Devoted Actors and the Spiritual Dimensions of Human Conflict

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Abstract: The aim and effect of transnational terrorism today, including from ethnonationalist and racial supremacist resurgence, is to fragment social consensus by forcing people into opposing camps, with no room for innocents. The impetus to moral confusion and corruption afforded by the internet and social media, together with state-backed malign information campaigns that play on deep-seated cultural values to undermine democratic institutions and possibilities for social consensus, are inciting political polarization and further fragmentation.

Can social science help to bolster resilience?

A partial answer focuses on contributions from behavioral and brain studies into how “devoted actors,” committed to non-negotiable “sacred values” and the groups those values are embedded in, resort to extreme behaviors and resist rational-actor approaches to conflict resolution when opposing values, like those regarding God or country, are involved.