We use cookies to improve your website experience. To learn about our use of cookies and how you can manage your cookie settings, please see our Cookie Policy. By closing this message, you are consenting to our use of cookies.

Submit a Manuscript to the Journal
Terrorism and Political Violence

For a Special Issue on
Revisiting Terrorist Motivation: A Critical Appraisal and New Directions for Research

Abstract deadline
30 November 2022

Manuscript deadline
01 August 2023

Cover image - Terrorism and Political Violence

Special Issue Editor(s)

John Horgan, Georgia State University
[email protected]

Max Taylor, University College London
[email protected]

Submit an ArticleVisit JournalArticles

Revisiting Terrorist Motivation: A Critical Appraisal and New Directions for Research

John Horgan & Max Taylor


 Most would likely agree with Andrew Silke and Jennifer Schmidt-Petersen’s proposition that terrorism research is enjoying its golden age. An area that was once the fringe interest of scholars now commands widespread, serious attention both inside and outside the academy. The growth and maturity of terrorism studies is evident from the steady increase in dedicated periodicals; researchers now routinely, constructively and without hesitation, revise concepts thought canonical a few short years earlier and narrow topics even within terrorism studies are seeing such sustained attention from scholars that those same areas already warrant systematic reviews. An especially promising sign of maturity in any field is the practice of revisiting research questions once considered either stagnant or resolved. Sometimes this can even lead to new and exciting directions for research.

We believe the time has come to systematically, and comprehensively, revisit the issue of terrorist motivation. At first glance, such a task might seem redundant. The question of “why” a terrorist or terrorist group does what they do is one of the most obvious and immediate questions posed in the aftermath of an attack. In a research context, the issue of motivation is evident across a diverse and wide-ranging body of literature within and outside terrorism studies. And yet despite such rich analysis, answers around what specifically motivates terrorists often are met with dissatisfaction, or outright resignation at the complexity of what arriving at a satisfactory answer might mean. Across a significant body of work on terrorism, motivation is neither clearly conceptualized, nor operationally defined. Calls to address ‘motivation’ may encompass such issues as drive, reason (or cause), structures, performance, facilitators, etc., and certainly overlap with expectations around what a satisfactory explanation of terrorism might entail. Issues of drive, cause, etc. are not necessarily mutually exclusive, but neither are they synonymous. We see significant conceptual confusion especially (though not exclusively) when it comes to psychological research on terrorism, where there is an understandable expectation that understanding motivation will assist in prediction, management of and reintegration into society of offenders. This is not necessarily the case (or even a concern) for different perspectives on terrorism, for example, via the humanities, further necessitating an appreciation for how different disciplinary perspectives approach questions around motivation. Notwithstanding such disciplinary differences, further complicating these issues are recent trends in terrorism itself, with increasing ideological fluidity both across and within movements, along with, for individual actors, the process of side-switching. At a minimum, the ideological promiscuity of today’s terrorist actors challenges whether we are well equipped to answer motivation questions in a meaningful way, let alone one that might prove satisfactory to those asking the questions.

John Horgan and Max Taylor invite scholars from any discipline to submit papers for consideration in a Special Issue of Terrorism and Political Violence. Accepted authors will be invited to an associated in-person workshop that will serve as a mechanism to ensure timely first drafts, as well as to solicit peer feedback from fellow contributors. Both empirical and conceptual approaches are welcome, and potential contributors might address such issues as (and not limited to) the following:

  1. Approaches to the concept of motivation, or drive, in the context of political violence. This might address any of the following:
    1. Determining if, how, where, and when motivation matters
    2. Distinguishing (or otherwise) terrorist motivation from motivation for other forms of offending
    3. How to better talk and think about motivation: Motivation, drivers, triggers – synthesis of current typologies, models (strengths, weaknesses, etc.)
    4. Data sources for the construction of motivation accounts
    5. The nature of explanation (e.g., causal explanations vs. others, reliability and validity, explanatory fictions, hypothetical constructs, etc.)
    6. The role of religion, politics, culture, grievance, and ideology, not just as sources of motivation but as lenses through which different motivational accounts are constructed
    7. Psychological, philosophical, historical, and other disciplinary perspectives on motivation
      1. Intra-disciplinary differences in approach and their implications
      2. What does anyone need to know if they want to talk about motivation?
    8. Western perspectives vs. non-western perspectives
    9. Motivation and the capacity to change behavior
    10. Implications for psychometric approaches in the management of terrorist offenders
    11. Implications of recent neuroscientific discoveries for thinking about motivation
    12. Asking the right questions - what does an “explanation” of terrorist motivation mean?
      1. Demarcation from pseudo-science
      2. Idiosyncratic theories of rational belief
      3. Illusions of understanding / explanatory fictions
  1. Motivation and current theories/mechanisms of radicalization
  1. How context and setting drives meaning of motivation and implications for behavior change (e.g., motivation in medical, judicial, treatment, and other settings)
  1. Building examples of motivation - strategies for establishing behavioral operations
  1. Recent developments in thinking about ideology and ideological influence and implications for addressing or understanding motivation. This might encompass (but not be limited to):
    1. The role of conspiracy
    2. Ideological fluidity
    3. Millenarianism
    4. Christian nationalism
    5. Contemporary developments in terrorism (e.g., the re-emergence of state sponsored terrorism, libertarianism, ethnonationalism, eco-fascism, violent Incels, etc.)
  2. Distinguishing ideology from delusions, cognitive distortions, and extreme overvalued beliefs; and implications for understanding motivation
  3. Terrorism responsibility and the insanity defense revisited
    1. Relevant landmark decisions
    2. Competency to stand trial – guide for evaluators
    3. Diminished capacity
  4. Serving as expert witness and what one needs to know about motivation
  5. “Motive mongering”, pseudo-science and the superficial attribution of explanatory factors – lessons learned (or not learned)
  6. Motivation in the context of mental illness
  7. How the use of technologies affects motivation and how we think about it

Submission Instructions

October 18-November 30

We invite researchers to submit a brief but carefully considered outline (not to exceed two pages). The outline should contain a statement of interest / question of concern / topic of research that directly relates to / adds to / challenges any of the issues raised above. We also welcome any proposals that address motivation-related topics not identified here. Proposals (and any related questions) should be sent to jhorgan (at) gsu.edu and m.taylor (at) ucl.ac.uk

November 30-December 30

Review of submissions; outcome notification


Develop first drafts

August (date TBD)

Authors present drafts of papers at workshop; receive feedback from other authors


Authors revise drafts


Submit final draft of papers; submission to publisher

Spring 2024


Instructions for AuthorsSubmit an Article

We use cookies to improve your website experience. To learn about our use of cookies and how you can manage your cookie settings, please see our Cookie Policy. By closing this message, you are consenting to our use of cookies.