The Study of New Religious Movements and the Process of Radicalization in Terrorist Groups


  1. Dawson, L.L.
Corporate Authors
Defence R&D Canada - Centre for Security Science, Ottawa ONT (CAN);Waterloo University, Waterloo Ont (CAN) Dept of Sociology and Religious Studies
This paper examines three issues: (1) the obvious reasons for, and curious absence of, a dialogue between scholars studying new religious movements (NRMs), in particular those that have engaged in mass violence, and those studying processes of radicalization in home-grown terrorist groups; (2) the substantial parallels which exist between established understandings of who joins NRMs, how, and why and the more recent findings about who joins terrorist groups in a Western context, how, and why; and (3) the many ways in which the explanations of the causes of violent behaviour in NRMs, developed through detailed and comparative case studies, is pertinent to securing a more systematic and complete grasp of the process of radicalization in terrorist cells. The latter discussion focuses on the instrumental role of apocalyptic belief systems in conjunction with charismatic forms of authority, highlighting the behavioural consequences of this dangerous combination and the possible strategic significance of these consequences. The paper ends with a series of specific recommendations for further research, integrating insights from the two fields of study.

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New Religious Movements, Radicalization, Terrorism, Violent behaviour;Mass violence, Apocalyptic beliefs, Charismatic authority, Religious ideology
Report Number
DRDC-CSS-CR-2009-02 — Contractor Report
Date of publication
10 Nov 2009
Number of Pages
Electronic Document(PDF)

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