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Understanding Terrorism


Admission requirements

Course for students enrolled in the Master’s programme Crisis and Security Management.


The course is a sociological perspective on terrorism and the issues inherent in terrorist threats, real or imagined, posed by state, non-state, transnational actors and nationalist groups. It explores a variety of theoretical and conceptual debates in the sociological study of terrorism and political violence era. Throughout, the focus will be on mainstream and critical approaches to the field, ensuring students become aware of the rich variety of perspectives, providing students with an appreciation of the sociological forces that are important in the study of extremism, radicalisation and terrorism. It develops the intellectual and critical thinking skills students need to participate in academic and professional arenas shaping the contemporary international agenda on the study of extremism, radicalisation, political violence and terrorism.

Students will specifically explore theories of social conflict in the study of terrorism. Students will also explore questions relating to migration, ethnicity and identity; inter-generational change; and integration/assimilation. Labelling theory, moral panics and media discourses and symbolism are also to be explored. Theories of gender (men and women in terrorism), masculinity and the manosphere as well the politics and policy of counter-terrorism, deradicalisation and counter-extremism also feature in this course. The countering violent extremism (CVE) paradigm will also be discussed in relation to questions and solutions in relation to the problems and realities of terrorism.

Course objectives

This course engages with traditional notions of terrorism and interrogates widespread presuppositions, perceptions and popular images of terrorists and the threats they pose. Students are expected to be equipped with the requisite tools to understand terrorism through sophisticated theoretical engagement with the sociology of terrorism through case studies. Students are also expected to be able to problematise the nature of terrorism enacted by state and non-state actors in the Global North and Global South. The objectives of the course are;

  1. To identify key sociological theories on why terrorism occurs,
  2. To advance student sociological knowledge of terrorism and political violence,
  3. To explore and analyse competing sociological approaches to understanding terrorism and political violence,
  4. To reflect critically on different sociological frameworks for understanding terrorism and political violence,
  5. To explain and analyse the evolution of the debate on political violence, particularly in the post-war period in both the Global North and the Global South, and
  6. To critically reflect on counterterrorism policies by using theoretical and empirical insights on how to deal with terrorism, for example the foreign fighter phenomena and its implications at the local, national and transnational levels.


On the right-hand side of the programme front page of the E-guide you will find links to the website and timetables, uSis and Blackboard.

Mode of instruction

Seven seminars including guest lectures and working group sessions.

Participation in lectures, discussions and exercises is required in order to obtain a grade. One lecture may be missed.

Course Load

5 EC = 140 hours:

  • Contact hours: 21

  • Self-study hours: 119

Assessment method

  • Midterm paper 30% [2,000 words (max, inclusive of references and footnotes)]

  • Final paper 70% [4,000 words (max, inclusive of references and footnotes)]

Retake takes the same form.

Compensation rule: Only assessments with a weight of 30% and lower can be compensated. This means that one does not have to pass an assessment if it weighs 30% or less in order to pass the course. The average of all assessments combined must be at least a 5.5. In addition, assignments with a weight of 30% and lower are not resitable, meaning that if one failed an assessment weighing 30% or less, one is not allowed to resit it and that assessment must be compensated by the other assessment(s).

The resit takes the same form.


Available one week prior to the start of the lectures.
Contains the syllabus of the course and links to SPOC videos as well as recommended articles and recommended videos.

Reading list

See syllabus. Only open access articles and reports, or articles to be accessed with Leiden University Library membership.


Register for every course and workgroup via uSis. Some courses and workgroups have a limited number of participants, so register on time (before the course starts). In uSis you can access your personal schedule and view your results. Registration in uSis is possible from four weeks before the start of the course.

Also register for every course in Blackboard. Important information about the course is posted there.


Dr. T. Abbas: