Skip to main content

Rational Choice and Religious Terrorism


The Cambridge Companion to Religion and TerrorismChapter summary

While for many, the term “rational choice” signifies a normative judgment about an individual’s choices, it presents a much different reality for scholars. For social scientists, it refers to a range of models that posit that individuals will be motivated by self-interest and a desire to maximize their sense of well-being or, in the language of economists, their utility. These models have imposed an element of predictability on human behavior, allowing for the scientific study of a range of economic, social, and political processes – including terrorism. In addition, rational choice also has much to offer in the study of religious terrorism, despite the metaphysical dimensions of belief. This chapter discusses the assumptions of the rational choice model, its use in terrorism research and applicability to the study of religious terrorism, objections to the model, and its future applications.

You might also like: