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Psychological and Anthropological Perspectives on Radicalisation and Extremism

Winnifred Louis, Fathali Moghaddam, Craig McGarty, Catherine Amiot, Emma Thomas and Adrian Cherney

This is a public event with two keynote speakers (5.30 - 7.30pm) followed by welcome drinks and nibbles

Keynote Addresses

Prof. Harvey Whitehouse: Ritual, Community, and Radicalisation

Field research in anthropology has generated some compelling hypotheses about the role of ritual in creating group cohesion and fuelling intergroup conflict. In recent years, efforts have been made to test many of those hypotheses scientifically. This talk provides an overview of research conducted at the Centre for Anthropology and Mind at the University of Oxford, using a range of methods, from carefully controlled psychological experiments to the analysis of large longitudinal datasets. This research suggests that rituals not only demarcate cultural groups but varying the frequency and emotionality of collective rituals produces different scales and intensities of group alignment, suited to addressing distinct kinds of collective action problems. The research also helps to explain processes of radicalisation and other forms of extremism.


Fathali M. Moghaddam: How Groups and Nations Drive Each Other to Extremes

I was in Iran in 1979 when Khomeini’s followers invaded the American Embassy and took 52 Americans as hostages. Four decades later, I am living in the USA, where President Donald Trump is keeping the country entrapped in a social psychological process I call mutual radicalization, when two groups push each other to extremes. Nationalist Extremists and Islamic Jihad, and Gridlockracy in American politics both illustrate this dynamic, along with Israel-Palestine internationally. Mutual radicalization is a universal collective process, in which rational individuals in both groups recognize they are moving in the wrong direction, but feel powerless to prevent the collective ‘stampede’. Second, collective radicalization leads the groups to adopt a ‘your pain, my gain’ strategy. Third, mutual radicalization leads to high levels of  within-group conformity and obedience. Fourth, mutual radicalization leads both groups to experience identity transformation. I end by outlining concrete steps for mutual de-radicalization.


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