COOL CLASSES: “The Evolution of the Jihadi Movement”

This course explores the evolution of the jihadi movement, focusing on its ideological development since the 1980s.

Class name: “The Evolution of the Jihadi Movement”

Taught by: Associate Professor of Political Science Barak Mendelsohn


Here’s what Mendelsohn had to say about his class:

The class, as its title suggests, deals with the evolution of the jihadi movement. Most American heard about al-Qaeda only following the 9/11 attacks. Even then, media coverage and politicians’ statements have led Americans to see the jihadi movement as a unitary actor personified by bin Laden and al-Qaeda. But al Qaeda is only a segment of a much broader jihadi movement that has been evolving in a surprising and nontrivial way since the 1980s. It featured different kind of jihadi enterprises, including efforts to assist Muslim countries and communities under occupation (Bosnia, Afghanistan, Chechnya, Iraq), attempts to topple “insufficiently Islamic” regimes in Muslim states (Algeria, Egypt, Libya), transnational campaigns against the U.S.-led West (al-Qaeda), and an ambitious plan to restore the caliphate (ISIS).

Thus, the course seeks to shed light on the complexity of the jihadi movement by 1) looking at the actions of jihadi actors in different locations and points in time; 2) exploring the theological and strategic differences between different Islamists, Salafis, and jihadis; 3) investigating intra-jihadi dynamics with an emphasis on internal conflicts; and 4) examining how the characteristics of the state-based order affect the shape of the jihadi challenge. I hope that class discussions, as well as the wide array of primary-source documents, academic works, and other sources, will allow students to form a multi-faceted picture of the jihadi movement. In addition, class assignments will get students to gain more specialized knowledge of one topic of their own choosing, gaining on the way tools for independent research.

Although I love all the courses I’m teaching, this one is particularly dear to me. It is the subject that tracks the closest to my research interest. In addition, the website accompanying it was created and maintained by fantastic research assistants who have worked with me over the past ten years. But really the main reason I love teaching this course is because I find the jihadi movement so a fascinating and yet so misunderstood, Students begin the course with certain preconceptions and come out with a much more nuanced view. I especially enjoy discussing the many cleavages within the jihadi movement: the personal bickering between prominent jihadi figures such as bin Laden and Zarqawi, and the differences between jihadi groups such as al-Qaeda and ISIS, which many people tend to view as similar.


See what other courses the Department of Political Science is offering this semester.

Cool Classes is a series that highlights interesting, unusual, and unique courses that enrich the Haverford experience.