Eli Berman on Religious Terrorism
Date: September 13th, 2010

Prof. Eli Berman, professor of economics at UC-San Diego and Research Director of International Security Studies at the University of California’s Institute on Global Conflict and Cooperation, discusses his new book Radical, Religious, and Violent: The New Economics of Terrorism (MIT Press).  Contrary to popular notions that suicide bombers are pyschologically-distressed or economically-disadvantagted individuals, Prof. Berman discusses how radical religious groups are rational in their selection of tactics.  Using Laurence Iannaccone’s theory of strict religious clubs, Berman argues that radical religious groups excel at providing social services to their members, while simultaneously filtering out “free riders.”  Here we discuss the case of ultra-Orthodox Jews in Israel as well as the Amish.  We then discuss how successful insurgency operations require that groups limit membership defection, since a defector could easily compromise the secrecy of an entire organization.  Adherence to strict religious requirements (e.g., intensive religious training, dietary restrictions, distinct clothing) provides behavioral signals about the loyalty of an individual to a group, making radical religious sects an ideal recruiting ground for rebels.   We do not discuss the particular grievances of various terrorist organizations; rather the discussion focuses on the organizational aspects of terrorism and insurgency.  Recorded: August 3, 2010.


Eli Berman’s website at UCSD (includes various working papers).

Radical, Religious, and Violent: The New Economics of Terrorism by Eli Berman (Amazon.com)

Radical, Religious, and Violent website (with reviews and teaching material).

Institute on  Global Conflict and Cooperation.

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