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Charting Evil: The Legal-Institutional Roots of the rise of ISIS

16 Feb 2016

The world has stood in shock at horrors perpetrated by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in its quest to establish a Sunni caliphate. While journalists report the onset of “ethnic cleansing on a historic scale,” and government analysts scramble to understand its geopolitical implications, social scientists have largely failed to adequately tackle the subject. This, despite our wealth of historical knowledge about the Middle East, and established theories on the origins and patterns of sectarian violence in post-transition regimes.

While no single existing theory can hope to explain the sudden emergence of the ISIS threat, the phenomenon is unlikely a basket case without analytical comparisons. My research therefore seeks to ask: what can existing social science models reveal about the rise of ISIS? And in turn, what can the rise of ISIS tell us about the accuracy of existing theories?