical assumptions about the motives, causes and behaviour of groups classified as ‘religious terrorist’. In particular, it shows that the behaviour of those thus labelled is so diverse, and often so indistinguishable from their ‘secular’ counterparts, that the term has little meaning without further qualification, while simultaneously obscuring important aspects of both ‘religious’ and ‘secular’ violence. It then goes on to illustrate how the term, rooted in a particular historically situated understanding of religion and a particular set of power structures, serves as a disciplinary device to domesticate ‘political religion’, delegitimising certain actors while legitimising a number of highly contentious counterterrorist practices designed to deal with those described as ‘religious terrorists’. The article ends with some suggestions for alternative ways to study the role of beliefs and institutional structures, religious or otherwise, in producing political violence. Keywords: religion; violence; terrorism; secular; power

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Introduction While scholarship linking religion and violence long predates 11 September 2001, the attacks on the United States elevated debates about ‘religious terrorism’, and in particular ‘Islamic terrorism’, to new heights. The term ‘religious...
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