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Social Imaginaries

Volume 3, Issue 2, Autumn 2017

Approaches to Religion

Matthias Riedl
Pages 77-107
DOI: 10.5840/si20173215

Terrorism as ‘Apocalyptic Violence’
On the Meaning and Validity of a New Analytical Category

This article discusses the category of ‘apocalyptic violence’, which has been frequently applied in recent studies of terrorism. It shows that the category is not self-explanatory because apocalyptic literature is traditionally determinist and rather dissuades their readers from taking action. A historical overview demonstrates that revolutionary forms of apocalypticism emerge only in early modernity, when mystical and humanist influences undermined the determinist creed. A more differentiated concept of ‘apocalyptic violence’ is then tested using the example of several cases of modern terrorism. The result is that the category is meaningful for understanding certain trends within modern terrorism, especially as it captures the symbolic self-interpretation of terrorist groups more adequately than the categories extremism and fundamentalism. However, the article also shows that the category has clear limits and is not suitable for a comprehensive understanding of the motivational and ideological grounds behind terroristic violence.

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