Terrorism: An identity theory perspective

Seth J. Schwartz, Curtis S. Dunkel, Alan S. Waterman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

68 Scopus citations


The present article outlines the role of personal, social, and cultural identity in religiously and ethnically motivated terrorism. It is proposed that terrorism represents the confluence of a cultural identity strongly based in collectivism and in fundamentalist adherence to religious or cultural principles, a social identity based in sharp contrasts between one's own group and groups perceived as threats, and a foreclosed and authoritarian sense of personal identity or, less often, a diffused and aimless personal identity. Examples from religious-extremist and ethnic conflicts in which terrorism has been employed are used to illustrate the tenets advanced here. Recommendations for addressing and preventing the threat of terrorism are discussed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)537-559
Number of pages23
JournalStudies in Conflict and Terrorism
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 2009

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Safety, Risk, Reliability and Quality
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Safety Research
  • Political Science and International Relations


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