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Terrorism and Counterterrorism




Admission requirements

  • Classes of 2013-2016: similarly-tagged 200/300-level courses or permission of the instructor.

Course description

Terrorism continues to rank high on political agendas worldwide. Yet for all the attention that this phenomenon has gained, it is one of the most difficult subjects to study. This seven week course examines various aspects of terrorism and counterterrorism with a focus on doing research within this field. The course begins with two introductory classes; the first provides an overview of what terrorism is and how it can be defined. The second explains the fundamentals of writing a research proposal. The main focus during weeks two through six is on the theory and practice of researching terrorism and counterterrorism. Each week revolves around a specific theme, presented by lecturers who are engaged in research on those very subjects. The lecturers will introduce their subjects in the first weekly session and discuss the challenges and opportunities posed by conducting research in their fields during the second, sharing their practical insights and experiences. These case studies represent current trends in terrorism research such as so-called ‘lone wolves’, conspiracy theories, the Anders Breivik case and so-called ‘homegrown’ jihadist terrorism in Europe.

Weekly overview

Sessions 1 & 2 Prof. dr. Edwin Bakker – Introduction: What is Terrorism?
Session 1 Daan Weggemans – How to write a research proposal?
Session 2 Daan Weggemans – How to present a research proposal?
Session 1 Liesbeth van der Heide – Researching Terrorists on Trial: a Performative Perspective
Session 2 Liesbeth van der Heide – Case-study: the 22nd of July trial (Anders Behring Breivik)
Session 1 Daan Weggemans – Discussing concepts: Radicalization and de-radicalization. Is everything we have been told about radicalization wrong?
Session 2 Daan Weggemans – (De-)radicalisation in practice: active discussion on multiple case studies
Session 1 Liesbeth van der Heide – Researching Lone Wolf Terrorism
Session 2 Liesbeth van der Heide – Case-study: Indicators of Lone Operators
Sessions 1& 2 Edwin Bakker – Researching Foreign Fighters
Session 1 Edwin Bakker, Liesbeth van der Heide & Daan Weggemans – presentations

Learning objectives

General Objectives

  • To present students with theoretical notions and practical examples in order to better understand the problems and opportunities for conducting research on (counter) terrorism.

  • To present and critique various research designs and approaches in terrorism research.

  • To provide an overview of the state of the art in terrorism studies today.

  • To challenge students to develop their own analysis of terrorism research by writing a paper on the practice of terrorism research.

Course Learning Outcomes

  • To be able to analyze the complex and ever-changing phenomenon of terrorism

  • To be aware of leading currents in terrorism and counter-terrorism research

  • To be able to write and present an in-depth research proposal

  • To be informed about the difficulties and dilemmas in terrorism and counter-terrorism research

Mode of instruction

The course will consist of fourteen sessions dedicated to lectures and discussion in a workgroup setting. The first week will focus on providing the students with the necessary information about writing a research proposal and an introduction to the topic of terrorism in general. Weeks 3-6 are devoted to the presentation and discussion of specific aspects of terrorism and how to conduct research on them. The final week will be dedicated to presenting your own research proposals in small group sessions to the instructors. Students are expected to actively engage in discussion and to provide evidence of their understanding of the potential pitfalls and opportunities for conducting research on the topics discussed per week by handing in a 300-500 word statement at the start of each second lecture (see below for details).


  • Students will hand in brief written assignments (500 words +/- 10%, excluding sources) at the beginning of every second lecture of weeks 3, 4, 5, and 6. These assignments are intended to familiarize the students with crafting a research proposal. For the weeks listed, students are required to a) briefly discuss which aspect of the topic of that week they believe warrants further research, b) formulate a research question and c) reflect on a particular aspect of the research proposal template discussed in week one, such as ‘methods’ or ‘practical feasibility’, in relation to the topic discussed that week. See the detailed course outline for which aspect is to be discussed per week. The assignment will be explained in detail in week two. These assignments will count for 40% of your grade.

  • Students are required to write and an individual research proposal of 4.000 words (+/- 10%, excluding sources), based on the research proposal template discussed in week one. Students are free to choose a topic, though it must fall within the broad field of terrorism or counterterrorism. Students have the opportunity to hand in a draft version of their research proposal at the beginning of week 4 in order to receive feedback and assistance from the lecturers. This is an optional service and the draft versions will not be graded.

  • During week 7, students are expected to give a presentation on their research proposals, briefly outlining their subject, research question, relevance of the research, which sources are used and which opportunities or obstacles for gaining access to those sources are envisioned. The presentation must be short (a strict maximum of 10 minutes), forcing students to be concise and to the point. Each presentation will be followed by 5 minutes of discussion and questions. The presentations also provide students who are struggling with their research proposals with the opportunity to discuss their dilemmas with the rest of the class. The presentations will count for 20% of your grade. The presentations will be graded by a panel of subject-matter experts and researchers.

  • Active participation in discussions during class is required

Individual assignment; weekly assignment; 40%
Individual assignment; research proposal; 40%
Individual assignment; final presentation; 20%