Causes of Extremism

Journal of Conflict Resolution. Forthcoming (With K. Sharma.)

A variety of theories attempt to explain why some individuals radicalize along religious lines. Few studies, however, have jointly put the diverse hypotheses under empirical scrutiny. Focusing on Muslim-Christian tensions in Kenya, we distill salient micro-, meso- and macro-level theories that try to account for the recent spike in religious radicalization. We use an empirical strategy that compares survey evidence from Christian and Muslim respondents with differing degrees of religious radicalization. We find no evidence that radicalization is predicted by macro-level political or economic grievances. Rather, radicalization is strongly associated with individual-level psychological trauma, including historically troubled social relations, and process-oriented factors, particularly religious identification and exposure to radical networks. The findings point to model of radicalization as an individual-level psychological process that is largely unaffected by macro-level influences. As such, radicalization is better understood in a relational, idea-driven framework, as opposed to a macro-level structural approach.
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