About the Book

In this timely multidimensional study, historian Jouni Suistola and psychoanalyst Vamık D. Volkan draw on their respective disciplines and their own personal and professional experiences to investigate the historical and psychological roots of terrorism. Specifically, what is it in human nature that allows people to terrorize and kill the other, and what societal factors—whether political, economic, or religious—lead to terrorism? And, in turn, how might terrorist ideologies and groups be defeated, especially when a society’s realistic fears are contaminated with xenophobia, racism, and fantasized dangers? Focusing specifically on modern-day radical Islamist terrorism, the authors argue that studying the minds of individual terrorists can tell us something about those individuals, but that only by examining the deeper historical, political, and society-wide psychological processes at work will we be able to uncover the core causes of terrorism. Only through such understanding, they conclude, will the world be positioned to prevent further radicalization and create lasting and peaceful solutions to the seemingly intractable problem of terrorist violence.

About the Author


ISBN: 978-1634311304 (paperback)

SRP: $24.95

Page count: 184 pages

Trim size: 6 x 9

Pub date: September 2017

Ebook availability: Yes

Audiobook availability: Forthcoming

Jouni Suistola, PhD, studied history and social sciences at Oulu University. He served as professor of international relations at Near East University in Nicosia. Vamık Volkan, MD, studied medicine at the University of Ankara, Turkey. He is an emeritus professor of Psychiatry at the University of Virginia.

“Suistola and Volkan’s tour de force brings a depth, density, and clarity of data to their timely yet timeless topic. Their work is enlivened by the authors’ sharing of their poignant personal experiences that give striking context to their profound insights about terror’s interconnected etiologic variables and mysteries. They successfully organize their book around three vitally important perspectives: the historical, psychoanalytic and systemic. It is no mean accomplishment to keep such focus when religion, politics, and economics pose highly charged challenges for truth-seeking. The authors provide valuable conceptual tools to understand and potentially prevent terror knives’ painful cuts, but remain brutally honest about how much work remains to be done.”

Peter A. Olsson, MD, retired professor, Psychiatry, Baylor College of Medicine; Fellow, American Academy of Psychoanalysis

Religious Knives makes a valuable contribution to the study of terrorism. Written with solid expertise and careful deliberation, it tackles terrorism from several perspectives and presents an in-depth analysis of the root causes of terrorism.”

Timo Soikkanen, Professor Emeritus, Contemporary History, Turku University, Finland

Advance Praise

“A very unique and powerful addition to our understanding of what motivates the use of terrorism as a political tool. The question ‘Who are we now?’ animates this timely book, exploring the forces that are changing individual and group identity and leading to a rise in religiously motivated terrorism. I especially appreciated the psychocultural dimensions of this work, and the context it provided for creating more systemic approaches to preventing terrorism.”

—Eileen F. Babbitt, PhD, Director, Insitute for Human Security, The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Tufts University