Devoted Actors and the Will to Kill and Die

scott talk

The TORCH Crisis, Extremes, and Apocalypse network are hosting a talk on 'Devoted Actors and the Will to Kill and Die: Research on the ISIS frontline and with Al Qaeda Affiliate' with Scott Atran (Research Director, CNRS Paris; Research Professor, University of Michigan; Founding Fellow, Centre for the Resolution of Intractable Conflict, University of Oxford). Faisal Devji (St Antony's College) will be the respondent.

Uncompromising wars, revolution, rights movements, and today’s global terrorism are in part driven by Devoted Actors who adhere to sacred or transcendent values that generate actions independently, or all out of proportion, from rationally expected outcomes, calculated costs and consequences, or likely risks and rewards. Field-based observation, surveys and experimental studies in real-world political conflicts show ways in which Devoted Actors, who are unconditionally committed to sacred causes, and whose personal identities are fused within a unique collective identity, willingly make costly sacrifices including fighting and dying, thus enabling low-power groups to endure and often prevail against materially much stronger foes. Explaining how devoted actors come to sacrifice for cause and comrade not only is a scientific goal, but also a practical imperative to prevent and resolve seemingly intractable intergroup disputes that can spiral out of control in a rapidly interconnecting world of collapsing and conflicting cultural traditions in search of salvation. Fieldwork and experiments in Europe, North Africa and on the frontlines in the battle with the Islamic State in Iraq help to make the case.

Scott Atran is a Research Associate in the School of Anthropology and Museum Ethnography, and in the Centre for International Studies at the University of Oxford. He is also a founding fellow of the Centre for Resolution of Intractable Conflict, a tenured as Research Director in Anthropology at France’s National Center for Scientific Research, a Presidential Scholar at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice and a Research Professor at the University of Michigan. Professor Atran has experimented extensively on the ways scientists and ordinary people categorise and reason about nature, on the cognitive and evolutionary psychology of religion, and on the limits of rational choice in political and cultural conflict. His publications include Cognitive Foundations of Natural History: Towards an Anthropology of Science (Cambridge 1993), In Gods We Trust: The Evolutionary Landscape of Religion (Oxford 2002), The Native Mind and the Cultural Construction of Nature (MIT 2008), and Talking to the Enemy: Violent Extremism, Sacred Values, and What It Means to Be Human (Penguin 2010).

All are welcome

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