CSS Research and Policy Seminar with Megan McBride

Megan McBride, a postdoctoral fellow and religious studies scholar focusing on terrorism and violence, presented an early draft of her forthcoming book project at the CSS Research and Policy Seminar on March 29. McBride hopes to synthesize scholarship on the nexus between religion and terrorism in her proposed manuscript. The seminar provided her with an opportunity to discuss the framing of the project with colleagues and a guest discussant, Professor Elisabeth Lemons of Tufts University’s Department of Religion.

As McBride noted, the flowering of academic work on the connection between religion and terrorism has produced so many competing concepts and theories as to overwhelm new students of the subject. In her work, McBride highlights the importance of pivotal events that produced waves of academic writing in this area: specifically, the Iranian revolution, 9/11, and the rise of ISIS. She also traces the impact of a diverse collection of interested parties—ranging from academics to practitioners to public intellectuals to pundits—in shaping academic inquiries, informing policy, and influencing public discourse. Given this complexity, she argues that the time is ripe for an introductory monograph that integrates—and perhaps even reconciles—work across a variety of fields that have made incredible theoretical progress since 9/11.  

McBride, in her draft, engages head-on with debates on how particular definitions of religion and terrorism may have limited—or, indeed, biased—theoretical work. These definitional quibbles are central to how theories, actors, and movements are legitimized (or delegitimized) in ways that have both theoretical and practical implications. Students, scholars, and citizens interested in this topic necessarily make choices when discussing religion and terrorism: Which individuals and movements will be defined as religious? Which individuals and movements will be classified as terrorist? Do we believe that religion and terrorism are linked? McBride’s manuscript will foreground not only the (sometimes unspoken) assumptions that inform the debate, but also the potential consequences of different choices (both in terms of delegitimization and othering, and in terms of failures to communicate between parties that have entered the conversation using different definitions).   

Seminar participants agreed that McBride’s central conceit is correct: the welter of competing theories on religion and violence needs adjudication and synthesis. We look forward to McBride’s monograph and are eager to see how this ambitious project shapes her future lines of research.

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