Volume 8, Issue 1, 2020
Justin J. Meggitt
The Problem of Apocalyptic Terrorism
The concept of “apocalyptic terrorism” has become common in the study of terrorism since the turn of the millennium and some have made considerable claims about its analytical and practical utility. However, it raises substantial problems. Following a brief survey of the way that the idea has been employed, this paper identifies difficulties inherent in its current use. In addition to those of a definitional kind, these include the treatment of “apocalyptic” as a synonym for “religious”; the assumption that apocalyptic is always primary and totalizing; homogenizing claims about the character of apocalyptic radicalism; mistaken assumptions about the causes and character of apocalyptic violence; problematic cross-cultural and non-religious applications of the term “apocalyptic”; the neglect of hermeneutics; and the dearth of contributions by specialists in the study of religion. The argument concludes that there are good grounds for abandoning the notion of “apocalyptic terrorism” entirely, but given that this is unlikely, it should be employed far more cautiously, and a narrower, more tightly defined understanding of the concept should be advocated by those engaged in the study of terrorism.